Dishing the dirt on self-cleaning glass

Paul Higgins
Paul Higgins

Don’t be tempted by low-cost alternatives to true self-cleaning glass. It will cost you and your customer more than you might think, explains TuffX’s commercial director, Paul Higgins.

It’s no secret that the first half of 2023 has been notably quieter for our industry. This isn’t unusual – we’re used to seeing an annual lull post-Christmas, while the weather is colder and the January purse strings are tightened after a festive splurge and in anticipation of the summer holiday season to come.

This year, however, the contrast seems even more stark, and some of the forecasts for 2023 are already proving to have been over ambitious.

Most of us have now worked through much of the backlog of projects that were created by the Covid-related home renovating boom, while of course people are also under further financial pressure due to cost of living and mortgage rate rises. Sales across our industry, like many others, are seeing a shift back towards pre-Covid type levels.

This leaves fabricators and installers with an increased pressure on sales and, in particular, profit margins. One of the cost-cutting exercises we are regularly noticing at TuffX in this regard is installers making the choice to use glass that does not meet the British Standard of self-cleaning glass.

But what exactly is this standard? How does other – cheaper – glass differ? And, crucially, how much of a difference does it actually make?

The British Standard of self-cleaning glass, BS EN 1096, was introduced in 2016. Being labelled BS EN 1096 certifies the glass has an official self-cleaning performance, derived from a two-stage process.

The first stage of this cleaning process is ‘photo catalytic’, where the glass’s special coating reacts with sunlight to break down organic dirt while also causing the surface to become ‘hydrophilic’. This means that instead of forming droplets, the water clings to the glass and spreads evenly, running off in a sheet while taking the loosened dirt with it, and drying quickly to prevent unsightly streaks.

In contrast, cheaper glass that does not meet this British Standard is usually just a liquid wiped on the surface by the glass processor that actually gives an opposite, ‘hydrophobic’, effect. This causes the surface of the glass to repel the water, causing droplets to form.

Not only is this less effective and less attractive, the liquid also needs reapplying every couple of years too, with the glass going blotchy and streaky as it begins to wear out. By contrast true self-cleaning glass, as long as it’s not mistreated, should last a lifetime.

However, this hydrophobic glass can be up to a tenth of the price of BS EN 1096 self-cleaning glass. It’s easy to see why the temptation is there for installers to choose it, especially if they are planning to be long gone by the time it’s lack of actual self-cleaning properties truly comes to light.

Offering cheap, hydrophobic glass instead of self-cleaning could be a tempting option to lower costs in the hope of increasing sales but it is ultimately a false economy, and one that could be costly to your business in more ways than one.

If the glass does not come with the right guarantees that it meets the necessary standards to be labelled true self-cleaning glass then it will undoubtedly fail to perform correctly, resulting in costly call-backs and replacement requests.

Quality and reputation are everything to us at TuffX, which is why every one of our conservatory roof products are made with genuinely hydrophilic glass that carries the BS EN 1096 label. We always encourage our trade customers to show homeowners the BS label and explain that it means they can be sure they’re getting the real thing. It’s an unequivocal standard that the consumer can trust.

We owe it to our homeowning customers to point out the difference and let them make an informed choice – one which will not only looks and performs better, but which will ultimately save them paying out more for remedial work in the future.