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New shades and screens made with energy-efficient fabrics

July 1st, 2008 / By: / Case Studies, Feature

Forget the old bug screen—a new generation of shades and screens is energy efficient, sustainable, attractive and functional.

The days of Grandma’s stiff, vinyl rollup shades and the heavy-duty bug screen you could hardly see through are gone. Today’s shades and screens are made from an array of energy-efficient fabrics and designed with not just functionality but aesthetics, sustainability and even a little fun in mind. These high-tech fabrics can turn a parking garage into a work of stunning architecture and your garage into a bug-free outdoor room. A window that sported a standard shade can now feature a favorite family photo while reducing energy costs. Here’s a look at some of the latest trends.

Bringing the outside in

As outdoor rooms continue to grow in popularity, so has the realization that the outdoors can be, well, hot and swarming with bugs. To improve on what Mother Nature has to offer, Phantom Screens, based in Abbotsford, British Columbia, has introduced Executive Screen.

Made of fiberglass and coated with PVC for durability, Executive Screen is a versatile, retractable screen system that can be used to enclose open or oversized spaces, including garages, covered patios, balconies, porches or decks. A roller housing protects the screen when it’s not in use. With the touch of a button, the screen comes down on tracks made of extruded aluminum that can be color-matched to complement a business or home. The system can be exterior mounted or recessed into a ceiling cavity or walls.

“This is not a new product, but we’re using it in new ways and we’re seeing a lot of interest,” says Jeret Unger, marketing and communications manager for Phantom Screens. In addition to blocking ultraviolet rays and keeping the bugs away, Unger says, Executive Screen allows complete ventilation while enhancing privacy and helping to create sealed, safe places for things like a workshop or a kids’ playroom. The screen can also be used indoors to cover oversized picture windows or to block light in a home theater.

A new application

Cambridge Architectural has been manufacturing woven metal products for industrial use for decades. But in the last few years, the company’s woven mesh systems have captured the attention of architects who have used the metal fabric in a variety of innovative ways.

At the New World of Coca-Cola® museum in Atlanta, Ga., for example, Cambridge designers and engineers worked closely with the project’s architects to create a series of 2.4m-by-2.4m woven mesh fabric panels that were installed in conjunction with a glass curtain wall to create the building’s contemporary façade. Cambridge used lasers to etch the Coca-Cola trademark onto the surface of the fabric. At night, exterior wash lighting gives the building a luminescent glow.

Made from textured stainless steel, Cambridge’s woven wire mesh is an increasingly popular choice for building façades because it looks attractive while offering both shade and energy savings. “We’ve done a lot of testing so we can tell people what kind of energy savings they’ll get when using a particular mesh product,” says Larry Windsor, director of sales and business development for Cambridge Architectural.

The fabric, which can be woven as large as 61m tall and 6m wide and installed with limited support, is also used frequently in the construction of parking garages. “The textured metal offers a stylish option to traditional concrete-clad parking structures,” Windsor says. “And it’s open, so you get a cool look while often eliminating the need for an HVAC system.”

Indoors, Cambridge’s metal fabrics can be used in commercial and residential settings in a variety of ways, including infill on handrails, wall cladding and ceilings. The company’s new Reelease™ technology, a custom-designed, motorized retractable attachment system, has even made it possible to use the material as curtains that can be raised or lowered at the touch of a button. “Right now,” Windsor says, “the sky is the limit with this material. It’s really caught on.”

Shades of green

Sustainable design is a priority for more and more companies. Dothan, Ala.-based Twitchell Corporation has introduced screen products created with Earthtex® yarn and fabric. Made from thermoplastic olefin (a polymer/filler blend known as TPO), Earthtex offers the durability and performance of traditional PVC and fiberglass screens without releasing harmful chemicals into the environment.

“It’s great because it’s completely recyclable, which means it can be broken down into its elemental compounds and reprocessed,” explains Jeff Register, Twitchell’s vice president of sales and marketing. “It is virtually unparalleled in the industry today.” Which is why, Register says, the product earned Charlottesville, Va.-based McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry LLC’s Cradle to Cradle™ Silver-level certification for eco-effective design and manufacture.

Register says Earthtex’s eco-friendly appeal is further enhanced by Twitchell’s commitment to transferring all of the power used to produce the fabric to alternate energy sources, including solar and hydroelectric power.

Long Island City, N.Y.-based MechoShade Systems Inc. used Earthtex to make its EcoVeil™ solar shade cloth product, which is currently installed at several commercial locations, including Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., and BP Oil headquarters in London.

Twitchell is exploring ways to use Earthtex for other applications, such as floor and wall covering, panel fabric and automotive interiors, Register says, and the company expects the product to appeal to residential customers, too. “We are a technical solution provider for our customers,” Register says. “So we’re very willing to develop and create new products for people’s specific needs.”

Meleah Maynard is a freelance writer based in Minneapolis, Minn.

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