Taking Performance to the Next Level

With efforts like the R-5 program, government continues to push the energy efficiency envelope
John G. Swanson
May 15, 2010
FEATURE ARTICLE | Energy Efficiency

Windows and doors stand at a crossroads when it comes to energy performance. Manufacturers worked hard last year to enhance the performance of their products to meet both tax credit and new 2010 Energy Star criteria. Now, they are preparing for what’s next and, in many cases, trying to get a head start.

For some 50 companies, that head start may be “highly insulating” R-5 windows to be offered through a Department of Energy volume purchase program being launched at the end of this month. Many more manufacturers are considering their options, with an eye toward the next set of Energy Star criteria now being developed by the Environmental Protection Agency and more stringent energy performance requirements in codes and other government initiatives also on the radar. As Ryon Ray of Texas-based NT Windows states, “The roller coaster of change has begun.”

Triple-glazed products, such as this window from Thermal Industries, are attracting more attention and may soon gain significant market share.

“We've definitely seen a trend toward higher energy performance in fenestration products in recent years,” reports Brian Zimmerman, president of Gorell Windows & Doors. “With so much political attention and consumer focus on national energy independence, the ‘greening of America’ and lowering the cost of homeownership, we can't foresee this trend slowing down.”

“We are at the beginning of a new market dynamic,” asserts Rick Jackson of Truseal Technologies. “Incentives and Energy Star have certainly been the game for the past 12 months,” he says, but now, the industry is undergoing a more fundamental change. “Consumers are waking up to the idea that energy savings is good for both the environment and their pocket books.”

Sid Spear, VP of sales and marketing at Simonton Windows also sees consumers playing a greater role in the shift. “As the government encourages purchases with tax credits and rebate programs, homeowners are becoming more educated and motivated toward window replacement sales,” he says. “This comes at a time when people are living longer in their existing homes because of the economy. As a result, they’re re-investing in major features of their homes to make them more comfortable and aesthetically appealing. Windows top the list of products that can easily be replaced to gain lower energy bills and higher comfort levels in the home.”

Others see government efforts behind most of demand for higher levels of energy efficiency. “Consumers won’t ask for it unless energy prices go through the roof,” says Tim McGlinchy, VP of engineering with GED Integrated Solutions. “The government will.” Jeff De Lonay, VP of manufacturing at Kolbe & Kolbe Millwork Co. Inc. agrees, pointing to government as the main source for “a renewed interest” in energy conservation. “Countrywide, these conservation efforts are visually evident in the construction of wind farms, a renewed solar industry, and even a carry-over to the automotive industry,” he notes. “Other parts of this conservation effort have been focused toward the home building industry, with a direct impact on fenestration products.”

Legislative initiatives that include financial incentives to the homeowner, such as the ARRA tax credit and the “Cash for Caulkers” program, will continue to be the biggest drivers of improved energy performance in the near-term future, predicts Mark Davis, president of Deceuninck North America. “Financial incentives to homeowners will create demand for higher-performing products which, in turn, will spur the development of product technologies to meet those demands.”

Triple Glazing
Perhaps the most significant product change occurring within the industry is the development and introduction of more triple-glazed products. “We certainly see a rapid movement toward the use of triple-glazed units and a push by DOE and others for U-factors less than 0.20 in Northern climate zones,” reports Tracy Rogers of Edgetech IG.

“Triple glazing isn’t a new technology,” says Tim McGlinchy, VP of engineering at GED Integrated Solutions, “but now we’re at the stage where we’re getting people comfortable with the idea. We see it becoming more of a standard option.”

With the shift, Rogers sees challenges for some manufacturers. “While the incorporation of triples into current and/or new window systems designs is not necessarily a big hurdle, these products will now have to pass IG certification to be NFRC certified,” he notes. “Some manufacturers have difficulty meeting the (ASTM) E2190 performance requirements with double glazed units so, as triples are unchartered territory for most, meeting this requirement may be a particular challenge for many.”

Also reporting that triple glazing is now being “considered everywhere,” Truseal’s Jackson points to cost and reliability as big concerns for manufacturers. “Triples have been a dominate feature north of the border for several decades,” he notes, “and for the cost per U-value improvement are actually a good deal when compared to more exotic solutions.”

Triple glazing is not a new product for Thermal Industries, as it’s been part of its offerings since the 1970s, reports David Rascoe, president of the Pittsburgh-based manufacturer. The company has seen a lot of recent growth for such products, since about 2003, he notes, attributing that growth to rising energy prices, coupled with greater recognition of the important role windows play in a home. The internet, with its ability to educate people, has also helped. “Consumers are a lot more sophisticated,” Rascoe states. Together, these factors have helped grow triple glazing to the point where it now represents about 20 percent of Thermal Industries’ sales. “We think we can double that in next three to five years,” he predicts, given the higher profile these products have started to receive.

