Sales of self-cleaning glass set to climb higher than ever before

Phil Brown, European regulatory marketing manager at Pilkington UK, outlines the opportunities for supplying advanced glazing in the wake of updates to BS 8560.

Despite its relative infancy compared to other coated glass products, the self-cleaning glass market has exploded in popularity since its inception.

There is no question that there is significant demand from the market. Since we launched Pilkington Activ – the world’s first commercially available self-cleaning glass – in 2002, we’ve sold more than 10 million square metres.

The growth of self-cleaning glass looks set to continue, with recent research predicting that the market is set to grow from £77.6 million to £96.1 million worldwide by 2023 – a 24% increase. However, various factors such as the recent revision to BS 8560, more on which later, could mean that market growth could outstrip even these lofty predictions.

Let’s take a closer look at these factors, and why now is the time for installers and fabricators to look to supply more self-cleaning glass.

BS 8560 – the code of practice for the design of buildings incorporating safe work at height – was updated in October 2018 to include reference to The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations. It contains specific reference to regulations which cover the ability to clean windows safely, such as Regulation 16.

BS 8560 stipulates that specific attention should be paid to aspects of the building design that impact how work at height is carried out, including a full building maintenance-and-cleaning access strategy. Self-cleaning glass can add value for designers and specifiers by minimising the need for cleaning access, leading to total avoidance of many of the associated safety risks.

Indeed, low-maintenance materials – such as self-cleaning glass – are cited directly by the standard as a key work-at-height control measure to improve worker safety.

Simply put, self-cleaning glass is ideal for use in hard-to-reach places that are difficult to clean, minimising – or even eliminating entirely – the need to spend time working at height. It is, therefore, ideal for designers looking to improve upon the effectiveness of their designs, while remaining ahead of evolving best-practice standards such as BS 8560.

Over time, the world we live in has become increasingly urbanised. In 1950, just over a quarter (29%) of the population lived in cities and urban areas; a number that has risen to 55% today. By 2050, just a century after those early figures, it is expected that more than two-thirds (68%) of the world’s population will live in cities; an additional 2.5 billion people.

In light of this increasing urbanisation, developers have increasingly looked to build upwards rather than outwards in order to save on space and the costs associated with spiralling land values. In the UK, high-profile projects are planned in cities including Manchester, Bristol, and Norwich, while London alone currently has 115 high-rise schemes under construction – the most at any time in its history.

As glass has tended to be the de facto material in modern building design, there is naturally a greater need to keep buildings clean. Given the sheer size of high-rise developments, however, expenditure on cleaning can vastly increase maintenance expenses. In fact, it has been estimated that the cost of cleaning a skyscraper’s windows in its first five years equals that of the original installation.

This is where self-cleaning glass comes in: removing – or at least reducing – the need for expensive rope-access cleaning firms, while also providing a more sustainable solution through vastly decreasing the amount of both water and cleaning products used.

The ongoing increase in high-rise developments, a maturing market for self-cleaning products, and the recent amendments to BS 8560 all come together to create an environment in which the self-cleaning glass market can thrive.

Building standards such as BS EN 1096-5 – the new British and European Standard for self-cleaning glass performance – will also be key to driving adoption, giving the glass and glazing industry a baseline standard to adhere to, as well as offering reassurance to buyers that they are getting a quality product.

With this in mind, I predict that awareness of, and demand for, low-maintenance and self-cleaning products is likely to increase dramatically in the coming years. This in turn will create a clear opportunity for the glass and glazing sectors, as key suppliers to the built-environment, to capitalise on this demand and drive the self-cleaning glass market forward.