New high-tech glass films claim energy savings for your home. By Merle Henkenius
All window films start with the film, of course, which is always polyester, 2 to 7 mils thick. Quite often, several thin layers of film are bonded together. One side is coated with either a pressure-sensitive or water-activated adhesive. The exposed surfaces of most films are also treated with a hard, scratch-resistant coating. To filter out ultraviolet radiation, chemical UV blockers (cyclic imines esters) are incorporated. If the film’s purpose is to provide only UV protection and shatter resistance, no other materials need to be added.
From there, three separate technologies are applied to achieve different performance characteristics. The first is simply a dye, which absorbs heat. Because most films are applied to the inside surfaces of windows, it’s easy to imagine that the absorbed heat would disperse indoors. In fact, the heat rejected by the film is stored largely in the glass, and is drawn away by external air movement.
A tiny percentage does bleed inward, but because the average speed of external air movement is so much greater–the daily average is 15 mph, versus 1/2 mph indoors–the ratio is 30:1 or better in favor of outdoor heat dissipation. Because double-glazed windows don’t allow air movement between panes, interior-dyed films should not be used on thermal glass.
The other two processes, called deposition technology (vacuum coating/metallizing) and sputtering technology (advanced metallizing), deposit a layer of metallic particles on the film, giving it a reflective coating. In each case, a second layer of film protects the coating. Metallized films reject heat by reflecting it before it can be transferred through the glass.
In deposition technology, the film is drawn through a tank containing metal ingots–usually aluminum or nickel-chrome, and occasionally copper. A vacuum is created by reducing the pressure in the tank, which is then flooded with argon gas and the ingots are heated. The heat causes the metal to give up particles that migrate to the film’s surface. The density of the metal deposition is controlled by the speed of the film through the chamber.
Sputtering technology is more complicated. Sputtering is also done in a vacuum chamber, but the metallizing is achieved at the atomic level. In brief, electromagnetic fields direct streams of ions from a chemically inert gas (usually argon) toward the metal.
This ion bombardment, which is often described as “atomic billiards,” causes groups of atoms to dislodge in small bursts and scatter uniformly across the film.
The practical benefits of sputtering are that 25 to 30 different metals can be used and the metallized coating is much lighter. It’s possible to sputter metal in a layer one-hundredth the thickness of a human hair. Different metals are chosen to subtract specific bands of radiation from the solar spectrum. The result is a highly reflective layer with very little mirror effect, heat absorption or color shift.
Because sputtering is more expensive, these films occupy the high end of the price range. Metallic films control radiation through reflectivity. Simplified film consists of polyester layers, metallic coating, adhesive and scratch-resistant coatings.
While the performance characteristics of dyed and metallic films are generally distinct, there is some overlap. Heat-absorbing dyed films are somewhat reflective, and metallic films do absorb some heat because of the mass and color of the metals involved.
To further complicate the issue, many films contain both dyes and reflective metals. By combining dyes and metals, the negative effects of each can be reduced without sacrificing performance.
A good example is gray dye and titanium coating. If used alone, dye would darken the film significantly, while the titanium would produce a highly mirrored surface. When paired, less of each can be used, resulting in a film that is relatively bright and non reflective.
This point is significant, if only because it quells the notion that the darkest films reject the most heat. In most cases, dark films are chosen because they offer greater privacy.