A Window Market without Energy Star

What’s Really Driving Vinyl Market Dominance?
By Eric Thompson, Quanex
April 17, 2017
THE TALK... | Markets & Trends

Some interesting news hit since the time I wrote my last Talk on windowanddoor.com: President Donald Trump released his proposed 2018 federal budget, and among some of the cuts was the proposed elimination of the Energy Star program.

Putting politics aside, the budget was, of course, simply a draft, and is subject to much change before it resembles anything close to law. It also isn’t expected to make it through Congress without significant revision. Likewise, a number of major industry groups have opposed the elimination of Energy Star, including the Window and Door Manufacturers Association.

Still, let’s do a thought experiment: what would a window and door market without Energy Star look like?

My sense is that, on the surface, the industry might not look all that different without Energy Star. Vinyl window and door systems are now ubiquitous and have dominated market share in recent years within new residential and multifamily construction. Would the elimination of Energy Star change that?

My thought is, probably not. Vinyl windows and doors are chosen by homeowners and builders for a lot of reasons including energy efficiency, even if there are no government incentives on the table. Price is certainly another reason. Vinyl windows, at the lower end of the market, can offer buyers a “bargain.” But there is also real value and versatility in vinyl on the higher end.

Consider also the widespread adoption of variations of the International Building Code and International Energy Conservation Code, along with guidelines published by independent associations and organizations that offer what we might call a “safety net” of minimum allowable performance in residential windows. The elimination of Energy Star does not, in itself, open the floodgates for poorly performing vinyl windows.

There is a catch, though. Vinyl can and often does offer enhanced performance, especially when combined with other high-performance components, can make an impact for homeowners who make the decision to invest in energy efficient products.

For companies that market high-performance window and doors systems, Energy Star has been a useful marketing tool for more than 20 years. Yet, much of it is derived from the aforementioned code adoptions. Even so, consumers recognize Energy Star, and without it, decisions based on energy efficiency will be a bit more difficult to decipher.

Given that vinyl is favored in the marketplace, I don’t think the elimination of Energy Star will have immediate, major effects on the residential window and door market. But does that mean the program’s shuttering is a positive? Certainly not for the upper end of the market—and on a long term basis, the changes would be difficult to predict.

What do you think? How do you see the residential window market changing if Energy Star ceased to exist? Post a comment or email your thoughts on the subject. 

Eric Thompson is a national account manager for Quanex Building Products. Email him at eric.thompson@quanex.com