Increasingly Under the Influence

John G. Swanson
January 1, 2010
COLUMN : Opening Remarks | Codes & Standards, Energy Efficiency

As 2009 ended, most of the debate in Washington centered on health care, but windows and doors, along with other products offering enhanced energy efficiency, were surprisingly high on the agenda. As 2010 begins, for better or worse, our industry is entering new territory when it comes to the government's direct influence on our business.

There are good reasons to believe it could be for the better. The Obama Administration's plans to create new incentives and programs that will lead more Americans to upgrade the energy efficiency of their homes could give our industry the shot in the arm it needs given the market downturn and the devastating impact it's had on sales in the past few years. Even those who didn't support the stimulus package in general, or the .30/.30 provisions in it, would probably agree that the tax credits included did boost window and door sales last year.

The president wants to build on that, with a program dubbed "Cash for Caulkers," that has yet to be detailed, but sounds large. "There is an opportunity to get a lot of government money pointed at our industry for the next few years," wrote Wayne Gorell, CEO of Gorell Windows & Doors, responding to The Talk in our WDweekly newsletter. " I'm basically against the size of government and their out-of-control spending," he added, "but if they are going to spend, and they are, I prefer they do it on energy-conserving windows and doors.”

I basically share those sentiments, although I have some reservations. Will the new program come with too much bureacracy? Will it just produce an artificial burst of activity? Will we get a level playing field, or could such a program end up skewing the business in favor of big boxes and big manufacturers versus the smaller manufactuers and independent dealers and distributors? 

When it comes to such questions, I am happy to report that for once, window and door manufacturers are actually part of the conversation.  Ron Saxton of Jeld-Wen and Mark Savan of Simonton Windows each had an opportunity to speak to President Obama face-to-face to let him know what our products can do.  I trust they are sharing their ideas (and those of others from our industry) on what types of legislation and programs could cost-effectively achieve the dual goals of making older homes and buildings more energy efficient and create jobs. By the way, Kevin Surace of Serious Materials probably deserves some credit for raising our industry profile, and spurring other industry leaders to get more involved.

The need to be involved and speak up is evident in another area where government regulations may have a profound effect on the industry in the coming year.  In this issue (page XX), we report on new rules from the Environmental Protection Agency that go in effect in April. The well-intentioned rules are designed to limit children's exposure to lead paint dust that can be created when remodeling work is done on homes and other buildings built prior to 1978, when the government banned lead-based paint. Contractors, including replacement window and door installers, working in these pre-1978 homes will need to be trained on how to contain such dust and keep the work area safe. They also need to be certified.

The dangers of lead are well-known and proper precautions should no doubt be taken to protect children (as well as the workers themselves). The rules, however, could present some real challenges. Training and certification of workers, the additional "lead safe" procedures and potentially, third-party inspection, all carry costs. The added costs would be particularly high for a small job–replacing an entry door or one or two windows, for example. At the same time the government is looking for ways to encourage more energy efficient upgrades of older homes, its new lead abatement rules could discourage them. The other likely outcome, of course, is that cash-strapped homeowners turn away from the professionals that follow the rules and do the right thing to a neighborhood handyman or less scrupulous business.

Both the National Association of Home Builders and the National Associatonof the Remodeling Industry are speaking up on this issue. Our industry should too. The Window & Door Manufacturers Association has established advocacy as one of its primary missions. With an office in Washington now, they've stepped up efforts in a number of areas. As issues impacting our industry have moved from code hearings to the halls of Congress and federal agencies, the American Architectural Manufacturers Association has also raised its voice more often regarding potential government actions.  

While I did not start out here to make a plug, I will. The National Glass Association, which publishes Window & Door, recently started working with a group of residential window and door dealers to form the Window & Door Dealers Alliance. Although it's just getting started, WDDA hopes to provide a voice for dealers and distributors, just as AAMA and WDMA provide a voice for manufacturers.  Initial plans also call for a variety of educational programs and other services, but its activities and its direction will be driven by those who get involved.  Interested, go to www.wddalliance.org

Given the potential opportunities of "cash for caulkers" and the challenges created by lead-safe rules that lie out there in the coming year, we are increasingly under the influence of government. It might not be bad, but whether it's AAMA, WDMA, WDDA or a letter to your Senator or Representative, it is time to get involved.