Spacer Systems for Insulated Glass vs. Religous Dogma 

Buy a new car and you’re faced with endless choices. These aren’t choices about needs, like a larger engine with more power for towing a trailer, but wants, like heated seats, extra thick leather, or a 27 speaker stereo system. The reason is most any new car you can buy has your needs covered, carrying you speedily from point A to point B in comfort and safety.

In the glass world things are the same. Choice abounds. There is self-cleaning glass, LowE glass (in many flavors), and an endless choice of patterned and decorative glass. And there is also all kinds of choice with spacers for insulated glass. Metal or flexible or plastic spacers. Spacers in most every color. Warm edge spacers and soon, make it yourself spacer.

All of these spacer systems fill the need – they hold two, or three pieces of glass apart from each other creating an air gap in an IG unit. They all seal around the edges of the glass very well, not letting the outside air in or the inside air, or gas, out (see the argon gas article below for more on this).

So why has spacer choice become such a religious experience when they all work, and work well? Why is spacer choice often a deal breaker even when the performance specs between the spacer requested and the one supplied is so minimal as to be measurable only with highly sophisticated laboratory instruments?

I have spoken to several people who have just got to have spacer X and if you ask them why spacer Y won’t work they seldom have an answer beyond the mantra, “Because that’s what we always use.” Occasionally I can see their point, which is usually “we want to match what’s already there.” But more times than not, nothing is already there as these are new installations or in the case of remodeling the old is being torn out to make way for the new.

Over and over again though people are often more concerned about the spacer than the glass, which is odd since glass has a lot more to do with ‘look and feel’ and certainly with energy efficiency than the spacer. The performance difference between one manufacturer’s spacer and another’s can be just about nil but the performance difference between one manufacturer’s glass over another’s can be quite significant.

Certainly marketing is at work here, helping to drive perception and choice. So if you are one of those folks who has religious beliefs about spacers remember that no fabricator can stock all the different types of spacers on the market nor all the different types of glass for that matter.

Be glass and spacer agnostic and focus on the fabricator

So just as with cars and individual climate control so it is with the world of spacers—there are wants and there are needs. In the end you may be so focused on the scripture of some arcane test data you’ve read, derived under well managed laboratory conditions, that you miss out completely on satisfying your needs because you are so focused on fulfilling your wants.

When buying a new car you want to find not only the best deal but the dealer. Ditto when buying insulated glass. You real emphasis as a repeat buyer of glass shouldn’t necessarily be the glass or spacer, but who you are buying from. Are they honest? Are they fair? Do they deliver what they promise?

Working with a good, reputable fabricator will make your life easier than any specific spacer system you’ll ever use. One reason is that they’ve ‘got religion’ too. These folks are pros and stay very well informed about the latest advances in spacer technology. When they find a new spacer that offers significant advantages they will make the switch. They want to supply you the best product they can, filling not only your needs but your wants as well.

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The Seedy Glass "Explosion" ~ a cautionary tale 

Seedy glass, at least in my world, is gaining in popularity. So just a couple comments about proper use since I’ve had some experience with this glass that you may benefit from:

Seedy glass is made by injecting air into molten glass during the manufacturing process. So the finished product has lots of air bubbles in the glass, what people call 'seeds', thus the term 'seedy glass'.

As you know from your Physics 101 class air is a gas. When heated gas expands and when cooled it contracts. This expansion/contraction cycle happens with seedy glass. When the glass gets hot so does the air inside all those tiny bubbles (seeds) in the glass. All these bubbles try and expand, pushing hard against the glass surrounding them. So when you try and temper seedy glass it usually explodes. And for the few pieces you can get through the tempering oven it isn’t unusual for them to explode at some time in the future.

This is the reason that fabricators don’t temper seedy glass. It makes a mess in their tempering ovens when it (usually) breaks. And it is a liability in the field because it isn’t a rare occurrence when the seedy glass spontaneously shatters.

So if you want seedy glass use it as a cabinet glass. If you’ve got to have it for an interior door then laminate it. And if you need it for an exterior door get it triple insulated and encapsulate the seedy between two clear pieces of glass.

But a word of caution for the exterior application. I’ve got a customer in Tulsa, where it was 101F this past 4th of July weekend, and they supplied laminated seedy glass to a client for use in an entry door. The seedy glass is cracking.

This was puzzling until I started asking questions and found out that:

The cracking started 4 or 5 weeks ago, a time when Tulsa was already experiencing some hot days
The entry door has a western exposure so it gets the brunt of the afternoon sun
There is a storm door in front of the entry door, which magnifies the heat

Even though I’m not on the scene in Oklahoma I’ve got to think that all those little air bubbles in the glass are going through their expansion/contraction cycle and fatiguing the glass and causing the cracks, even though it has been laminated. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear, maybe around August 1, that the glass has completely failed.

So if you’re planning on using seedy glass for some area of your home just make sure you keep in mind where the glass will be and what hot/cold cycles it will be subject to. And if you do find a fabricator that will temper the glass remember that spontaneous failure at some future point isn’t a rare occurrence--so be careful.

