Do Not Disturb

May 30th, 2023 by Nathan Hobbs

Smart Film Switches Privacy On and Off

By Chris Collier

‘‘It’s one of those niche products where the people who want it will pay for it,” says Ron Jones, owner of Film Solutions SRQ in Sarasota, Fla, of smart film. “You hit nine out of 10 people with the price and they go, ‘I didn’t want it that bad.’”

Now You See Me …

Jones says less than 5% of his projects incorporate smart film due to one key barrier to entry—price. His leads come primarily through connections with interior designers and contractors doing remodels and buildouts.

“They’re going for view control,” Jones says of his clients. “I’ve done a couple of condos in Longboat Key, Fla., where they’ve taken out a wall between the master bathroom and master bedroom. They’ve put glass in. They want to have privacy most of the time. But then they want to be in the bathroom, look out of the glass, through the sliding glass doors and out into the Gulf of Mexico. They paid millions of dollars for this view, and they want to make sure they can see it.”

Jones worked on two projects within the same condo in Longboat Key, Fla. Each installation was based on the same desire—a need for scenic views on demand.

“There was a lady who had an office that adjoined her living room—a multi-million dollar condo,” Jones shares. “It was a glass façade between the living room and her office. She didn’t want people to see her office when she wasn’t working. But when she was working, she wanted to be able to look out and see the Gulf.”

Out of Reach

“Everybody wants it, but the film isn’t in everyone’s budget in our area,” says Philip White, owner of Cool Dreams Window Tinting in Sierra Vista, Ariz. “There’s an untapped market for it, but you must find the right client and need. I’m not devoting all of our time trying to push that particular product when we’re so busy with everything else.” White’s smart film projects mostly involve schools and offices.

“There was a Christian school that we did,” White says. “We tinted the whole building too. We did a smart film in the principal’s office and a sanctuary where the kids have meetings and bible studies. They can see the entire school from it. If there’s a parent-teacher conference meeting, they flip a [switch] and now they have full privacy to have a meeting without being interrupted.”

Randy Humphries, owner of Tint Works TN in Murfreesboro, Tenn., isn’t currently offering smart film services in 2023, but he did complete a 2,500-square-foot installation for an aerospace company nearly a decade ago. “They didn’t want anyone to see into their conference rooms when they were having their meetings,” he says.

Cool Dreams Window Tinting typically uses a two-person team to install smart film.

“We have one person holding the bottom corners out and away from the glass,” White shares. “The guy on top is pushing the film down to the glass surface while the other guy is holding it out and away from the window … it’s always going to be a niche product. There are Twitter and YouTube videos; it’s the eye candy. But you’re limited to who can afford the job.”

A One-Shot Installation

“The stress level is off the charts,” Jones says of smart film installations. “If you’re not 100% confident, you will have issues. It’s a dry installation; you cannot wet install this stuff. The biggest piece I did was a window that was 58 inches wide and 10 feet tall. You only have a 16th of an inch around the perimeter, between the edge of the film and the edge of the glass. You put it on one time. You don’t wet it, move it around and put it in the right place. You have to get it set from the top and bring it all the way down.”

Proper alignment—on the first try— is crucial with smart film.

“You do not want to wet install smart film,” Jones reiterates. “You have to line it up exactly where it’s going to land when you start peeling the liner off. The only thing you can use water for is to clean the window. You have to wipe everything down because it’s electric. If water touches it, it will short.”

With all of the challenges that accompany a smart film installation, a technician could ask: Are these products worth the trouble? There are pluses.

“Profit margin, plus how many people can say they’ve touched it or seen it?” Jones cites. “But it’s not going to be like solar or safety film. Everything has to be perfect, even the wiring. I had to go back [to a jobsite] because something was touching a piece of wire and causing the film to short out.”

From a consumer standpoint, though, Jones sees the appeal for a product that is out of reach for many. “It’s unique,” he says of smart film. “It’s like having a Lamborghini—you don’t see them every day.”

What is Smart Film?*

“Have you ever seen a window that can switch between opaque and clear with the flip of a switch? When first introduced, this type of technology seemed like something out of a science fiction movie … Smart film transforms any glass surface into switchable glass.”—Smart Glass Country, Vancouver, BC, Canada.

“At home, you could use it to enhance your privacy while still enjoying natural light during the day. In offices or commercial buildings, you can partition open plan spaces into smaller rooms while also giving employees control over their own privacy levels when they need some quiet time to focus. You could even use it as a projection screen for presentations or events,” adds Smart Glass Country.

Smart Glass Country notes the following about the inner workings of smart film:

“PDLC stands for Polymer Dispersed Liquid Crystal which is a special type of film made up of two layers—one layer containing liquid crystals and another conductive layer. When an electric current passes through the film, the liquid crystals will align themselves in order to let light pass through; when turned off, they will un-align again to block visibility. This means that by simply flipping on or off an electrical switch, you can make your windows opaque or transparent in an instant.”

*All information courtesy of Smart Glass Country.

Chris Collier is the editor for Window Film magazine.

To view the laid-in version of this article in our digital edition, CLICK HERE.

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