Volume 8, Issue 9 - October 2007

code concerns

Significant Challenges Lie Ahead for Reducing Energy Consumption
by John Woestman

Intense efforts are underway around the nation, including the building industry, to reduce energy consumption and minimize environmental impacts. New laws are being considered, energy codes are being modified and voluntary programs are getting tougher. Fenestration energy performance improvements traditionally have involved increasing insulating values by lowering the rate of heat loss (U-factor) in the north, and reducing the solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC) in the south. In today’s climate of new federal lawmaking, possible revisions to the national energy codes and updates to Energy Star® criteria, we can expect a dramatic alteration in the fenestration industry’s landscape. 

Federal Lawmaking
The federal government traditionally has been “hands-off” with fenestration energy performance requirements. However, that may change because both the House and the Senate have passed comprehensive bills aimed at reducing energy consumption in the United States. H.R. 6: The Renewable Fuels, Consumer Protection, and Energy Efficiency Act of 2007, has similar versions passed by both the House and the Senate. As of this writing, this bill was on the agenda of a conference committee to negotiate a compromise bill acceptable to both the House and Senate.

An additional energy-focused bill has passed in the house and is now on the Senate’s calendar. H.R. 3221: New Direction for Energy Independence, National Security and Consumer Protection Act. This bill contains language that, if passed, will change building energy efficiency requirements in the following significant ways:

  1. Sets targets for improving building energy efficiency by 30 percent by 2010, and 50 percent by 2020, based on the 2006 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC).
  2. Requires federal action if the model energy code (the IECC) is not modified to achieve the 30-percent target by requiring the Department of Energy to propose an energy code which achieves the 30-percent reduction. 
  3. Requires states to certify that their residential and commercial energy codes meet or exceed the 2006 IECC or ASHRAE 90.1-2004 within two years of enactment of the bill. 
  4. Requires states to certify compliance of new and renovated buildings with their energy codes within three years of enactment of the bill. 

National Energy Codes
The International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) and the energy provisions of the International Residential Code (IRC) are the most common energy codes adopted and enforced in the United States for residential construction, and the IECC and ASHRAE 90.1 commonly are used for commercial construction projects. The IECC and IRC are subject to full revisions every three years as part of the International Code Council’s (ICC) triennial code development process. Based on past experience, numerous code change proposals will be introduced to modify energy performance requirements. The current code cycle began in August 2007 and will result in the 2009 edition of the IECC and IRC. The proposed code changes will be published later this year with the first public debate following in February 2008. 

Energy Star
The Department of Energy (DOE) plans to revise the criteria for doors, windows and skylights and is seriously considering “substantially lower U-factor requirements in the northern zones” with a minimum SHGC, and “substantially lower SHGC in the southern zones.” (see related article, page 20). The DOE also is considering expanding SHGC / U-factor trade-offs to the northern zones. Significantly lower U-factors could mean a maximum U-factor of 0.25 if a 30-percent reduction is targeted, as suggested in H.R. 3221. In southern climate zones, a 30-percent improvement results in a maximum SHGC of 0.28. 

Many in the fenestration industry may be asking themselves a variety of questions as DOE prepares to change Energy Star requirements and as Congress considers energy legislation. Some of these include the following. 

What are we willing to support to improve nationwide residential and commercial energy efficiency? 
Considering that many windows sold and installed in this country don’t meet energy codes or Energy Star criteria, manufacturers must consider many factors. How can we close the gaps of energy code enforcement to improve building energy efficiency? How can we systemically increase the market share of doors and windows made with readily available cost-effective, energy-efficient technology such as low-E coated, double-pane glazing?

How aggressive will we be with Energy Star? 

Energy Star is a voluntary performance consideration and a factor in many door and window decisions, but highly sensitive to cost justification. How would the fenestration industry prefer to set the future minimum U-factor requirement for Energy Star qualified windows for northern climate zone(s)? Would we support a 10-percent improvement in U-factor to 0.32, 15-percent improvement to 0.30, 30-percent improvement to 0.25? 

Should the industry support a mandatory minimum performance requirement for doors and windows? 

The federal government regulates minimum energy efficiency standards for numerous household appliances, and these minimums often are revised to be more aggressive. For example, the mandatory minimum energy efficiency of home central air conditioners was changed by federal law in 2006, from a Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating (SEER) of 10 to a SEER of 13—a 30-percent improvement.

Would we support a mandatory maximum U-factor for northern climates and mandatory maximum SHGC for southern climates? 

Is our industry willing to follow Canada’s example in British Columbia by encouraging legislation that would require all manufactured doors and windows to meet minimum performance requirements? In British Columbia it will be illegal to manufacture or import manufactured fenestration products with a U-factor of more than 0.35 (2.0 W/m2*K) effective January 1, 2009.

Alternatively, should we support a “corporate annual fuel efficiency” minimum for fenestration products? 

This is the complex avenue the federal government took in the automotive industry. If the federal government is successful in passing the proposed energy efficiency legislation, we will see significant changes in the fenestration landscape. It is in our best interest to be creative and align government efforts with our industry needs and by continuing to build collaborative partnerships for all stakeholders. 

John Woestman serves as consultant, codes and regulatory compliance, for the Window and Door Manufacturers Association. Mr. Woestman’s opinions are solely his own and not necessarily those of this magazine.


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