A common thread in my recent blogs has been the need for the U.S. fenestration industry to work together to demonstrate and educate the masses on the importance of our products for comfort, efficiency, safety, and sustainability—from homeowners to builders and remodelers, and all the way up to those affecting public policy.

There is another effect that comes into play because we are not all coordinating efforts: the U.S. industry stops leading. This was brought into sharp focus for me recently. First, the National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC) hosted a webinar in January with Dr. Helen Sanders, general manager, Technoform North America, called “High-performance fenestration for net-zero buildings: An innovation or deployment problem.” There she illustrated how the U.S. market is not advancing as quickly as Canada or Europe, in some cases using technologies that are now decades old.

Dr. Sanders continued to describe many of the reasons the U.S. lags, noting that installed fenestration performance is directly related to the stringency of building energy codes and structures of the energy codes. It is not directly related to the availability of technology. Many of the technologies in use in Europe are available here as well.

“The only places you’ll find high-performance buildings being consistently constructed at massive scale are those places where it’s the only way to get a building permit,” said Duane Jonlin, a code official in Seattle.

Of course, adoption isn’t only reliant on codes and enforcement. Because a building façade, particularly in commercial buildings, is such an important part of the structure, a history of product reliability is necessary to reduce risk and, of course, cost.

But while cost is generally the first argument given, it’s not always given in good faith as estimates may be inflated, recouped, and may be more cost-effective in the long run. By making sure the envelope is more efficient, it’s also possible that expenses in other areas can be lessened, providing a tradeoff that lessens the expense or even results in savings.

Efforts in North Carolina to stop state plans to improve the building energy codes have been in the news recently. Builders prevented the code by arguing that the additional requirements would add over $20,000 to a home’s cost. Federal studies, however, showed that the increased costs would amount to about $6,500 at most. It’s also worth noting that other upgrades, such as fancy flooring, cabinetry, and lighting are often promoted without questioning their cost. But for windows, the cost is often questioned.

Meanwhile, the U.S. falls behind. While the European building industry could have used the same arguments and excuses against advancing codes, widespread adoption of better codes and new technologies has resulted in lower costs and a “business as usual” that is years ahead of the U.S.

At Fensterbau Frontale, a trade show in Nuremberg, Germany, that took place March 24-27, 2024, energy efficiency was at the forefront. As Drew Vass wrote in his article here, “European door and window companies have focused on producing energy efficient products.” By using new innovations, the cost of producing those innovations comes down.

It has been used to such effect in Europe that in her webinar, Dr. Sanders noted that double-pane windows are now more expensive than triple-pane because they are less common.

How do we catch up? In the U.S., we have innovation and know-how. We also have an innate desire to be first. If we worked together, we could find potential financial assistance to increase manufacturing capacity of innovative energy efficient components and products. There are billions of dollars in Inflation Reduction Act funding for this and the window industry is leaving it all on the table.

What we lack as an industry is a coordinated effort. As a 501(c)(3), NFRC’s ability to lobby for better codes and policies is very limited. What we can do is work to educate those who are choosing fenestration products on how those choices affect the building’s overall performance. We can show how product certifications make comparisons simple and assure code compliance, and how reducing the window-to-wall ratio isn’t their only option. And we can provide data and educational information for those who do lobby.

We can also share information on opportunities for partnerships that can lend a greater voice to our industry’s efforts. For example, NFRC has planned a webinar, “Winds of Change: Value propositions and market opportunities for high-performance windows,” for April 24, 2024, with Rick Dunn, Senior Manager for Emerging Technology at CalMTA, to discuss opportunities for the window industry to participate with national programs that test and promote energy efficient products while making use of funds available through the Inflation Reduction Act. This is a free webinar and I encourage all to attend.

Or we can wait to act and run the risk of imports becoming dominant in the field because they have the technology, manufacturing, and history of reliability.

It’s time for us to push the envelope rather than just being a part of it.

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