What Do You Think of New Energy Star Criteria?

John G. Swanson
October 18, 2011
THE TALK... | Energy Efficiency

We know a little more about what the Environmental Protection Agency is thinking about the next set of Energy Star criteria, tentatively set to take effect in fall 2013. It issued a document last week, indicating U-value and SHGC performance levels it was considering for windows, doors and skylights.

What stood out for me is an apparent EPA decision not to go for an R-5 level of performance touted recently by the Department of Energy program, not even in the Northern climate zone. EPA does not seem to be pushing for triple glazing within Energy Star at this point in time. There is a significantly more stringent U-factor requirement for the Southern climate zone, but that number is in the 2012 IECC for that region already.  Of course, there are some other important changes–notably air leakage rating and installation instruction requirements–with details still to be worked out.

With this week's poll, we want to know what you think of the proposals. Is EPA being too stringent with the new criteria? Should it raise the bar higher?  What specific changes do you like?  What don't you like.  EPA issued its document to get feedback and we want to hear from you too, so email me or post your comment and let us know what you think.

Survey Results as of 10/24/2011:


EPA's proposals for the 2013 Energy Star criteria:

Are too stringent




Seem just about right




Should be more stringent




It would seem the industry has a divided opinion on the new Energy Star criteria proposals.  Nearly half of our respondents see them as too stringent, but nearly a quarter of our respondents think they could be tougher.  And nearly a third see EPA as "just about right."

One reader who voted that way was David Steele of the Window Gallery, a dealer based in Georgia and active member in the Window & Door Dealers Alliance. "The proposed standards are tough, but I suspect we can get there without unwarranted cost," he states.  He favors EPA's decision not to push for triple-pane glazing.  "It has its place, but it generally adds too much weight and, in my view, triple-pane windows will have high life cycle costs and will degrade our efforts to promote sustainability.  High upfront cost, exponentially higher seal failure and increased maintenance cost off-set any gains triple pane offer in most regions," he writes. "I personally wish the standards were a bit tougher on the SHGC side."

Our other responses make clear that even if they don't necessarily require triple-pane glass, the new numbers could create challenges.  Yes, many manufacturers will be able to meet them, but others are not ready yet.  And given the current economic climate, it is not an easy time for manufacturers to make investments in upgrades.  

Such arguments to seem to carry more weight in Washington these days. But in this case it seems likely that at least a portion of the industry will support EPA's efforts to strengthen Energy Star.  It will be an interesting debate to watch unfold. 



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Speaking from the Northern climate zone, these new more stringent requirements would be a big hit to an industry that will continue to suffer in this bad economy for years to come.  New construction here is virtually non existent, so remodeling is the only thing going on. In short, new EPA guidelines would kill business right now, for a number of reasons such as:

--SDL is our most popular option and even units with better Low-e technology are not hitting even the .30/.30 mark.  Consumers want what they want.

--Speaking from Mass, many homeowners are tapping into "energy-saver" loans since equity loans are dead.  Loan requirements call for energy star criteria.  Many homeowners find the windows and doors they want miss the mark by as low as .01, so they can't get the loan.  Many just give up and don't do or buy anything. Here in Mass many towns are also adopting an "energy stretch code", adding more confusion.  Homeowners and contractors can't get the permit unless they adhere to the energy star and other requirements.  They are finding that they can't get the windows they want for the project and either downsize or give up altogether.

--More technology to meet criteria means more expensive windows.  The last thing we need is a materials price increase right now.  Forcing manufacturers to race to find an IG solution to meet the requirements just means windows will cost more.

--More overregulation in general is ignoring what is going on in this industry.  Time and energy need to be spent on helping the housing industry recover.  More requirements frustrate and confuse people into giving up and putting off home improvements.


In other words: Bad timing, more confusion.  Just what we don't need right now or in the near future.  Give everyone a chance to catch up!



John,  I looked at your poll this morning and note that over 50% of the respondents think that the EPA is over reaching again.  From an ivory tower, I’d say that it makes good sense to lower the U-value requirements.  However, from a practical view, I do not think the industry as a whole is healthy enough to absorb the capital requirements to continue down the path of lower U-values.  Aluminum windows would be a thing of the past. That’s good for vinyl window manufactures, but is it good industry as a whole knowing that we have several more years of a recessionary economy ahead.  

Our bread-and-butter single hung is now tested to achieve  a 0.3 U-value with Low-e on the second and third surface.  In order to achieve lower ratings,  more dollars need to be allocated to R&D .   We can add band-aids and maybe achieve lower numbers, but a real solution means greater overall glass thicknesses and probably triple pane designs.   For more see... “future windows”.  The knowledge and techonology is there to reach the numbers proposed, but it will require the vinyl extrusion industry to re-tool for larger glazing pockets.  This will be a massive expense for all the vinyl extruders.  


I think the vinyl industry can react, but it will cause a lot of financial strain and more manufacturers to exit the industry.  The wood and fiberglass fenestration product would be just as harshly affected by lower energy numbers.  They too, will have to have larger glazing pockets, which will require re-tooling—which means more capital investments.  That’s great if your in a position to afford it as an industry, I’m just not sure the industry is ready for such stringent energy goals.