KEY TAKEAWAYS
  • The ability to control how much light gets into an office space is becoming very popular with commercial building developers.
  • These windows can help lower cooling bills while adding a layer of privacy.
  • A handful of public and private firms are controlling this fast-growing market.

In today’s competitive real estate markets, commercial landlords are adding a dose of high tech. Smart windows, which provide greater aesthetics and better energy efficiency, are playing a growing role in new construction and building retro-fits.

Today’s windows carry clear drawbacks. As sunlight pours in, a room can quickly heat up to uncomfortable levels. And see-through windows offer little by way of privacy as nosy neighbors have a front row seat to your personal affairs.

You can lower the blinds to block out the sun and gain some privacy, but that’s not an attractive solution for people that enjoy looking out windows.

And that’s where smart windows come in. They use electrochromic glass, which can darken a window, or turn it from transparent to opaque. A dimmer switch lets you control just how much light comes in. Once darkened, they can reflect back up to 98% of incoming light, which greatly saves on air-conditioning.

Demand for this smart cities technology is in an uptrend. Allied Market Research says that global sales of smart glass and smart windows are rising at a 14.3% annual clip and will be a $6.9 billion market by 2022.

Developers love these windows for one simple reason. They open the door for premium rents, and as a result, can deliver a full return on investment in fairly short timeframes. Brian Klansky, Senior Director of Business Development at View Dynamic Glass, says that two-thirds of his firm’s clients use smart windows in new developments, with the rest coming from retro-fits to existing buildings. He thinks that demand will be especially strong in cities like New York, which has many aging skyscrapers that are ripe for a smart technology upgrade. Manhattan’s massive new Hudson Yards development is expected to make strong use of these smart windows.

And smart windows aren’t just an urban solution. You can see smart windows in places like Tarrytown, NY, where drug giant Regeneron houses its staff in a comfortable and controllable environment.

Smart windows are also appearing in today’s most tech-laden automobiles. The “S” class line of Mercedes-Benz sedans now come with a smart glass option, which can keep the car’s occupants cool and maintain privacy from other people on the road.

Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner series of planes also deploy smart glass, which allows for much larger windows than on other planes, while keeping the sun’s rays from heating up the cabin.

Klansky’s firm, View Dynamic Glass, competes with French construction firm Saint-Gobain. Other firms to watch include Sage Electrochromics Inc.RavenWindowInnovative GlassPolytronix Glass, and Research Frontiers (Nasdaq: REFR).

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