A new study claims that energy-efficiency standards hit poorer people in the wallet harder than energy taxes would.

The study is by Georgetown University economist Arik Levinson. The bulk of his research focuses on fuel economy standards for cars and energy efficiency in appliances, but he also examines building construction.

Levinson uses data from the 2009 Residential Energy Consumption Survey (RECS), which is conducted by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. According to his findings, the average income for households with double- or triple-paned windows was 30 percent higher than the incomes for homes without them.

“A mandate requiring all homes to have double-paned windows, or a tax on homes that do not, would be borne disproportionately by low-income households,” Levinson writes.

The length of time required for an investment in energy-efficient doors or windows to recover the initial outlay, also known as the payback period, has long been a source of controversy.

For example, a 2013 study by the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory found that it takes two decades or more for triple-pane windows to pay off financially based on utility-bill savings.

A 2015 study from the University of Chicago and the University of California, Berkeley looked at 30,000 homes in Michigan that took part in the Department of Energy’s Weatherization Assistance Program. It found that upfront costs for efficiency upgrades averaged about $5,000 per house, but the estimated energy savings over the lifetime of the upgrades was only about $2,400 per household.

Payback periods for doors and windows also figure into recent legislation.

The North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act is an energy bill that has the support of the Window and Door Manufacturers Association (WDMA) and the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) because it promises to keep residential energy codes affordable.

Both houses of Congress are currently working to iron out differences between H.R. 8 and the Senate’s version, S. 2012.

The revised House bill contains an amendment supported by WDMA that defines the role of the Department of Energy (DOE) in developing new energy codes and guarantees that some products and technologies don’t receive preferential treatment. It also promotes efficiency targets for buildings that strike the proper cost-benefit balance, and stops DOE from supporting any code or standard change with a payback period of more than ten years.

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