Diane Mastrull: Malvern engineers marketing high-tech storm windows

John Siegel and Jay Reyher (right) of Quanta Technologies, Inc., of Lancaster. (David Swanson / Staff Photographer)

Perhaps you were motivated by rebates or other federal stimulus incentives. Or by your budget-busting energy bills.

Whatever the reason, to those who spent a small fortune in recent years replacing home windows, you have the sympathies of a couple of Malvern chemical engineers.

Jay Reyher and John Siegel, along with a Wisconsin partner, Thomas Culp, have put their scientific minds together to create an alternative to replacement windows that is more cost-effective yet proven to be as energy efficient as new, Energy Star units.

Their company, Quanta Technologies Inc. (www.quantapanel.com), has developed a storm window made with a low-emissivity (low-e) glaze to control heat transfer that has impressed the U.S. Department of Energy; the head of Pennsylvania's energy-conservation program; and the Mark Group Inc., a fast-growing weatherization contractor in Philadelphia that is partnering with Quanta on the sale and installation of its panels.

Equally significant for a start-up, Quanta, founded in April 2009, has secured more than $1.8 million in federal and state investments to broaden its product line for use in different climates.

While there are other manufacturers of low-e storm windows, QuantaPanel's creators say their product's uniqueness, in part, is the glass-coating technology that maximizes insulating performance while optimizing passive solar gain, and the enhanced air-sealing qualities of its frame and sash system.

"These are smart people that are, I think, onto something special," said E. Craig Heim, executive director of Pennsylvania's Office of Energy Conservation and Weatherization.

That is not likely to trigger rejoicing among manufacturers and retailers of full window units, who are already experiencing sales drops since the tax credits for new windows expired Dec. 31. Quanta officials say they are not out to make life miserable for the replacement-window industry, but to serve a segment of the population that cannot afford new windows - or does not need them - but could benefit from improved performance by the windows they have.

"We saw the opportunity to fill this commercialization gap," Siegel, Quanta's chief operating officer, said last week, at the company's factory near Lancaster.

Quanta bought the assets of a Chicago-area window-manufacturing company that was going out of business, and, in July 2010, began moving the equipment into 50,000 square feet of what had been an RCA television-tube factory just outside downtown Lancaster. Timing could not have been better.

Studies by the federal Energy Department showed enough energy savings from low-e storm window retrofits to enable them to pay for themselves within five years. Consequently, Pennsylvania added them to its Weatherization Assistance Program priority list - recommended energy-savings actions - in the fall of 2010, about the same time Quanta introduced its first commercial product.

It was that federally funded weatherization program, which provides retrofits to low-income homes, that Quanta first set out to serve. Its QuantaPanel 500 series, a low-e storm window that attaches to the exterior of existing single-pane or double-pane clear-glass windows, cost typically less than one-fifth the installed cost of an Energy Star replacement window, according to Quanta officials.

In this region, the QuantaPanel is expected to reduce heating and cooling costs on a single-family residence by 15 percent to 30 percent, which could amount to about one-sixth of a home's total utility bill, said Reyher, Quanta's chief executive officer.

Last year, Quanta launched a product line designed for interior installation, targeted for multifamily buildings, as well as light commercial and historic properties. All window units are custom-made.

Quanta's game plan sounded promising from the time Reyher and Siegel approached the Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania for funding in 2009, officials there said.

"To find a technology that basically can do what a window upgrade would do but at a substantially lower cost I found very intriguing," said Mark deGrandpre, director of investments in the physical-sciences area. Ben Franklin has issued Quanta two grants totaling $500,000.

From the U.S. Department of Energy, Quanta received $853,962 in stimulus funds in June 2010. In essence, Quanta was a dream come true, suggested P. Marc LaFrance, technology-development manager.

"We've been trying to get companies interested in developing and promoting low-e storm windows for a long time," LaFrance said. "Having a company interested in making this their sole business model was very interesting to us."

By the time Jeff Bartos joined the England-based Mark Group in August 2010 as president and chief executive of its U.S. affiliate, the company was already intrigued by what Quanta was selling. He was soon sold.

If a homeowner "is already spending resources, time, and dollars to insulate walls, you should insulate your glass as well," Bartos said, adding that a typical Mark Group installation of a Quanta panel costs $225 to $250.

Not that a storm window is the answer for everybody. Quanta's founders are the first to say that if, for instance, your window frames are rotting out, buy new ones.

That still leaves plenty of potential for low-e storm windows, Reyher said. By some estimates, 43 percent of all residential windows in this country are single-pane glass. Assuming that Mid-Atlantic winters do not remain balmy and natural gas prices start inching up, Reyher foresees a potential market for low-e storm windows of nearly $1 billion, and Quanta sales reaching $100 million. They currently are under $2 million. Its workforce of 12 is expected to expand to 60 within a year, Reyher said.


Diane Mastrull:

Quanta Technologies Inc. founders Jay Reyher and John Siegel discuss the QuantaPanel insulating glass system and its energy-efficiency role at www.philly.com/business

Contact staff writer Diane Mastrull at 215-854-2466, dmastrull@phillynews.com, or @mastrud on Twitter.