Change is in the air. Because you know, we haven’t had quite enough change over the past two years. The change this time is coming with Building Regulations.

The bit I want to focus on with this one is u-values, or rather, what is going to be the best route to achieve the new lower u-values that will come into force.

Triple glazing…or something else?

So where are the new regulations likely to leave us on the u-value front? Current regulations for new homes set a minimum u-value of 1.4 and 1.6 for existing homes. It’s expected that the revisions are going to knock 0.2 from each.

That’s not necessarily the major point here. The bigger picture for me is how we are going to achieve these new targets. It is going to require some rejigging of our existing product line to do so in some cases.

Up until now, there has been a growing narrative that triple glazing was going to be the answer. Triple glazing of a certain specification is able to achieve lower u-values which would satisfy the updated Building Regulations. If you’re making glass or spacer bars you’re naturally going to want the industry to settle on this particular solution. Spacer bar sales would rocket, as would glass. If you forget we don’t have enough of the stuff right now.

But could there be something else that could tick the new boxes that would mean we wouldn’t need to go to triple glazing? Yes, in a word, or three: vacuum insulated glazing.

Vacuum insulated glazing is a fairly new technology but one that is now finally breaking through. I am going to cover this innovation in more detail in another post, but in short, vacuum insulated glazing is two pieces of glass sandwiched into a sealed unit with a cavity as slim as 0.1mm. The panes of glass can be around what they are right now, but crucially the technology achieves a 0.7 u-value. This would be comfortably lower than what the new Building Regulations would demand.

Right now, vacuum insulated glazing isn’t the cheapest product on the market. It’s not made anywhere, much of it has to be imported into the UK. I have seen figures for the stuff quoted between £140m2 to above £200m2. That is obviously not cheap. But as more companies take on the technology, or develop their own kind of vacuum insulated glazing, that price would come down over time.

The environmental perspective

In a post COP26, we have to look at everything we do through the prism of the environment. Going forwards, our impact on the climate has to be taken into effect.

So when I look at the two options, triple glazing versus vacuum insulated glazing, I have to say that I come down on the side of vacuum insulated glazing. This option clearly uses less in terms of materials. In an age where we need to seek to reduce consumption rather than increase it, this scores a clear win.

Triple glazing, whilst it may be more readily available today, would be worse for the environment and would also pose a range of logistical problems for an industry that currently sells very little but would have to suddenly ramp up production. Imagine that, ramping up production of something that we’re already short of and with supply chain disruption forecast to last perhaps another couple of years.

With both options, profiles would need to be adapted to allow for extra wide triple glazing or super-think vacuum insulated glazing to fit, but my guess is that profile suppliers would prefer the thinner option. For heritage applications, however, going into timber frames or adapted PVCu frames, this is an immediate solution that could well open up new opportunities to installers and manufacturers in the heritage market.

Either way, I think the revisions to Building Regulations may well herald a new battleground between triple glazing and vacuum insulated glazing.

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