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Q&A With Russell Ibbotson, P. Eng, LEED AP, CTR, VELUX Canada Inc.

Looking for innovation in the building community? Look up. New products, installation techniques, and trends are turning a focus on skylights and their evolving applications within residential, industrial, and commercial properties.

For a snapshot of where this corner of the industry is heading, here's Russell Ibbotson, Technical Manager with VELUX Canada Inc.

What's “new” in the Canadian skylight market?

This is a highly adaptive field, so there's always something new to talk about. One product in particular, however, is a modular skylight that VELUX is bringing to Canada from Europe. It's a high-performance option that requires no on-site glazing, which means it can be dry fit on the roof. This skylight also has the option to add venting or blinds, which can be controlled with wall switches or connected to a building's automation system. It can also be used for venting and blinds and connecting it to a building's automation. We're excited about this product because of that high-performance aspect and its range of applications. Initially, we thought it would be something that would be used solely for LEED-certified kinds of buildings, but we're finding a demand for it among many retrofit projects, including malls and schools.

Aside from that, when it comes to new construction, we see more around the idea of natural ventilation. For both institutional and some industrial applications, owners are looking for the option to open up their skylights on nice days to get some fresh air. 

Do you see the demand for high-performance skylights increasing?

Dynamic Dome pic 6 no poeple colour alterWe do. Traditionally, the buying decisions around skylights have been focused primarily around the price, but more and more customers are looking for skylight products that can contribute to their building's overall performance. For example, we're starting to have conversations with schools about replacing skylights with products that can better control heat gain from the sun and improve energy efficiency overall.

As for the products themselves, we see increased interest in advanced offerings like our Lumira Aerogel, which is a material designed for NASA that's made of hydrophobic silica particulates and extremely energy efficient. It's expensive, but it provides excellent insulation and environmental benefits.

Ultimately, price is always going to be a factor, but a growing number of owners are coming to us for those higher-performance options that pay off in the long-run.

How else are customer attitudes changing?

Safety is a topic that is coming up more and more around skylights. People are asking about requirements and what's allowable. Do they need guards around them at all times during construction, or just when workers are present? Does the height of the curb need to be increased? These are all good questions; and while the Ministry of Labour has references, there doesn't seem to be an overall policy in terms of what those requirements are. A skylight has to be treated as an unprotected opening in the roof.

For our part, we've been working with the commercial roofing community to understand those safety issues and provide options such as safety screens and clear suggestions on harness use around skylights. Safety has always been a focus, but it's definitely picking up momentum these days.

How do you see your industry evolving?

I think in the far future we're going to see some higher-performance glazing materials. There are certain product innovations that are already in discussions, such as glass that becomes darker to control heat gain or electrochromic glass.

Down the road, we're also going to start seeing more exterior shading in North American applications. This is more common in Europe but is picking up in Canada and the US because we're constructing better buildings and becoming more concerned about solar heat gain in the cooling season. After all, when you build high-performance buildings, and you have roof glazing, it can be challenging to get rid of that heat. Therefore, the best approaches block that heat before it gets in.

Russell Ibbotson, P. Eng, LEED AP, CTR, is a Technical Manager with VELUX Canada Inc., the world's leading manufacturer of skylights, roof windows, and Sun Tunnels since  1941. For more information, visit velux.ca, call 1-800-888-VELUX.

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