I wrote a blog post back in July 2008 entitled “Energy Star Will No Longer Be a Slam Dunk,” in which I talked about how Energy Star requirements keep getting tougher with each new version.

Well, here we are once again. We’re heading for a new version of Energy Star that takes effect in January of 2016 with even tougher requirements. As I completed my travels during the first half of this year, I noticed an overall lack of concern regarding the upcoming Energy Star changes. However, now as we approach the end of the year, all of a sudden window fabricators are scrambling to see what must be done to meet the new numbers. The requirement of a 0.27 U-factor for the Northern Zone is one that seems to be driving most of the concern.

I’m finding that window fabricators are looking at a number of options in order to reduce U-factors. Some are working with their vinyl frame suppliers on frame-design modifications. Foam filling is another option being considered. Manufacturers can insert solid foam profiles into their extrusions or inject foam using foam-injection equipment. Others are looking at switching to lower-emissivity glass coatings. Some are also considering fourth-surface low-e coatings.

Warm edge spacer systems are another consideration. Just as low-e coatings are not created equal, the same is true for warm edge spacer systems. Each type of warm edge spacer offers a different “K” or thermal conductivity value, and this K-value plays a direct role in helping to lower overall window U-value. The lower the K-value the better, and K-values can differ even within the same family or type of warm edge spacer system being considered.

With the end of the year rapidly approaching, figuring out which options will get you to where you need to be can be daunting. With each option comes additional material or component costs, not to mention potentially higher labor costs — and also new equipment in many cases. The task now boils down to the best way to meet the new mark without breaking the bank while keeping overall unit cost increases to a minimum, thereby allowing your company to remain competitive in the marketplace.

Reach out to your suppliers — they’re glad to help. Many have tools and resources available which can speed your analysis time and also reduce your research cost.

For example, Quanex offers the use of a program called “The Optimizer,” which can help you test potential configurations before making costly investments to meet the new standards. The program provides you with an instant U-factor estimate of various door and window configurations combining framing materials with all common North American IG spacers, glass packages, low-e coatings and gas fills. So as long as you have done some degree of thermal modeling at a test lab and have access to the files, the Optimizer can read your file, load data on your current frame design and then tell you what the new overall window U-value would be for over 625,000 configurations.

So, with January 1 rapidly approaching, time is running out if you want to come out of the gate in 2016 with Energy Star labels on your windows. Also, if the trend continues, it looks like a few years from now I may be writing about the same thing once again.

With this in mind, long-term strategic thinkers should be looking at new window platforms that will allow the greatest degree of flexibility in the future to help achieve lower U-values and possibly even higher condensation resistance values (if that becomes a new requirement) in the years ahead.


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