Change Comes to Windows and Doors

John G. Swanson
March 12, 2009
COLUMN : Opening Remarks | Management, Energy Efficiency

As a candidate, President Obama promised "change." Although I don't necessarily think it came from the White House, "change" is now evident in the window and door industry.

The change is being applauded by many. With the enactment of the stimulus package, there is now a real tax incentive for homeowners to upgrade the energy efficiency of their homes. Manufacturers and dealers are already reporting increased demand—a welcome change given the weak conditions we’ve seen in both the housing and remodeling/retrofit market during the past year or two.

Not everyone in the industry is pleased, however, and they make plenty of good arguments. To qualify for the new tax credits, homeowners must purchase windows with a U-factor of 0.30 or less and a solar heat gain of 0.30 or less. The “one-size-fits-all” numbers were a last minute surprise.
Those opposing the new 30/30 criteria point out that for years the Department of Energy, through the Energy Star program, has promoted the idea that maximum energy savings can be achieved with the establishment of different performance criteria for different climates. The new numbers run counter to that philosophy and will not necessarily yield maximum energy savings for homeowners or the country.

To qualify for tax credits previously, homeowners simply had to purchase Energy Star-qualified windows, doors and/or skylights for their regions. Initial stimulus bills passed by the House and Senate included similar language for energy efficiency tax credits. Somehow, the 30/30 requirements were introduced in the final negotiated package and signed into law. Some argue that this last-minute shift in direction is simply unfair and that the industry should be given time to adjust.

These are legitimate points, but my instincts tell me they will fall on deaf ears. Change is here. We have a new Congress and a new Administration with a different agenda than we previously saw in Washington. Some in the industry are trying to rally opposition to the tax credit requirements, but there are already manufacturers and dealers out there eagerly promoting and selling their 30/30 products. An admittedly unscientific poll we took through our WDweekly newsletter and Web site showed a pretty even split between industry readers in favor of the new provision and those opposed. The argument that the numbers are too stringent or unfair seems unlikely to make a lot of headway with legislators and regulators.

So where should we go now? DOE has issued what will probably be the fenestration industry’s new Energy Star criteria for 2010. What was perhaps most notable in DOE’s announcement was the decision not to issue a second set of criteria for the future, as previously expected. Although it had previously issued proposals for Phase 2 criteria for Energy Star—numbers some companies have been pointing to in promoting their highest performing products—DOE now states it will begin work on new proposals this year.

From an industry standpoint, it seems the most productive efforts now would be getting involved to make sure those new criteria are feasible, fair and cost-effective. The 2010 Energy Star criteria reflect the industry’s input in a number of areas and there’s reason to believe DOE will continue to accept constructive criticism and suggestions moving forward.

The change we’ve seen to date, along with the talk we’re hearing in Washington regarding climate change, energy independence, green jobs, clean tech, etc., makes it clear future criteria will become more stringent. Trying to forestall change altogether is likely to fail.

For individual companies, all this change will create challenge. Coming at a time when sales are weak, investing in product development can be difficult. There are plenty of companies out there poised to take advantage of change, however. They see opportunity.

Our industry’s recent history suggests this latest round of change is really nothing new. Yes, we may go through a period of accelerated activity, but there has been a steady stream of energy efficiency improvements in windows, doors and skylights since the Energy Crisis of the ’70s and probably before that. My guess is that companies that got on board and rode that train have been a lot more successful than those that tried to stop it.