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What Is Low-E Glass?


Glass is one of the most popular and versatile building materials used today. One reason is because of its constantly improving solar and thermal performance. And one way this performance is achieved is through the use of passive and solar control low-e coatings. So, what is low-e glass? In this section, we provide you with an in-depth overview of coatings.

In order to understand coatings, it’s important to understand the solar energy spectrum or energy from the sun. Ultraviolet (UV) light, visible light and infrared (IR) light all occupy different parts of the solar spectrum � the differences between the three are determined by their wavelengths.

  • Ultraviolet light, which is what causes interior materials such as fabrics and wall coverings to fade, has wavelengths of 310-380 nanometers when reporting glass performance.
  • Visible light occupies the part of the spectrum between wavelengths from about 380-780 nanometers.
  • Infrared light or heat energy, is transmitted as heat into a building, and begins at wavelengths of 780 nanometers. Solar infrared is commonly referred to as short-wave infrared energy, while heat radiating off of warm objects has higher wavelengths than the sun and referred to as long-wave infrared.

Now, let’s look at the options:

The Two Types of Low-E Glass


There are two types of Low-E glass: hard coat and soft coat. As you might imagine, they have different properties. In fact, they actually look different.

  1. Hard coat Low-E glass is manufactured by pouring a thin layer of molten tin onto a sheet of glass while the glass is still slightly molten. The tin actually becomes "welded" to the glass. This process makes it difficult or "hard" to scratch or remove the tin. Often this glass has a blueish tint to it.
  2. Soft coat Low-E glass, on the other hand, involves the application of silver, zinc or tin to glass in a vacuum. The glass enters a vacuum chamber filled with an inert gas which is electrically charged. The electricity combined with the vacuum allows molecules of metal to sputter onto the glass. The coating is fairly delicate or "soft."

Furthermore, if silver is used (and it often is) this coating can oxidize if exposed to normal air. For this reason, soft coat Low-E glass must be used in an insulated glass assembly. Sealing the soft coating in between two pieces of glass protects the soft coating from outside air and sources of abrasion. Also, the space between the two pieces of glass is often filled with argon gas. The argon gas inhibits oxidation of the metallic coating. It also acts as an additional insulator.

The two types of Low-E glass have different performance characteristics. The soft coat process has the ability to reflect more heat back to the source. It typically has a higher R value. R values are a measure of resistance to heat loss. The higher the R value of a material, the better its insulating qualities. So, to understand which of these options is right for you and your home, give us a call and schedule an appointment with our window and door professional who can show you samples, and recommend which type of Low E window is best for you!


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