Gearing Up for Energy Star Changes

By John G. Swanson
March 15, 2008
COLUMN : Opening Remarks | Codes & Standards, Energy Efficiency

The Department of Energy is scheduled to release new, more stringent criteria for windows, doors and skylights that carry the Energy Star label this month. As we went to press, DOE was talking about three sets of new requirements, and while I don’t know what the numbers are, I can ask, “Are you ready?”

And I’d like to focus that question on the longer term. The first set of new requirements will go in effect sometime in 2009. Those changes, no doubt, will create some challenges for window and door manufacturers, but the even tougher criteria DOE is talking about for 2012 and 2015 are likely to require more dramatic changes.

One of the goals for the Energy Star program generally is to drive new technology. DOE not only wants to increase market acceptance for the most energy efficient products, it wants to encourage development of even better products. For windows and doors, that means DOE is looking beyond what most manufacturers, distributors and dealers would consider a high-performance product today.

Specifically, the performance numbers DOE said it was considering for 2015 suggest to me that many of today’s products would have to equipped with something more than an double-pane IG unit, even if that unit is constructed with two low-E coatings, the warmest-edge spacer and a krypton fill. In Northern climate zones, triple-glazing may be required to carry an Energy Star label. DOE has also said its future criteria might necessitate the use of dynamic glazing—glass that can be changed to allow sunlight in when desired or reject the sun's heat when necessary—if it sees enough progress in the development of that technology.

For most manufacturers, switching from double- to triple-pane glazing could represent a significant change. Even if IG fabrication is outsourced, there is the issue of added weight that may require a completely new window or door design. If dynamic glazing is going to be used, there are completely new electronic and wiring issues that manufacturers and dealers would have to address. Other technologies—such as aerogels or vacuum glazing—could emerge as commercially viable options too.

I’m not saying everyone will have to be selling revolutionary new products by 2015. After all, Energy Star is a voluntary program. And much could change between now and then. DOE may determine the industry needs more time for what I’m sure some see as a quantum leap in U-factors and SHGCs. It is still mulling a number of alternatives.
There are good reasons for window and door executives to think about the next generation of high-performance products, however. Green building is likely to become the norm in the coming years. Code officials are looking for higher performance requirements. And who knows what will happen when a new administration steps in next January. Whoever ends up in the White House, it seems likely that efforts to address global climate change and/or reduce our reliance on foreign oil will be stepped up.

The building industry is not quick to change, but it does evolve over time. Twenty years ago, vinyl windows represented less than a third of the residential market. Low-E had a lower share than that. No one was even talking about warm-edge. These are all dominant technologies today.

Twenty years from now, who knows what products and components will dominate the market? The new Energy Star criteria are not likely to produce some radical change next year, but they have implications for the future—and the future may be sooner than you think given today’s regulatory arena.

Just ask a Florida manufacturer or dealer that was around before Hurricane Andrew. They’ll tell you how fast things can change. Smart companies will gear up quickly for new Energy Star criteria in 2009, because it will give them more time to focus on the round of changes to come.

Contact John Swanson, editor and associate publisher, at jswanson@glass.org.