So it’s not surprising that he wound up founding his own window company, but with a twist. He and co-founder James Abrams have found a way to make windows “smart” — instead of allowing energy to escape, they actually produce energy to heat the building and stop heat loss. And they do all this while remaining clear, attractive sources of natural light.
Vitrius Technologies, founded in 2012, has already installed its revolutionary windows in commercial and residential buildings. And they continue to improve the product — a whole new set of smart controls will launch soon.
What inspired you to found Vitrius Technologies?
About a year and a half into working for Interstate Window & Door, I started working on concepts for making a window better and more efficient.
I found that one of Interstate’s core products used a composite material that was the most efficient in the industry. But there were still shortfalls.
The typical building is designed with R39 rooms (the number is the insulation value: the thermal resistance of the building’s envelope). Walls are typically designed with an R15 or R19; windows, even the most efficient, are struggling to get to an R5 or R6; others are only R2 or R3. The windows in any building are the most inefficient part, the weak link in the chain. So I looked at this as low-hanging fruit among building materials. I wanted to find out how to make windows better and stronger.
What evolved from that is what I call a “dynamic” product that functions beyond just allowing light into the building. Our R-Series Radiant Windows and Enertive Energy Monitoring System work by charging the window with electricity to respond and react with the environment.
I was pushed by my own internal drive to make our core product better, to make it more dynamic, and then to make it smart.
How did you develop the idea?
Initially I worked by myself. There was technology on the market, so I bought the rights to that. What they were missing was the controls to make it work. My partner James Abrams has an alternative energy background, and I, with my experience in windows, business and finance, continued to develop our products and our market.
How did you get the company started?
We took the intellectual property, our manufacturing partner (Interstate Window and Door), and samples and prototypes, and went to the Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern PA to pitch the idea. They gave us $120,000 in funding. This, along with our own capital, was our seed funding. In 2012, we applied for a grant through the Local Share Account of Luzerne County, and were awarded $225,000. That helped kick-start the company, funding the development of our products and our engineering.
Through my contacts from working with Interstate, I did a high-end residential project as a Beta [run] as early as 2011. Since then, we have done commercial and residential work. We work mostly up and down the East Coast and in the Midwest. Right now we’re working on some local jobs, and have a handful of projects in Connecticut and Vermont.
We now have a full-time lead engineer, two engineering interns from Wilkes University, two people in sales, an operations manager and a project manager. We’ve been located at the Innovation Center in Wilkes-Barre since the beginning, and this past fall we expanded our office space and extended our lease. We’re growing and happy with our location.
How does your product work?
Most commercial insulated glass is essentially two panes of glass with an air space. There is a coating with metal in all the windows. Within the glass itself we have placed two busbars (copper wires running parallel to each other similar to a rear-window defroster in a car, but in this case invisible). We charge them with a small amount of electricity. The resistance in the metal coating on the glass creates heat from friction, and that heat and energy is absorbed by the glass, which holds and maintains that energy and radiates it out into the room. Eighty to 90 percent of the energy we put in our system is directed into the building, so it’s very efficient.
The controls are the “brains” of the windows; they work like an automated thermostat. The controls are constantly taking readings of the outside temperature, the inside temperature, the glass surface temperature and other readings.
We’re currently using our first-generation controls, but we have refined them. We now have our new control and power board system that drives the power to the windows and controls the whole array of windows.
The controls can sense when someone is in the room; they tell the window exactly how much power to draw, and when to draw it, so we minimize the usage if no one is in the room.
One of the things you want to do is use solar energy. So if there’s high sun exposure on one side of the building, it will pick up solar heat and the controls can calculate how much energy that side will need in addition, and how much the other side will need to heat the room.
The controls also track the performance of the windows in real time; they can automatically reprogram themselves and recalibrate themselves in response to users’ behavior. They optimize energy efficiency and offer a myriad of features.
Our product can be used as a primary heat source. It puts out about 136 BTUs per square foot. That’s a substantial amount of heat, and we’re stopping heat loss through the glass, taking the weak link out of the system. We can also do retrofit projects in existing buildings.
What has been the biggest challenge so far?
We’ve had some challenges with architects who are resistant to change. Architects and building owners tend to do what they know. Getting people to accept the merits of a totally new technology that has revolutionized the building industry is a bit difficult. Once we have the opportunity to show them, it changes their minds immediately. But it’s a challenge to get over the initial reaction.
What is the big differentiator for your product?
There is no other company that has developed a true “smart” window product like ours.
What’s next for Vitrius Technologies?
Right now we’re finishing up the UL certification process for our new controls, which we’ll launch within 30 days. We’re also working on some new products. Our initial push is full-fledged marketing of the new controls. We will be filing new intellectual property, and will be opening up for some investment within the next year to ensure our growth.
Writer: Susan L. Pena