DOE Aims to Drive Adoption of Better GlassApril 5th, 2021 by Drew Vass
Amid the National Fenestration Rating Council’s (NFRC) Spring Committee Meeting last week, Doug Anderson, a project manager for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), reported that sales for Energy-Star-rated products remain high.
Too high, perhaps.
With program goals initially aiming for 20% adoption and current market shares registering at 86% for windows, 87% for hinged entry doors and 84% for patio doors, in order for any new tax credits or energy policies to make their mark, requirements will need to shoot for around 0.20 U-factors, suggested Marc LaFrance, U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) windows technology manager. That’s what it will take to drive demand for new, high-performance products among builders and homeowners, while significantly improving the energy performance of America’s housing, he said.
“Even though we’re doing great with Energy Star and low-E double-pane sales, the vast majority of today’s homes are very inefficient,” LaFrance said.
Doubling down on his message about the need for improvements, he began his presentation with stark images, reminding attendees that, “Storms are getting bigger, more frequent and more intense,” amid climate change. “And this is something we all have to face as a society,” LaFrance added. “We’re really at a key point here.” Meanwhile, no one seems to be associating windows as a possible solution, he said. “The question is, do we want to continue using fossil fuels … or do we want to have high-performance, value-added windows, along with all of the jobs that can be created to install all of those windows?” he asked.
To illustrate how today’s products fall short, LaFrance relayed a personal story about his experience replacing several of the windows in his home. Triple-pane glazing wasn’t offered in the casement design he selected, due to weight factors, he said. And while triple-pane glass was offered in a separate picture window he ordered, ultimately, he decided to forego the option over concerns for weight and handling in a second-story installation.
“We need much lighter weight triple-pane windows,” LaFrance declared.
While current Energy Star requirements don’t go so far as requiring triple-pane performance, these days, the program “really kind of acts as a defacto standard,” he said. “Everyone expects to have Energy-Star-level performance … the difficulty is getting Energy Star to go to much more aggressive levels—to where it really should be, because there’s a lot of resistance there.”
In the meantime, with new construction, “We keep losing ground to the opaque envelope,” he said. Builders are adding more attic insulation and boosting walls to R-30 performance, “but yet we still have double-pane, low-E windows,” LaFrance said, pointing out that, in the average new home, 7% of surface area in exterior walls represent windows, yet they represent 48% of heat loss. By that token, “If you’re going to address climate change and address energy consumption, you have to look at the windows,” he suggested.
Despite much room for improvement in glass and window performance, the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) for 2021 includes “large increases for the opaque envelope,” LaFrance said, while windows remain more or less static. At the same time, products that utilize newer technologies, such as thin-triple glazing, can offer builders an alternative for making improvements that does not require altering their practices. “To me, that is an opportunity that we really need to tap into,” he said.
The EPA “wants to keep adding more and more people to embrace this idea for thin-triple glass,” LaFrance said, adding, “It’s easy to drop in.” But before the industry can use the product en masse, developments must allow for high-volume manufacturing and more affordable pricing, he said, adding, “Obviously we’d like to see people investing in that.” At the same time, “We’re not telling the industry we want you to change your entire production to triple-pane windows,” he added. “But, in the coldest climates, where they need better windows the most, that’s where we need to move to.”
So far as how the industry will drive demand for better products, builders will be a big factor, he suggested, adding, “but we also think that we’re going to get utility programs to offer financial incentives.”