R-5 Program
The higher profile Rascoe expects is coming—at least to start—from DOE’s R-5 volume purchase program, in which Thermal Industries, and about 50 other manufacturers, plan to be involved.. Announced last year, DOE is seeking to raise awareness about the benefits of such high performance products among buyers ranging from homeowners to builders to utility and publicly- funded weatherization programs and other potential large scale customers. Manufacturers meeting the program’s performance and cost criteria will have their products listed on a special DOE Web site for such purchasers.

Rascoe, like other manufacturers participating in the R-5 program, foresee more indirect benefits to the program than actual sales through the DOE Web site. The R-5 program “brings credibility to the category,” says Rascoe. “It adds another level of recognition to this type of product and lets people know there’s a payback there.”

Steve Chen, executive vice president of Crystal Windows & Door Systems, another applicant, agrees. While he questions whether there will be a lot of sales for weatherization projects—one of DOE’s targets for the R-5 program—the government effort will help raise awareness, he predicts. “The same type of people that bought a Prius will start looking for the R-5 label,” he suggests.

The R-5 program could “energize the industry” suggests Peter Venerdi of Atrium Northwest. His company has been making triple-glazed windows for about 10 to 15 years, with products initially targeted at the Alaskan market. It has found increasing acceptance among many buyers for such products looking for enhanced comfort, and more recently, seen demand growth due to utility incentives and other programs looking to deliver “net-zero” homes, he reports.

“It is difficult to predict to what extent R-5 will impact the industry, but it certainly presents an opportunity for progressive manufacturers to showcase their products and capabilities, and hopefully gain business,” says Larry Johnson, executive vice president of Edgetech. Manufacturers that already offered triples had an advantage in qualifying for the R-5 program in the first round. “To keep up with the pace and changing efficiency requirements, manufacturers should look to develop triples, if they haven’t already,” he continues. “It involves a lot more than just adding a pane of glass. Some reengineering of processes and products should be carefully considered because, with R-5, quality and long-term durability are extremely important to offer the 20-year warranty that is required to qualify.”

Developing triple capabilities now may also be an important strategy because R-5, which translates roughly into a U-factor of .20, is a likely be the target for the next round of Energy Star criteria, adds Edgetech’s Rogers. Timing is in question due to the shift of the Energy Star program from DOE to the Environmental Protection Agency, but it those new criteria are likely to come within the next five years, he adds.

Looking at manufacturer participation in the R-5 program, GED’s McGlinchy sees many submitting products because “eventually they’ll have to have those products anyway. They see it as a good way to stick their toes in the water.”

McGlinchy also points to the next round of Energy Star criteria as the highest priority for most product development efforts, with most window manufacturers wanting to have more complete lines ready by the time they go into effect. “They see a need to be ready by 2012,” he suggests. “They don’t necessarily like it, and perhaps only a few companies will really push it, but the realization that new criteria may require them to transform their whole line is there. The initial shock, and the people saying ‘no way,’ that’s gone away.”

Next Generation
More triple-glazed products are coming, but they do not represent the only next generation product changes. Of course, frame and sash components offer potential for improvement, as do other glazing alternatives, including dynamic glazing that changes clear to tint, photovoltaic glasses that collect energy, and vacuum insulating glass, or VIG. These are all on the horizon, but many industry experts see those taking a longer time to gain traction.

“I see triple IG and wider air space products being offered in the next 6 to 12 months due to lower technological and cost barriers,” says McGlinchy. The newer technologies, such as vacuum IG and dynamic glazing, are still too expensive, he continues, adding “they are still further out there in the future.”

Guardian Industries’ efforts to develop vacuum insulating glazing—which it hopes to introduce in the not-too-distant future—actually began more than 12 years ago, reports Martin Powell, VP of sales and marketing. “When we initially introduced this concept to the market we were met by some resistance because of the low cost of fuel at that time,” he states. “We all know how the costs of heating and cooling a home has increased since that time, and the changes we have seen to the various building codes. What was once seen as being too expensive or ahead of its time may turn out to be one of the main paths for higher performing window systems.”

Based on what Guardian has seen in other parts of the world that currently have higher energy performance standards, Powell predicts growth in a mix of triple glazing, more regional-specific low-E coatings and new glazing structures like vacuum insulated glazing. “Additionally, window manufacturers also will need to focus their efforts on improving other elements of their window design,” he says. “Frame and sash design will play as critical a role as glazing systems in higher performing window systems.”

