Two up-and-coming glass technologies could see further advancement in the coming years, after the Biden-Harris administration announced an initiative that aims to “slash” the costs for energy efficient upgrades in affordable housing. Administered by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Affordable Home Energy Shot™ aims to cut the costs for energy related upgrades in half within a decade, while reducing utility costs for occupants by 20%. The initiative will do so by focusing on research, development and demonstration of clean energy solutions that deliver cost savings for affordable homes, officials say. Windows were among the first components to be mentioned.

“The windows, walls, and roofs that protect our families from the elements and keep us healthy and safe are some of the most effective tools we have to lower our utility bills, fight climate change and advance environmental justice,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. “This Energy Earthshot, the Affordable Home Energy Shot™, will focus the department’s research and development efforts on the most promising next-generation materials and technologies to make energy efficient home upgrades accessible to all.”

Program officials say they’re exploring innovative retrofit solutions, including “thin triple-pane and aerogel-insulated windows.”

Aerogel is under development as a filling for insulating glass units (IGUs). The material is comprised of over 99% air, making it highly effective as a thermal insulation.

“For this type of insulating glass unit, a water-clear aerogel material is sandwiched between the glass lites,” says [DWM] columnist Dave Cooper, a consultant and president of Fenestration Consulting Services LLC. “U-factor ratings at or better than triple glazing are possible, depending upon the width of the IGU.”

While there have been demonstrations of low-haze products utilizing aerogel, the process for scale up has so far presented significant challenges, Cooper says. For this reason, the technology is likely several years from becoming commercially viable, he says.

Thin-triple, a form of insulating glass that utilizes a layer of thin glass as an inner lite, is in use among a few door and window manufacturers, but has yet to reach full-scale viability.

The Affordable Home Energy Shot™ is the eighth and final phase of DOE’s Energy Earthshot™ initiative. Officials cite greenhouse gas emissions as a primary impetus—nearly a third of which are attributed to 130 million homes and commercial buildings. Collectively, those structures consume 40% of the nation’s energy and 75% of its electricity, DOE reports. The Affordable Home Energy Shot™ is also designed to address “the persistent burdens faced by low-income households and communities of color,” the Biden-Harris administration states. More than 20% of households nationwide fell behind on energy bills in 2022, an administrative statement says, with a disproportionate number of lower-income homes being impacted.

Meanwhile, there is an available $13.5 billion in Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act investments for DOE programming that can be used to support household energy improvements, officials point out.

To achieve the program’s goals, DOE is focused on building innovations in three pivotal areas: building upgrades, efficient electrification, and smart controls. The approach calls for advancing scalable technologies and installation solutions for affordable-housing residents, “while expanding workforce capabilities at the state and local levels.”

In addition to energy savings, better windows and air sealing can keep outdoor air pollutants from entering homes, improving indoor environmental quality, program officials point out. That’s a particular concern in disadvantaged communities, they say.

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