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Volume 18, Issue 4 - July/August 2014
edited by Casey Neeley
Commentary: Is IR Just a Buzzword?
Is the hype surrounding infrared (IR) rejection just being used by the window film industry to push its product on unwitting customers? Experts say, maybe.
“The IR number helps people understand that the film is rejecting the vast majority of the heat from the infrared,” says Billy C. Pettit, LEED AP, commercial marketing supervisor in 3M’s renewable energy division. “It brings up a conversation about visible light and energy, and helps not only the consumer, but also the dealer, have that conversation with the end-customer.”
“IR performance should be important only in the context of its effect on total solar energy rejection (TSER),” states Lisa Winckler, director, global marketing technical services for Eastman Chemical Co. “Unfortunately, it has been misrepresented by certain manufacturers and installers alike. Although the IR spectrum represents approximately 50 percent of the solar spectrum and is felt as heat, higher IR rejection does not necessary mean better performing window film.”
So is it a catchy phrase, or a valuable benefit?
“It’s a little bit of both actually,” says Bob Smar, senior project manager for Madico Window Films. “It is important … but what has become a ‘buzzword’ is the fact that IR blocks ‘99 percent’ of the IR. In most cases it’s probably not that high.”
“IR makes up about half of the sun’s energy received on Earth, so it is certainly an important part of the overall energy and heat story,” says Pierre Chraghchian, managing member of Erickson International/American Standard Window Film. “However, the rest of the sun’s energy comes from visible light and a small portion from UV, so these parts of the solar spectrum also contribute about half of what turns into heat in a room or car.
“Not everyone understands this,” Chraghchian adds. “I expect the average consumer equates ‘IR’ with ‘heat’ because of infrared heaters and lamps, but this does not accurately represent the composition of energy from the sun. This may lead to an incomplete conclusion that if a large portion of the IR is blocked then almost no heat will be transmitted through a film.”
“There are some instances where some manufacturers/dealers are misrepresenting the IR performance of their products,” notes Chraghchian. “The complete NIR/IR spectrum includes 700-2500 nanometers (nm). Certain manufacturers, to boost their IR rejection numbers, only measure a small portion of the complete IR spectrum (900-1100 nm which is approximately 15 percent of the total spectrum) and advertise the performance of their film based on measuring this narrow bandwidth.”
“The problem we have nowadays is a meter to test the transmission,” states Smar. “They only have a very small portion for the solar spectrum. The entire spectrum runs 0-2,500 nm … these handheld meters typically only test a small spectrum, say 900 to 1,000 nm. At that point, it may show 99 percent IR rejection, but that may not show the whole story.”
“Films that block more IR (in the 780-2500 nm bandwidth) are great products and worthy of the praise they receive simply because many of them allow for the transmission of more visible light while still providing very good solar heat rejection overall,” notes Winckler. “Just understand that a film product’s actual solar heat performance comes from a combination of both IR and visible light management. As a result a better indication of overall solar heat performance is given by a film’s TSER value, the total solar energy rejection, which incorporates the impacts from both visible and IR.
“Another misrepresentation is the expected lifetime of their products,” adds Chraghchian. “Just like regular dyed window film, IR absorbers can fade as well. If the product is made using near-infrared-absorbing dyes to boost the performance in the 900-1100 nm range, the performance of the product will decrease significantly as the IR dyes are not UV stable and will fade. Therefore consumers and installers should be concerned when offering and installing lower cost IR absorbing products.”
A lack of uniform testing standards may be to blame for the inconsistencies, says Winckler.
“Neither the National Fenestration Rating Council nor any automotive standards body has a standard test for IR rejection,” she says. “There is currently no agreed-upon industry-wide definition of the term ‘infrared rejection’ and therefore no agreed-upon testing and measurement procedures for its calculation.”
As a result, education about these products begins at the manufacturer level, Pettit says, then trickles down to the consumer.
“It’s important for a manufacturer to train and educate its dealers,” he states. “There are manufacturers who publish IR numbers and don’t care who they’re selling film to; who may be misrepresenting IR … they haven’t been educated correctly.
“I’ve seen some miscommunication go out, but from my perspective publishing IR is a good thing because it brings it to the forefront and makes sure the dealer is bringing it to the end-customer and the customer is having an intelligent discussion about what the IR does,” Pettit adds.
“The way the industry is moving right now is toward IR so this is going to become a bigger part of marketing for companies,” notes Smar. “What we need to do as an industry is clearly display how IR is measured as it pertains to window film.”