Volume 11, Issue 1 - January/February 2010

Eye On Energy

Convergence—Opportunity or Crisis?
New Construction and Remodeling Moving Toward 0.20
by Ric Jackson

Industry forces clearly are driving window thermal performance criteria toward a common standard for both the new construction and repair and remodeling (R&R) markets in North America.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has continued to raise the bar for the Energy Star® program. As management of this program transitions to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), window performance criteria will become even stricter—and not just for the R&R market (which currently boasts Energy Star ratings on more than 80 percent of windows sold). The new construction market is also in the crosshairs to raise window thermal performance. To stimulate builder interest in high-performance windows, the DOE has initiated the R-5 Volume Windows Purchase Program (VWPP), which aims to drive the availability of affordable, thermally efficient R-5 windows (or those featuring U-values near 0.20).

For years, the criteria for new construction windows were based on building energy codes like the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) or ANSI/ASHRAE/ IESNA Standard 90.1. For most parts of the United States, these codes represent a minimum requirement for energy conservation. However, the successes of voluntary standards programs are moving the needle on window thermal performance. These programs include Energy Star in the R&R market as well as the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) v3 program and the National Association of Home Builder’s (NAHB) National Green Building Program.

Through the USGBC and NAHB programs, builders are encouraged to specify windows that exceed Energy Star by as much as 0.07 U-value basis points. To achieve the maximum bonus points available for high-efficiency windows in the northern zone, builders must select windows with U-values as low as 0.20— a value that, not surprisingly, aligns with the R-5 VWPP. Builders already seem to be embracing this shift. For example, Pulte Homes is developing a community of 185 LEED Platinum-certified single-family homes in Summerlin, Nev. Windows installed in these homes will feature low U-values to maximize LEED points.

With the return of Energy Star program management to the EPA, which originally introduced the program in 1992, the industry can expect window performance criteria to become even tougher. According to the memorandum of understanding that announced the program leadership transition to the EPA, “specifications will be tightened as necessary for Energy Star to consistently represent top performing products.” In fact, officials have proposed the addition of a “Super Star” category that would tier performance within the Energy Star program. The EPA’s goal is to qualify products in the top 25 percent as Energy Star and those in the top 5 percent as Super Star.

During the initial phase of the Energy Star 2010 review process, a two-phase approach was proposed. Phase 1 became the 2010 criteria, which began to go into effect January 4, 2010, and go into full effect April 1, 2010. Phase 1 criteria sacrificed some U-value improvements in exchange for better solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC) criteria in southern zones. Phase 2 proposed much tougher U-value criteria that represented an almost 40 percent improvement in U-values for the north, pushing the minimum U-value there to roughly 0.20.

Astute readers will note that this 0.20 U-value again aligns with the R-5 Volume Windows Purchase Program. Are you beginning to see a pattern?

Through its Building Technologies Program (BTP), the DOE has a mandate to enable technology to support a net-zero energy building envelope by 2020. DOE is also in charge of programs driving voluntary thermal performance standards, it should be no surprise that there is a common goal when it comes to thermal performance regardless of the market: convergence!

Convergence is taking place right before our eyes. The day may soon arrive when new construction and R&R window thermal performance criteria match up around the 0.20 U-value mark. The only questions will be: how will window fabricators respond, and who will find the most cost-effective means to produce windows that are significantly different for the majority of the market in the future?

Ric Jackson is the director of marketing and business development for Truseal Technologies Inc. Mr. Jackson’s opinions are solely his own and do not necessarily reflect those of this magazine.


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