You certainly don’t want to get hurt or have anyone else hurt so laminate the glass or triple insulate the glass so that even if it does break the breakage will be contained, no one will be hurt, and you won’t have any liability issues to worry about.
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Bursting the Bubble of Argon Gas Filled IG Units 

Customers often ask me about purchasing argon gas filled IG units because of their superior energy efficiency. While it is true that argon filled units perform better than non-gas filled units the efficacy of the unit, over time, is what is important.

In the interests of full disclosure I’ll tell you that the fabricators I work with do not fill their IG units with argon. Some did, but now none do because they found that over time (a) filling IGs with gas was difficult, (b) eventually, the argon leaks out, (c) over time the stress put on the glass by being “pressured up” can do more harm than good, (d) warranty claims increased.

Injecting an IG unit with argon is easy enough to do, but doing so creates a hole in the spacer, the primary barrier to gas escape. That hole must be filled. So how well is that job done? And how well was the spacer applied to begin with? And how good is the butyl seal? And how well are those critical corner seals done? And how much gas does the desiccant absorb? And how clean was the glass before it got insulated? These are all questions you’ve got to wonder about and each question highlights a point of failure—and we haven’t even begun talking about weather effects and the shrink/swell cycle that puts additional stress on the seal that is supposed to keep the argon gas inside the IG.

No wonder an article about this subject says that "workmanship is critical in argon gas retention." The writer when talking about argon gas leakage even tells us that "the best [test] result shows just how good [a] particular design did with the very best workmanship" (italics added). In other words if the unit isn't sealed properly to begin with, and in this case properly is really perfectly, then there is a good chance the gas is begun leaking out or has leaked out before it ever gets installed in a door or window. As you'll see though, other factors are involved which just about guarantee tha the glas will leak out.

You can read the article here: Leaking Out the Facts

Spacer manufacturers love to point to laboratory test data that shows how well their products perform when it comes to argon gas retention. Remember though, those are laboratory tests. And while they seek to replicate real world conditions, cramming years of weather exposure into just a few days, is that really real world? No, it isn’t.

Also the tests don’t take things into account like Buckley the yellow Lab pawing the window pane, or Johnny kicking a soccer ball against it. They don’t know about little Claire who at the age of six can slam a door or window harder than most adults.

See Buckley

Possibly you remember cramming for a test in school. By rote you mashed facts and figures into your poor little brain until you felt the information was oozing out of your ears. Then you took the test. And then you promptly forgot most all that stuff you’d crammed into your gray matter. The same thing applies for argon fill—it passes the test today but what about tomorrow?

Think about this question: What does a newly filled balloon look like a week from now? A month from now? Right, it isn’t buoyantly bouncing against the ceiling anymore it is hovering near the floor about shin level or is completely deflated. Same thing with an argon gas filled IG unit.

Then there is the issue of the extra stress put on the IG. Again think about the balloon. You fill it up and it expands, the “skin” of the balloon stretches tight. This happens with an argon gas fill too, you just can’t see it with the naked eye (well, if the IG is big enough you can). Then the argon starts to leak creating a vacuum and the glass dips in toward the middle. Again, tough to see with the naked eye but it is happening. Add in some hot days—gas expands and the “skin” gets tight again, and then it gets cold, gas condenses, “skin” shrinks, and the beat goes on. And the larger the surface area of the IG the greater the effects of the shrink/swell cycle compromising the seal of the spacer.

Besides the argon gas leaking out you can get stress fractures in the glass and fogging because the vacuum created by the argon leaking out can suck in the outside atmosphere and create a cloud effect inside your IG. Granted, this can happen with non-filled IG units as well but because the IG has not been subjected to the rigors of a gas filled IG the failure rate, I’ve got to think (but cannot find any hard data to answer this question beyond the fact that my fabricators experienced a higher level of warranty claims with argon filled units, if you’ve got any data please share), is less than with a gas filled unit.

I realize this is my point of view, based on my experience, and would love to hear what you’ve got to say about this subject.

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Oh ye expert, ye pundit, ye dimwit – a pox on your house! 

I remember it well. It was an evening in December 2006. I said to my wife that I thought things didn’t seem quite right and that I felt a “disturbance in the force”. This had nothing to do with Luke, Han, Princess Leia, or even Chewbacca. No, this disturbance had to do with the fate of the housing market.

You remember it don’t you, that steam train section of the economy that never seemed like it was going to slow down, much less stop? Year after year it kept chugging up that golden mountain, and we were so happy to be along for the ride, but all the sudden it was as if one of the steam engine’s safety valves had started to let off pressure. The long ride, it seemed to me, was losing power.

By the early Spring of 2007 I knew the gig was up. The thing that confirmed my fears of impending doom more than anything else was the growing number of newspaper articles rah-rahing the fact that this was the best time ever to buy a home. Invariably these articles quoted some expert--a bona fide genius, an economist, a housing expert--whose sage words of wisdom upheld the theme of the article that only a fool would miss out on this buying opportunity. Get in now they urged because prices are going to continue to go up, up, up. The party rolls on!

