AAMA Looks at Energy Star Changes

June 12, 2012
Meetings & Events

Oak Brook, Ill.—Changes in the Energy Star program and their impact on window and door makers are topping the agenda at the summer meeting of the American Architectural Manufacturers Association taking place here this week. Attendees also heard a cautious, but optimistic forecast for improving industry sales this year and next.

One change coming to Energy Star is the introduction of blind testing of products bought in the field as part of the National Fenestration Rating Council’s new independent verification program. The NFRC IVP, now is pilot phase, was developed in response to problems the Energy Star program encountered in other product areas, explained Paul Gary of the Gary Law Group, an industry attorney speaking at the event. Representing a "paradigm shift" for the industry, the program could create some unique challenges to window manufacturers, he said.

Susan MacKay, also with the Gary Law Group, explained a number of the details, including the two types of testing to be used.  Non-destructive testing will be a thermal test to see if the product performance matches the U-factor listed on the NFRC label.  In destructive testing, the window or door will be taken a part to see if it matches the product drawings. The IG unit will also be tested for gas fill levels. If testing is unsuccessful, the manufacturer will have an option to pay for a retest up to five times before a the product line is disqualified. 

Gary asserted that the industry should argue for a number of changes before the IVP is finalized.  First, he stated, the program should allow the manufacturer to be present for testing.  "Mistakes are made. It may not be the correct product," he suggested. "Giving the manufacturer the opportunity to be present would simply be a good way to prevent mistakes in the procedures that could be costly."

He also recommended that AAMA urge EPA to issue some sort of "statement of intent" for the IVP procedures. The danger, he suggested, is that the program of blind product tests provides "a roadmap for plaintiffs' attorneys."  They may use the procedures, but not test two or three of a manufacturer's products bought in the field, but 30, until they find one that doesn't meet the level.  He also warned that looking further down the road, the creation of the IVP program sets the stage for someone to demand a similar plan be developed for air, water and structural tests. 

NFRC's IVP procedures are officially expected to begin in January 2013.  Other changes are coming with Energy Star version 6, new window, door and skylight rating criteria, which are now expected to take effect in January 2014, reported Ray Garries of Jeld-Wen at a meeting of AAMA’s regulatory affairs committee. EPA issued a framework document with potential changes to the program last year. That included performance requirements and other new rules it is considering, but an official draft of the new criteria will be issued by EPA soon, he said.

The most critical number many in the industry are looking at is the new Northern zone U-factor requirement. EPA officials are saying a U-factor of .27 is about "95 percent sure,” as are new requirements for air infiltration requirements, Garries said.

Also likely will be a new “Most Efficient” designation within the Energy Star windows, doors and skylight program, he said. Currently used with other Energy Star product categories, the new tier is likely to have a U-factor requirement of .20. The addition of the “Most Efficient” designation to the windows program is welcomed by many in the industry, Garries stated, explaining that it provides an additional level of recognition for those manufacturers offering ultra-efficient products, while reducing the pressure to tighten the regular Energy Star criteria further.

Environmental Marketing
In addition to reviewing the NFRC IVP, attorney Paul Gary also teamed up with Joan Long of the Chicago-based law firm, Barnes & Thornburg LLP, to discuss the Federal Trade Commission’s Green Guides and issues that manufacturers need to be aware of related to environmental claims. Long started the session by noting that green claims by companies have increased tenfold in recent years, spurring the FTC to become more active on this front.

While most reputable manufacturers won't put out "false" ads, she said, it is not difficult to get into the gray areas where someone may see an ad as "deceptive."  Such challenges can come from the FTC, state attorney generals and competitors, Long said, advising companies to consider the entire message, including visual claims and not just particular statements.  "Even if something is technically correct, if the overall content is thought to be misleading, it can get you in trouble."

Long briefly reviewed rules for such terms as “degradable,” “non-toxic” and “recyclable.” Claims of "recycled content" must include information on the percentages of pre-consumer and post-consumer materials used.  Establishment claims–such as “tests show”–need to be backed with references to specific test results using acceptable standards.

Gary followed up by discussing the recent FTC action taken against five window companies for energy savings claims. Most manufacturers are now aware of this settlement and have stopped talking about "20 percent savings," but they need to be very aware of the dangers out there in the market. Small replacement window companies might have aggressive salespeople.  A manufacturer needs to know what its dealers are saying. 

The settlement also raises some red flags for the future, he continued. As with the NFRC IVP program, Gary foresees the FTC action inspiring the class action suits against manufacturers with misrepresenting or misleading advertising in the past.  

Other Speakers
Also speaking this week was Michael Collins, managing director of building products at Jordan, Knauff & Co., a Chicago-based investment bank. “I’m predicting recovery is about one year out for our industry,” he said, joking that he’s been making the same prediction for the past four years.

There are indications, he added, that the recovery is real, specifically pointing to reports he has received from numerous window and door manufacturers that business is up significantly this year already.

Overall, he said the economy is experiencing the longest, slowest recovery in post-World War II history. On the plus side, Collins said, while job growth isn’t great, there is more hiring taking place. Construction employment, in particular, appears to have bottomed out. Constraints to further growth include the lack of available credit for many homeowners. 

Attendees also received an update on building enclosure commissioning–also referred to as BECx–a new process that is being promoted by the National Institute of Building Science, several government agencies and ASTM International, among other groups. Dan Lemieux of Wiss Janney Elstner Associates, chair of the  ASTM E2813-12 task group that has developed a standard practice for building enclosure commissioning explained that the idea is to create procedures and an education and training program for consultants that will aid in commercial building design and construction process. 

Eighty percent of construction claims are moisture related, he explained. "What we’re talking about are interfaces between different building elements. The enclosure commissioning process is designed to address those." The increasing importance of energy efficiency is another driver for the BECx concept, he noted. Projects that have achieved LEED Platinum ratings are not delivering the energy savings promised.

Architects, LeMieux continued, are not equipped to handle all the details. Problems occur because various manufacturers and the building trades are often the ones left to figure things out.  The BECx process covers the pre-design, design, pre-construction, construction and post occupancy, but the most important phase is in pre-construction, when there is the need to look at drawings and mock-up test results.  He concluded by urging AAMA to get more involved, as its standards and programs can play an important role in the advancement of the BECx.

AAMA Business
Attendees at the conference are also tackling AAMA business at this week's meeting. One noteable event was the first meeting of a task group within the Aluminum Materials Council to look at the potential opportunities for AAMA to get involved in developing standards for mounting systems for solar and PV products. Scott Condreay of Sapa Extrusions chaired the meeting, where discussion explored the fact that most solar industry standards are focused on the electrical operating systems, rather than the structural issues.

The mounting systems for solar devices, meanwhile, share many characteristics with fenestration components and systems, it was agreed.  The committee voted to move forward to further investigate the feasibility of AAMA getting involved in this segment, specifically looking more closely at what other organizations are doing and seeing if there are potential partners interested in working with AAMA.

Further business will be discussed today, as AAMA's residential and nonresidential groups host closing sessions.  Look to WindowandDoor.com for further updates.