Industry Sees Energy Policy Outpacing Technology

October 6, 2009
Meetings & Events

Many in the residential and commercial window and door industry fear that policy promoting energy efficiency is outpacing the technology itself. They also see buyers, particularly in the commercial market, needing more education on energy efficiency. Those were among the industry concerns raised at a lively Energy Efficiency Town Hall Forum, held in conjunction with GlassBuild America last week in Atlanta.

Sponsored by Edgetech IG, the session was moderated by Rich Walker, CEO of the American Architectural Manufacturers Association, and featured a diverse panel representing manufacturers, suppliers and the Department of Energy.

The energy efficiency panel was moderated by AAMA's Rich Walker, far left, and featured,
from left to right, Mike Manteghi of Traco, Brandon Tinianov of Serious Materials, Ray Garries
of Jeld-Wen, Margaret Webb of the Insulating Glass Manufacturers Alliance, Helen Sanders
of Sage Electrochromics and DOE's Richard Karney.

The question-and-answer session was kicked off by a residential window manufacturer who expressed concerns that increasingly stringent codes, as well as DOE efforts to promote R-5 windows, are moving faster than current fenestration product development. “The technology is there, but it’s not cost-effective yet,” he said.

Another manufacturer in the audience raised a question about durability, suggesting that it doesn’t get enough attention from policy makers. Numbers achieved in a lab don’t necessarily translate into energy savings over a product’s lifespan. Ray Garries of Jeld-Wen Inc., one of the panelists, agreed that such concerns need more attention, noting that manufacturers need to be confident that the products they make will deliver the performance promised over the long term.

“I think the technology is ready,” said Brandon Tinianov of Serious Materials, another member of the panel. The payback on existing high-performance products can already be shown, he noted, asserting that his company already sees opportunities for its R-5 windows. Weatherization programs under the stimulus bill are already creating more opportunities, he continued, adding that efforts to reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions and increase the nation’s energy independence will only further boost demand.

Much of the discussion concerned the lack of understanding about fenestration performance among architects and commercial building owners. One commercial window manufacturer asked that DOE needs to state more explicitly that the qualifications set are for residential products, for example, because architects are using the Energy Star numbers in specifications for commercial buildings. The structural requirements call for an aluminum window, but those products cannot meet the 2010 Energy Star U-value criteria for certain regions.

Another attendee expressed frustration that many architects and building owners don’t follow codes for minimum performance requirements in commercial buildings. “They’re specing a .5 when a .35 is readily available,” he said. Before tightening codes further to reduce energy consumption, it was argued, “we need to use the tools we have now.”

A glazing contractor echoed that sentiment, suggesting that more could be done by government to encourage glazing and fenestration retrofits of existing commercial buildings. These buildings need to be upgraded regularly, she noted, and many owners will take steps to increase energy efficiency in areas such as lighting. There is significantly less activity when it comes to glazing, however, because of the complexities and lack of understanding about the payback, she continued.

Richard Karney, DOE’s program manager for Energy Star Windows, who was also on the panel, emphasized that DOE clearly states on the Energy Star Web site and elsewhere that the windows program is for the residential market. He sympathized with the manufacturers’ frustrations about architects, but noted when it comes to policy, the industry needs to communicate more with its legislators to get its issues addressed.

Karney also offered some news at the event, noting that the Environmental Protection Agency, which currently shares the Energy Star program with DOE, is going to take it over entirely. DOE had planned to begin working on the next round of Energy Star qualifications, scheduled for a 2013-2014 timeframe in December, he reported. That timetable could change now with the transfer of Energy Star windows to EPA. As for the process to develop the next set of criteria, he predicted it will not change dramatically under EPA, with industry still allowed to offer its input.

One positive development at Energy Star, noted by Garries, is possible consideration of a tiered program that would enable products to be labeled “Energy Star” and “Super Energy Star.” With Energy Star seen as a default minimum by some in the market, many manufacturers have argued such a change would be beneficial as the program would then allow products to be clearly defined as energy efficient, while a higher level could be set for ultra-energy-efficient products. Garries also joined Karney in urging manufacturers to get to know their legislators, and let their legislators know about their businesses and their concerns.