Staying Proactive in Washington

John G. Swanson
March 15, 2011
COLUMN : Opening Remarks | Management

In January, President Obama announced support of a new Better Buildings Initiative—targeted at commercial projects—and expressed his support once again for Home Star, the program that would provide homeowners with government rebates for energy efficient home upgrades. Given the change in Congress, I honestly don’t know how much potential there is for such programs. I certainly know there’s a lot of skepticism within the industry, however.

More than half the respondents to a recent WDweekly poll said the industry shouldn’t push for Home Star. We heard from a number of readers who expressed the same view. “It's time for the government to just get out of the way,” wrote Wayne Gorell, chairman of Gorell Windows & Door. “No more stimulus, no more incentives, and please-please-please, no more regulations. I have seen more things to worry about and try to understand from the federal government in the last two years than I have had to deal with in the prior 38 years I've been in this industry.”

Still, there is industry support for Home Star—or at least its goals. The Window & Door Manufacturers Association’s 2011 National Policy Agenda doesn’t cite Home Star specifically, but it does see a role for government encouragement of energy efficiency. In the introductory letter to the document, Steve Sisson, WDMA chair and VP/GM of Karona Inc., says, “WDMA and our members believe incentives to spur consumer purchases of more energy-efficient windows, doors and skylights are a powerful tool to both reduce our nation’s energy use and spur job creation. We estimate that there are nearly one billion single-pane windows in existing housing stock; a national energy policy that includes energy efficiency targets should reflect the gains that would be realized by replacing those windows with more efficient products.”

The industry and many individuals within the industry are divided by two conflicting philosophies. First, we have the Wayne Gorell’s sentiments about getting government “out of the way.” There is no doubt in my mind that most executives in our industry share his general concern about government programs and their costs versus the potential benefits.

However, we are also very committed to our products. We know how energy efficient they are and how beneficial they can be not only to individual customers, but our country as a whole. It’s hard not to think the government should somehow encourage the deployment of more energy efficient products.

“How do we wean ourselves off of foreign oil in an economically responsible way?” asks Dan Higgins, trade and commercial business manager at Pella Corp. in another email. He suggests Home Star may or may not be part of the answer—and also believes it would drive some business—but he remains skeptical.

Personally, I share the view that Home Star could potentially be good for the country, as well as the skepticism. I know as a nation that we cannot afford to continue piling up government debt. I would also point to the potential red tape in the Home Star plan itself. The rebate system may end up being too complicated for homeowners and could create an unlevel playing field for different types of window and door companies.

One thing we learned over the past few years is that we should pay attention and work to influence what’s happening in Washington. Between the tax credits in the stimulus package and the lead paint rules, we've had our share of surprises. Whether it’s Home Star or some other program, whether we are for it or against it, we all need to be proactive—like WDMA with its policy agenda—going forward.

I’d like to add, at this point, that another group that has worked to make its voice heard in Washington and plans to remain proactive is the Window & Door Dealers Alliance. I mention WDDA because with this issue, we are pleased to launch a new column—entitled Dealer Perspectives—featuring views from WDDA members on a variety of issues. Jim Lett of ABE Doors & Windows kicks it off with a look at new testing requirements that might be added to the Environmental Protection Agency's lead-paint regulations on page XX.