Years ago, architect
Mike Ryan had a brief but positive experience with translucent polycarbonate
glazing. It convinced him that this versatile material would be perfect for
daylighting the stairway wall in his recently built home in Chicago.
Ryan designed a 10-foot-wide by 20-foot-high wall and filled it with Duo-Gard’s Series 3500 System, specifically engineered for vertical wall applications. “This wall is adjacent to a stairway, a place where typical windows would be hard to reach,” Ryan says. “Translucent polycarbonate was a way to bring in the natural light I wanted.”
And it was soft,
diffused light without the harsh glare and heat gain of glass. It was also a
significantly lower cost.
in translucent multiwall polycarbonate for residential applications isn’t
widespread yet but it is increasing. “There’s a lack of awareness. I don’t
think residential architects are very familiar with it,” says Ryan, AIA, senior
architect at Chicago Roof Deck + Garden.
According to David
Miller, president of Duo-Gard Industries, most residential architects and
designers don’t understand and appreciate the advantages of the material, which
has gained widespread use in commercial and industrial applications. Duo-Gard
began designing and engineering systems for those applications more than 35
“There’s a lot of education
needed about the benefits of translucent daylighting for high performance, unique
aesthetics, design flexibility and cost effectiveness,” Miller says. In fact,
he says, Duo-Gard’s systems typically provide a 40 percent saving over glass,
rivaling and often exceeding the performance.
Ryan says all these
benefits were significant factors in his choice. His Duo-Gard Series 3500
System’s glazing, framed in clear anodized aluminum, provides 30 percent
visible light transmission in a 40mm tongue-and-groove multiwall polycarbonate
that achieves U-value 0.29 and R-value 3.57 for exceptional energy efficiency.
That energy efficiency
can be enhanced with the addition of an advanced insulating aerogel called
Lumira®. This dry silica particulate is filled with nano-pores that trap air to
insulate up to R-8 in a single inch. It can be factory-filled to double a
multiwall polycarbonate panel’s thermal value.
Miller says aesthetics
play a major role in translucent daylighting for the residential market. Ryan chose
an opal tint from among the contemporary color choices available today, ranging
from bright blues to subtle greens and sophisticated charcoals. This year,
Duo-Gard added matte finish panels as well as multi-color options which enable
a designer to choose one color for a panel’s interior and another for the
One of multiwall
polycarbonate’s most appealing features is its design and engineering
versatility, according to David Miller. “It’s virtually shatterproof with 200
times the impact strength of glass at only 1/6th the weight,” he
points out, “which means it can accommodate designs with wider spans and
lighter supports.” It also cold-forms easily so designers can create dramatic
curved walls and accents.
systems are dry-glazed, they require special framing,” he adds. “Those
unfamiliar with the material assume it can be framed like glass, thus creating
performance problems. Polycarbonate expands and contracts, requiring framing
that allows it to “float” in the frame.” Duo-Gard’s structural systems are
specifically engineered for polycarbonate glazings.
Miller says residential
architects and designers should look seriously at the material, and not just
for window walls. He cites canopies, pergolas, pool covers and shade structures
as examples of the possibilities.
But what about
sacrificing views of the great outdoors? A challenge easily addressed, Miller
says: “Our systems can be engineered to include visibility sections to suit the
Mike Ryan’s family took up residence in March 2019, and he says the translucent polycarbonate wall was “a great option” for the new home.
Photography by Ben
Duo-Gard is a leading innovator in high-performance translucent walls and strategies, illuminated walls and ceilings, custom canopies, and outdoor structures including bus, bike and smoking shelters since 1984.
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