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Smart Technology Works:
The Science Behind Smart Glass

As homeowners and businesses shift toward green living and environmental awareness, more and more eco-friendly products appear on the market. A popular new innovation in the field of energy conservation is smart glass. Easy on both the wallet and the environment, smart glass saves on heating and cooling costs as well as offering homeowners complete control over the amount of light that enters a room at any point during the day. Powered by an electrical current that blocks or allows light to pass, smart glass offers yearly savings on power and can create instant privacy without the need for blinds.

Smart glass works by running an electrical current through a pane of glass. This current controls how opaque the glass is, ranging from completely transparent like any normal window to translucent for blocking out sunlight or creating privacy. Other types of smart windows do not have an electric current, and become darker when sunlight hits them. While these materials are cheaper, the owner does not have control over how dark or light the window is.

Common technologies behind smart windows include suspended particle devices (SPD) and liquid crystal technology. In suspended particle devices, particles are placed between two sheets of glass. The flow of electricity causes the particles to line up in straight lines and sunlight can pass through the window. When the current is lowered or turned off, the particles scatter and their thick mass blocks light from entering. The less current flowing into the glass, the darker the window.

With liquid crystals, the glass can be clear or frosted. It does not allow for in-between settings. When a current is applied, the crystals align and light passes through the window. When the current is turned off, the crystals scatter and bunch up. This causes the glass to appear frosted.

The best type of glass for a business or homeowner depends on their needs. Businesses often utilize liquid crystal displays to block sunlight during the afternoon and let more light in as the sun goes down. Homeowners prefer suspended particle device technology, or similar types of smart glass, to give them more control over how transparent the glass is and how much light it lets in during different times of the day.

The benefits of smart glass in the home go beyond keeping the bright midday sunlight out. Windows account for a significant amount of energy lost throughout the day in a building. In a normal window, the sunlight warms the glass and generates heat inside the house during the summer. In the winter, the heat escapes through the window. The air conditioning and heating unit runs constantly to compensate for the changes. With smart glass, in the summer the extra heat is blocked from entering and in the winter the heat in the home is kept inside. Heating and air runs less, saving money.

Office buildings and businesses also benefit from smart glass. In addition to saving on heating and air costs – which can run quite high in a large office building – smart glass provides instant privacy. Conference rooms can darken the glass during meetings, hospitals can create movable privacy screens, and malls can dim skylights during bright afternoons. When not in use, the glass returns to normal and becomes clear again.

Smart glass costs more to install than the traditional window but also has some money-saving benefits. In addition to lower heating and cooling costs, homeowners no longer need to spend time and money cleaning and maintaining blinds to keep out the sunlight. For those who want to save money, cheaper options like low-emissivity glass are available. This glass has a special coating for controlling the amount of heat that goes in or out of the windows, and can cut down on energy loss through the window by 30 to 50 percent.

Another option for homeowners and businesses on a budget is adding a special low-emissivity glazing to existing windows. This glazing provides the same temperature control benefits as low-emissivity windows. When making a choice about the type of smart glass to buy and the technology behind it, it’s important to consider performance and price. Those worried about energy efficiency will be happy with lower priced options that do not offer a frosted glass option. Those who want more privacy will be more concerned about the level of control in darkening and lighting the glass. Individuals considering smart glass should weigh the extra cost of installation with the lower costs of energy and maintenance fees to decide if smart glass is the best choice.

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