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sun through curtains window

Where are we going with window technology? Why does it matter? Here’s a glimpse into what to expect when it comes to natural light windows in the near future.

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Light and darkness are polarizing forces that have profoundly shaped human history.

The invention of electricity, for instance, through the electric light — that changed everything. Just everything. “Life after dark” was a relatively new concept. Candles held nothing to kerosene lamps, and kerosene was outshone by the electric light.

Today, the science of light continues to evolve, but we’re ever guided by the same desire — an artificial or indoor quality of light that can replicate sunlight. Hint: So far, nothing really has.

The advances continue and prices keep changing. Look at LED lighting, which is plummeting in costs. Bulbs that were sometimes as much as $50 can be found for $6 now.

But you know what else is changing? The technology creating our windows.

Let the sunshine in

Imagine a skylight that, through a nano-particle coating, could replicate sunlight indoors. Now it exists. Sure, you might have to pay some $65,000 just to install one sunlight, but just like LED lighting, these prices will fall in the coming years. Right now, they’re able to replicate three different qualities of light — tropical, Mediterranean, and Scandinavian.

From the quality of light to the heat of the light, those who’ve experienced these skylights say it’s like nothing they’ve experienced in a home before, it’s like being outdoors inside, as their sharp consumer video shows.

The application potential for these skylights — or this window-coating technology — could transform the emotional health of people while indoors. Imagine workplaces with “real sunlight” and how that might affect productivity, sick time, office moods, and more. Imagine homes where it felt bright, light, and unfiltered, especially for people living with chronic conditions that prevent them from getting out much.

With windows, it’s what’s outside that counts

Today’s “glazing” is becoming a game-changer. It’s not just about keeping heat in or out, it’s about changing the light to aid in energy conservation and quality of life.

Take the incredible “liquid crystal” window technology demonstrated recently by Merck. These liquid crystals sandwiched between two panes will allow adjusting to the level of light coming through the window, which they say can dramatically affect the energy consumption of glass buildings. Imagine not having to raise or lower the blinds but instead just alter the opacity of the liquid crystals. What a concept.

And let’s not forget the transparent photovoltaic panels — or, solar-collecting window panes — being cooked up in Michigan. “Michigan’s (solar-catching window) currently has an efficiency of around 1%, but they think 5% should be possible. Non-transparent luminescent concentrators (which bathe the room in colorful light) max out at around 7%. On their own these aren’t huge figures, but on a larger scale — every window in a house or office block — the numbers quickly add up. Likewise, while we’re probably not talking about a technology that can keep your smartphone or tablet running indefinitely, replacing your device’s display with a TLSC could net you a few more minutes or hours of usage on a single battery charge.”

A difference we may not “see”

We’re on the precipice of a new era. Over 7 billion people on the planet, and much of climate change is being affected through energy consumption and pollution, the latter of which is often driven by energy consumption in cars and such. The fact is, every little bit of energy efficiency we preserve through new window technology is part of how we change that uncertain future.

Windows are in every building, and the better we make them — through glass, glazing, panes, and filling — the quicker we’ll see our energy use plummet, which may in turn slow climate change. First, though, we’ll have to suffer through the sticker shocks that come with adopting new technology. The price tag of $60,000+ for a single Coelux skylight is an example of that cost. Soon the rest of us will see the scales tip as demand rises and costs come down.

If there’s one thing we’re seeing, science is clearly thinking outside the box to bring innovative solutions to light when it comes to windows and natural light in all the places we live and work.

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Steffani Cameron

Steffani Cameron is a Victoria BC-based writer on a variety of topics. Here on the BuildDirect blog, she specializes in writing about smaller, urban spaces. How do you make the most of your smaller space? How do you decorate it to suit you? And how do you wage the war against clutter and win? This is Steff’s specialty.