We all know what happened shortly after that – implosion. Then TARP, the bank bailouts, Wall Street bailouts, auto industry bailouts, and come this summer what will be four full years of a long, slow burn in the housing market. It is amazing how many articles are out there that, if you just read the headlines, make you think that happy days are here again, or soon will be.

If you read the articles they all lead with the prediction of blue skies ahead. Interestingly, these predictions always come from a smiling realtor that I've got to believe has way too many prescription drugs in their medicine cabinet. Once you get past the realtor's rendition of Happy Days Are Here Again you find quotes from a few cooler heads who don't think things may be quite as rosy. Their take on things is, get this, a little more grounded in reality. Basically the consensus of these folks is that whatever is going to happen is anyone’s guess.

Look at this claptrap from Trulia, a huge home selling/buying/renting website: The title of the article dated December 2010 is Sleepy Housing Market to Awaken in 2011. Paraphrasing, it says in part that by the third quarter of 2011, pent up demand for housing could generate a modest recovery. The National Association of Realtors, it says, forecast an ‘uneven recovery’ next year and that new home prices are expected to continue rising each quarter in 2011. To read the original article follow this link: Delusional Trulia wants to sell you a home

I ask you, what are these folks smoking!?!

The flip side can be found in yesterday’s Connected Industry News & Updates from the Association of Millwork Distributors. It had these headlines:
~ Considerable way to go in recovery
~ Home building plunges, signaling prolonged slump
~ Nose-diving home equity means slower Florida recovery

The NAHB has an article here: ... ce/4.html# that says that housing recovery remains elusive in 2011. Yet this article wraps up by telling us that we’re “22 months into the recovery”. Huh? Sorry NAHB, you can't have it both ways.

Again I ask, what are these folks smoking?

So what’s the story, is the economy going to go up, down, or sideways? The answer, and remember you heard it here first folks, is who knows. Not one prediction I’ve read since the train stopped in 2007—at least from realtors and industry insiders—has been right.

So what’s the point of all this virtual ink I'm laying down? I guess I’ve just had it with the experts and I think you should feel the same way. With the rare exception they are, sorry for being so forthright, dopes. Their diplomas from whatever opium den university they crawled out of aren’t worth the paper they are printed on. And their opinions are worth even less.

I wish I could be as full of the Kool-Aid and misguided optimism these folks are imbibing but I just can’t seem to bring myself to the trough. Trust me, I would love to see the train start moving up hill again, and in fact some of my customers are seeing gains this year, but overall 2011 looks like it could easily be another year of hype and hyperbole instead of substance and recovery.

Oh, while I’m leery of experts and prognosticators, I do find a voice of reason with Reggie Middleton. Read his blog here BoomBustBlog Residential Real Estate Page . He’s what I consider one of the rare exceptions when it comes to a realistic outlook. Interesting stuff. But Reggie is one guy, often a voice in a wilderness, so don’t forget to use your head and trust your gut.
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Beware the possible coming of the "glass Wal-Mart" 

A different take on my last blog installment, which commented on the fact that glass manufacturers, the seemingly low cost supplier, often become the high price supplier when they step out of their role as manufacturer and become a fabricator.

Beyond the manufacturers there are a few large glass consumers who have created, because of their buying power, a pricing disparity that for now is a euphoric drug but in time will drive enough smaller fabricators out of business that these "glass Wal-Marts" will own the business and then watch where those prices low prices go.

Here is a quote from the blog from a very successful glass fabricator who calls for some reason in the market place. I certainly agree with Bill Stone's thoughts on the subject. He makes a lot of sense:

"Independents are vital to serving the public well. They are contributors to their communities, but, more importantly, independents can accomplish things of which no large organization is capable. The responsibility for the future of privately owned fabricators, in this writer’s view, falls to the raw glass manufacturers, who must treat these entrepreneurial operations with economic fairness. As the national trend for consolidation continues, the two or three dominant fabricators will constantly attempt to influence PPG, Pilkington, Guardian, etc, to give them enough of a cost advantage to put incredible pressure on the remaining family-owned competitors. The smaller companies can better serve and out-sell the larger companies that use price as their ultimate weapon of mass destruction. The big guys will never duplicate the strong relationships the independents have with their customers. So what do they use? Just plain muscle and price. If large publicly held fabricators thought in terms of profit as opposed to market share, they would partner with the independents on projects of mutual advantage. The resulting growth of trust and cooperation would lead to increased profits and liquidity in our long-suffering glass industry. We call on the primary glass manufacturers to use their considerable influence to help make this happen.

As I have said in earlier offerings on this blog, I have holdings in other industries and none are as self-destructive as our friends and neighbors in the glass business. We are all better than this. It is time to act like economic grownups."

To read the entire article go here, posted 5/10/2011: Bill Stone's BILL SESSION - On Independents
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