Energy efficiency policy outpacing technology

By John Swanson, Window & Door
October 5, 2009
COMMERCIAL, RETAIL, FABRICATION : GREEN, MEETINGS AND EVENTS, TECHNOLOGY, TRENDS

Many in the commercial and residential window and door industry fear energy efficiency policy is outpacing the technology itself and that buyers, particularly in the commercial market, need more education on the subject.

These were just two of the concerns raised at the Energy Efficiency Town Hall Forum held in conjunction with GlassBuild America: The Glass, Window & Door Expo Sept. 29-Oct. 2 in Atlanta. Edgetech IG, Cambridge, Ohio, sponsored the event and Rich Walker, CEO, American Architectural Manufacturers Association, Schaumburg, Ill., moderated the forum that featured a diverse panel of manufacturers, suppliers and the Department of Energy.

A residential window manufacturer kicked off the question-and-answer session with his concern 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 suggested that durability 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. Panelist Ray Garries, external affairs manager, Jeld-Wen, Inc., Klamath Falls, Ore., agreed that such concerns need more attention. Manufacturers need to be confident that the products they make will deliver the performance promised over the long term, he said.

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

Educating the commercial market
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 state more explicitly that Energy Star qualifications are for residential products, because architects are using those numbers in specifications for commercial buildings. The structural requirements call for an aluminum window, but those products cannot meet the latest Energy Star U-value requirements.

Another attendee said 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 noted. Before tightening codes further, attendees argued, “we need to use the tools we have now.”

A glazing contractor echoed that sentiment: the government could do more to encourage glazing and fenestration retrofits of existing commercial buildings, she suggested. These buildings need to be upgraded regularly, she said, 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.

Panelist Richard Karney, DOE’s program manager for Energy Star Windows, emphasized that DOE clearly states on the Energy Star Web site, www.energystar.gov, 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 a piece of news: 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 time frame, in December, he said. 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.

Garries noted one positive development at Energy Star: the 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 that the program should enable them to define their products as energy efficient, and set a higher level for ultra-energy-efficient products, he said. Garries also joined Karney in urging manufacturers to get to know their legislators and let them know about their businesses and concerns.