Window manufacturers agree that efforts need to focus on frame and sash components. “Our organization is in constant review of what components are available to be combined into window and door products. Earlier in the year, we demonstrated this to architects and builders at the International Builders’ Show in Las Vegas, where we showed numerous types of glazing, including triple-glazed and vacuum-glazed products,” reports Kolbe’s De Lonay. “To use these types of components effectively, the entire window design must be considered. If you plan to just swap out dual-pane insulated for triple-pane insulated glass, you can do it, but you will not be giving the highest performance possible.”

“Emerging glazing technologies will have a huge impact on window design,” states Deceuninck’s Davis. “Will the next generation of window systems need to be designed to accept 1½-inch quad-glazed IG, or 3/8-inch vacuum glass? Betting on either one right now is an educated guess, at best.” He sees many manufacturers taking a wait-and-see approach because of the legislative changes taking place now. “Nobody really knows what kinds of performance requirements we’ll be faced with in five years.”

Are Costs Too High?
While most see the changes continuing, many manufacturers ask whether the costs can be justified. “These products and increased performance values do come at additional costs,” states Delonnay. “The question that needs to be asked is what effect this will have if the Energy Star requirements become adopted by individual municipalities as prescriptive in nature. Will the consumer be able to afford them? If not, has the industry converted to a code that is unattainable for the consumer or actually is harmful to the construction industry?”

The balancing act of building a high performance products to meet certain criteria while at the same time managing costs so that these products can be offered to all income markets is an issue that has yet to be addressed by government officials continuing to push for more stringent requirements, agrees NT Windows’ Ray. “We as a manufacturer have already taken steps to ensure we have the right product offerings and performance packages to meet what we anticipate as the future of high performance products,” but he sees reason for “alarm” in some of the technologies promoted.
The .30/.30 criteria established with last year’s ARRA tax credit also remains a point of contention. Ray says he is concerned about whether new requirements will reflect the different climates and energy performance needs of various regions of the country or whether the government will again take a ”one-size-fits-all” approach. U-factors and SHGCs that deliver the most positive impacts for specific regions should be part of all future criteria to deliver maximum energy savings and keep costs reasonable, he states.

Government programs should also be aligned better to eliminate confusion in the market, Crystal’s Chen suggests. “For years, our people promoted Energy Star windows,” he reports. “Now they’ve been selling ‘tax credit windows’ and no one talks about Energy Star. Next, we’re going to be selling R-5 windows. It makes it hard to educate the consumer.”

Looking Ahead
“I would set the bar higher,” says Kevin Surace, president of Serious Materials, discussing recent changes. He sees Energy Star and the R-5 program, and most energy performance standards out there, as the new minimums, arguing that next generation products should deliver even stronger performance numbers. “We’re already selling R-10 windows,” he reports. “We can show the payback in a few short years compared with today’s typical windows, even those meeting Energy Star.”

As for the technology to take performance levels higher, Surace says they are coming. He sees limitations in vacuum IG, pointing specifically to the visible pillars, but suggests other alternatives are out there to enhance performance significantly, and his company is pursuing numerous options.

Simonton Windows sees new glass technologies on the horizon too, according to Cristen Baca, vice president of new product development. “Options the industry sells today as upgrades for thermal performanc (e.g. triple glazing) are postured to become part of a more feature-rich baseline offering, with the next generation of design- and technology-driven performance enhancements providing future upgrades,” she reports.

The pace of development, Baca suspects, will depend on the government. The market for R-5 products, for example, will depend heavily on the regulatory influence, she states. “Given the federal tax credit program initiated by the government and the pending refund legislation with the Home Star program, there is an expectation that the government will continue to encourage more energy efficiency window products in the future—and will perhaps support them with ongoing programs,” she predicts.

With the R-5 program and other government initiatives raising awareness of the product, Rascoe is very optimistic about triple glazing. In offering it for many years now, Thermal Industries says it has a track record of customer satisfaction, he reports, noting that one model the company offers with triple glazing offered is accompanied by a fuel-savings pledge. “Dealers have no issue with it. We have never received a letter or phone call from someone disappointed with impact of new windows on energy bills,” he adds. “What feedback we get tends to be in the area of comfort. That’s really where people give you accolades. They tell you they feel warmer sitting in their couch.”

“Personally I believe that a lot of change has already taken place,” concludes Truseal’s Jackson. “The turmoil created by the economic crisis has literally turned the window industry upside down. As we struggle to get back to normal—whatever that will be—companies will continue to innovate and differentiate, but,” he predicts, “the pace of change will probably slow down.”

Deceuninck’s Davis urges manufacturers to make proven and reliable enhancements to existing platforms for the time being. “Utilization of triple glazing, high-performance low-E coatings and the new thermally-efficient polymer sash reinforcements are ‘tried and true’ methods that yield impressive results without the need to invest in new manufacturing equipment,” he states. “Investing heavily in any next generation technology before the next generation of performance requirements is clearly defined could be a risky proposition.”