How Much Does Bird-Friendly Glass Actually Cost?
Glass kills up to a billion birds a year in the United States alone, with migratory songbird species like the Brown Creeper and Ovenbird suffering some of the worst casualties. As more people and businesses consider ways to make their buildings bird-friendly, it is important to be clear-eyed about ways to make these efforts as cost-effective as possible. The costs associated with taking this important step to save birds' lives can range widely depending on a variety of factors.
American Bird Conservancy (ABC) appreciates inquiries that have been coming in from those curious to learn more about this topic. To provide insight to a wider audience, ABC's team of bird-window collision experts — Christine Sheppard, Bryan Lenz, Anikó Tótha, and Kaitlyn Parkins — have put together the below Q&A.
What is the most cost-effective way to design and build a bird-friendly building?
Building design and construction are complicated, so there isn't a simple answer to how much it costs to design a bird-friendly building.
It is generally less expensive to incorporate bird-friendly design principles from the beginning, integrating collision-deterrence goals into the project requirements. That way, any potential costs aren't new or extra, but instead are part of the initial budget.
Designing a bird-friendly building isn't just a matter of comparing glass prices. In fact, designing a building without considering birds and then swapping the glass at the end is the most expensive way to create a bird-friendly building. This is true for any sustainable design approach that emerges as an afterthought. If you start the planning process with birds in mind, it is possible to build beautiful, efficient buildings that meet the needs of the inhabitants while also protecting birds.
What costs should you consider when swapping non-bird-friendly glass for a bird-friendly alternative?
When looking at just the potential additional cost of the glass, depending on the architect's initial plans, bird-friendly glass could cost the same as the glass they already had in mind, or it could cost as much as three or four times more.
Part of the issue is that there are many variables to choose from when it comes to selecting glass, so it is even difficult to define what “standard glass” would be as a starting point to consider potential cost changes. For example, for commercial buildings these variables include decisions such as:
- Do you want glass that is laminated, insulated, or both?
- What types of coatings do you want to use to help keep heat in or out?
- How many panes of glass do you want — one, two, three, four… or more?
- How large is your order and how many miles does it have to be shipped?
What else plays a role in cost?
The variables above — and more — impact not only the cost but also the performance of a particular glass type in terms of how much energy, and therefore money and carbon dioxide emissions, the glass saves. Glass performance itself can vary depending on where the building is — for example, sunlight and temperature considerations are much different in Phoenix, Arizona than they are in Buffalo, New York — or which direction the glass is facing.
Simply looking at the total percentage of the building that is glass is another variable that can be changed — one that has significant impacts on the total cost of the glass.
In addition to these and others, there is another set of cost variables for bird-friendly glass: the many ways to add bird-friendly patterns and technologies to glass also have their own wide range of costs.
How much extra cost is too much?
Whether or not a solution to make windows bird-friendly is considered inexpensive depends as much on how much of the budget the solution uses up as it does on its absolute cost. Even if the added cost of bird-friendly glass amounts to a tiny fraction of the entire project cost, the actual dollar amount can make bird-friendly glass vulnerable to being cut from a project.
Bird-friendly glass is especially vulnerable to being cut when there are cost overruns elsewhere, a frequent occurrence for large projects. While projects often have contingency funds to help deal with this issue, the goal is not to spend all of those funds but rather to keep the project as close to hitting the initial budget as possible. So, unless building owners and designers decide at the outset that saving birds' lives is an integral part of their building, bird-friendly glass will always be on the list of potential cuts when a project exceeds its budget.
As with those paying for the buildings, the issue of cost is also taken under consideration by elected officials and their constituents. For some, addressing the glass collision crisis is worth the types of potential cost increases discussed above, especially given that bird-friendly building design does not entail significant percentage increases in building costs. However, for many other elected officials and their constituents, anything that adds cost to a project — especially if it is meant to protect the environment — is unacceptable even if the amount added is minimal.
What about the cost of home windows?
Another question that we are often asked is about the product options and costs for new home windows. Using bird-friendly glass when constructing a new home can be extremely expensive because at this point most residential window manufacturers do not offer bird-friendly glass. This makes many types of bird-friendly new home windows a special order, potentially making going this route cost-prohibitive. As a result, at the moment it may actually make more sense to design a new home with standard window product lines whenever possible, including full external insect screens on all windows to prevent collisions, and ensuring that the plans make it easy to install inexpensive retrofit products at the end of (or during) the construction phase.
Where can someone learn more about the cost of bird-friendly design?
ABC is always very careful when discussing costs. As you can see, a lot goes into both potential costs and cost savings — not to mention how they are discussed — and oversimplifying the discussion does not benefit the conversation. For this reason, ABC has been working to incorporate the variability discussed above, and more, into an in-depth look at the costs associated with saving birds' lives by preventing collisions. When that work is finished we will be sure to let you know in this space as well as through our ABC Glass Collisions Newsletter. (If you are not currently subscribed, you can sign up here).
When discussing the price of bird-friendly glass, it is important not to dismiss all of the possible variables that can affect it, but the fact is that bird-glass collisions represent a conservation crisis. ABC believes that saving the lives of hundreds of millions of birds every year is worth the potential cost increases.
American Bird Conservancy is a nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving wild birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. With an emphasis on achieving results and working in partnership, we take on the greatest problems facing birds today, innovating and building on rapid advancements in science to halt extinctions, protect habitats, eliminate threats, and build capacity for bird conservation. Find us on abcbirds.org, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter (@ABCbirds).
Director of Communications