May 21st, 2013
Energy Star 6.0 – What’s All the Controversy?
I guess I don’t understand the controversy surrounding the proposed 2014 Energy Star Version 6.0 requirements for Energy Star’s Northern Zone. Now, the whole concept of Energy Star out of the gate was to set energy-efficiency standards for window systems that set apart above average window systems and to educate consumers about window energy efficiency in general. The program originally intended to set apart the unique technologies, which offer better-than-usual energy efficiency, from the run-of-the-mill windows, which offer an average degree of thermal performance. I remember when the original concept was being discussed and the standards in mind were such that only one out of four window systems was expected to meet the requirements of being Energy Star rated.
Somewhere along the road, the concept has changed to that of a program in which all window manufacturers are expected to be in compliance. Now, call me crazy, but what value does this have to a consumer? Let’s see, I decide to go shopping for windows and beforehand, I read a little about thermal performance on the Internet. I then go out to visit dealers’ showrooms, and every showroom I visit is filled with Energy Star windows. Guess what? At that point, the whole value of an Energy Star label has, excuse the pun, “gone out the window” as far as I am concerned. Why? Because every window has it! There is no differentiation.
So, what do I do next? I ask the window salesperson, “Since all of these windows are Energy Star rated, what is the real difference between this window here and that window over there, which costs $50 more?” Well, if he wants to the sell the more expensive window and increase his commission, what will he talk about? Both are Energy Star rated so a discussion comparing energy performance is not going to get him very far. The consumer may very well assume that one cannot be that much better than the other in terms of energy performance. So, the salesperson will talk about other things, like the aesthetics of one window vs. the other, or perhaps the robustness of the hardware or maybe ergonomics – how much easier it is to operate and clean one window vs. the other. Why? Because he or she needs to differentiate one window vs. the other to justify the price gap and it isn’t going to happen by talking about Energy Star!
That’s where Energy Star’s most efficient windows category comes into play! Now this is where the topic of energy performance will once again come back to life. Well this window over here is rated by Energy Star in the “most efficient” category! It includes triple glazing and krypton gas. Yes, it is more expensive, but it virtually eliminates condensation on indoor window surfaces, cuts down on possible mold formation, improves your health and puts you in the best possible position in the long term should energy costs continue to rise. Once again, when presented this way, the impact that Energy Star can have is twofold – education and differentiation!
If all window systems are seen as equal because they are all Energy Star rated, then there will be no consumer thirst for knowledge. Consumers will simply see the label on everything and just figure it is all good. They will then go searching for knowledge on the other features that may differentiate one window vs. the other in order to make their window-purchasing decision, and the two original goals of the Energy Star program, differentiation and education, are muted. The program loses its impact.
So, are the proposed 2014 Energy Star version 6.0 standards too hard on manufacturers? Will they cause window systems to be prohibitively expensive? It depends. I know many window companies that have invested or are about to invest in new window frame technologies that make the version 6.0 standards easily achievable. These companies have invested in window system platforms that enable them to hit the new standards with room to spare. They can do it without triple pane, and in some cases without triple-stack low-E coatings. If they want to, they can add triple-pane insulating glass because their window platform can accommodate it. Add krypton gas and triple-stack coatings, and they can, “boldly go where no one has gone before.”
So if Energy Star were to truly do what it was originally intended to do and set apart 25 percent of all window manufacturers, what would the remaining three out of four do in terms of competing in the marketplace? Well, if it was understood that Energy Star was setting apart the leaders of the pack, the others who choose not to qualify can perhaps compete on other attributes such as lower price points, superior service or whatever features they may choose to differentiate their window systems. Also, they too are free to invest in new window frame designs, should they decide to participate in the Energy Star programs down the road.
One thing is for certain, this country really needs to reduce our dependence on foreign energy through domestic conservation. If you don’t believe this, just pick up a newspaper or log on to the Internet news service on any given day and look how crazy it is getting in the oil-rich parts of the world.
So, in the long term, are tougher Energy Star requirements good for our nation and good for the window industry?
I say YES AND YES.