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September - October 2002

RED ALERT

Crisis for Aluminum in the Residential Fenestration Market
    by Rand A. Baldwin

Quietly and gradually, a crisis has been developing in the residential window and door market that threatens to eliminate consumer choice and the fair application of standards for manufacturers and consumers of aluminum window and door framing systems. Before understanding the crisis, it’s important to understand the players involved.

NFRC Mission
The National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC) consists of representatives from fenestration product manufacturers, major trade organizations, state energy offices, research organizations, utilities, specifiers, testing laboratories, energy consultants and public interest groups. 

Its stated mission is to establish a fair, accurate and credible national energy-rating system for fenestration products, and to ensure that the rating system is employed uniformly. The NFRC publishes the NFRC Products Directory, which contains descriptive information and thermal transmission data (U-factors) for more than 85,000 certified products and Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (SHGC) data covering more than 60,000 products. 

There are 340 participating manufacturers in the NFRC, an increase of 36 percent during the last year. Currently, 31 states have adopted an energy code that references NFRC certification of windows, doors and skylights. NFRC label sales for windows, doors and skylights reached more than $45 million in 2001, up 12 percent from the previous year. Clearly, NFRC is becoming a potent force in the market.

Now, to the point of this article ... NFRC performance ratings are a prerequisite to displaying an ENERGY STAR® label on fenestration products.

ENERGY STAR® Program
ENERGY STAR® is a voluntary partnership between the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and industry. The primary objectives of the partnership are to expand the market for energy-efficient products and to serve consumers through increased energy efficiency.

The ENERGY STAR® program defines efficient residential windows by setting performance requirements on their U-factor and SHGC. No other performance requirements are taken into 
consideration. 

This reflects the view of NFRC, which defines efficient residential windows by setting performance requirements on U-factor, SHGC, visible transmittance and air leakage. However, the primary emphasis is on heat loss (U-factor). Solar heat gain is less important. Air leakage ratings are optional—manufacturers can choose not to include it; Therein lies the core of this crisis. By ignoring or downplaying a host of relevant factors, the current ENERGY STAR® proposal would do more harm than good (see related story, July-August DWM/BCM, page 42.) A revised proposal, which emphasizes solar heat gain (especially in warm climate zones), and which accounts for structural performance, durability, air and water leakage and, most importantly, recyclability and material safety, is needed.

Fortunately, the industry is awakening to this crisis just in time. As comments pour in, the DOE is listening and reconsidering, but much more work remains (see related article "Energy&Environment").

Proposed Changes to ENERGY STAR®
On May 8, 2002, the DOE offered the latest set of revisions to the ENERGY STAR program. However, even this latest proposal is still overly dependent on U-factors and, to a much lesser extent, on Heating Degree Days (HDD). 

Historically, the program has been based upon four separate HDD climate zones within the United States and U-factor performance requirements (SHGC are also part of performance requirements) as follows:

    < 2000 HDD              2000 – 3499 HDD
    U-factor 0.75             U-factor 0.75
    3500 – 5999 HDD     6000 + HDD
    U-factor 0.40             U-factor 0.35

Following are the proposed ENERGY STAR® program changes as of May 8, 2002, based upon HDD climate zones and U-factor performance requirements that changed from four climate zones to three climate zones (Note: The bold-type HDD climate zones have been consolidated into one zone under the May 8, 2002, ENERGY STAR® program proposal.)

    < 2000 HDD               2000 – 3499 HDD 
    U-factor 0.65              U-factor 0.40 
    3500 – 5999 HDD     6000 + HDD
    U-factor 0.40             U-factor 0.35

The following gives a representative sampling of what effects this change will have on locations within the United States where aluminum windows can be sold. Essentially, if this proposal was to pass, aluminum windows would be non-compliant in all areas except the < 2000 HDD locations. That’s only about 5 percent of the geography of the United States. (Note: The bold-type HDD climate zones indicate where aluminum windows have been excluded under the May 8, 2002, ENERGY STAR® program proposal.)

• <2000 HDD example locations Houston and Orlando. 

2000-3499 HDD example locations Dallas and Atlanta.

• 3500-5999 HDD example locations St. Louis, Mo., and Newark, N.J.

• 6000+ HDD example locations Chicago and Denver.


In this proposal, it is evident that there has been a preoccupation concerning only U-factor performance. Additionally, while ENERGY STAR® has been preoccupied with U-factors, it downplays the importance of cooling costs, which is especially important in the South and South Central regions of the United States.

Future of Aluminum Windows
The future of aluminum as a fenestration product is dependent upon what proactive strategy is developed and implemented by those companies from the aluminum building products industry. 
The Aluminum Extruders Council (AEC) has decided to champion the cause for aluminum in the residential and non-residential fenestration industry, but it cannot do so alone. What’s needed is the active support and financial commitment from aluminum fenestration product manufacturers throughout North America. 

The membership of AEC wrote letters offering alternatives to the ENERGY STAR® proposal of May 8, 2002. Partly as a result of this response, DOE has withdrawn this proposal and indicated it will now study the issue further. This is good news for window makers and consumers alike. Other action items are also in process. 

On behalf of fenestration manufacturers and consumers, the challenge is clear—get engaged in this important ENERGY STAR rating process. Learn what it’s about and offer your opinion on where we go from this critical point. The time is irretrievably now.

For more info on ENERGY STAR®, please visit the DOE website at http://energystar.gov/opie/windowspec/. For more info about the AEC, please visit www.aec.org



Rand A. Baldwin, CAE, is president of the Aluminum Extruders Council.

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