December 19th, 2018
Efficiency. It’s the Age-Old Answer.
Our parent company (Key Media and Research) recently hired someone to provide training for those of us who do on-screen video work. Her name is Andrea McCarren, by the way, and she’s excellent if you ever need someone—especially for those of us who could use … well … a little extra assistance. As part of our training, she had us interview one another for practice. First, let me just say that I have a new found empathy for the people I interview on camera. I’ve spent a lot of time in the interviewer’s seat and behind the camera over the years (editing and producing), but come to find out, the role of interviewee is one that unnerves me. Just a bit.
Anyhow, one of the questions my interviewer asked was: What do you feel needs to come next for doors and windows? And I paused a moment before answering, because I was so disappointed with what was first to mind. Then it only took me a couple of seconds to realize—I had no choice. I had to say it.
Windows need to become more efficient.
I was disappointed with my answer, because it was so unoriginal. I felt like a broken record. Surely someone would think that I knew absolutely nothing about the history of windows. And
as someone who does have a pretty firm knowledge of glass and window technologies (I like to think so at least), I also felt kind of bad for even thinking it. That’s because I know that, when compared to other insulating products, what’s represented on the NFRC label for most windows doesn’t tell the full story—all of the immense work, science and investments that have gone into bringing us as little as R-3 to R-5 performance. That’s the problem. Like it or not, when it comes to insulating, windows remain the weak link in the building envelope. And that’s even an understatement, in most cases. To be honest, that’s partly due to the fact that fenestration is chasing a moving target, as products like spray foam and other new materials broaden the gaps between glass and solid walls. But in the grand scheme of things, it’s also due to the fact that—even though windows have made enormous strides—from an outside perspective, have they really? Sure, cutting u-factor ratings in half, from say 0.50 to 0.25, was like sending a rocket to the moon for those of us who know the multitude of advancements that go into it, but consider the perspective of those outside of the industry and you’ll realize: To them, going from R-2 to R-4 really isn’t all that impressive. Especially not when some solid walls are now pushing R-30!
Don’t get me wrong—there are some exciting things happening, and I love writing about them, but as is the case with windows—they’re happening slowly.
Let me be clear: I am so (SO) glad that I’m not the one waking up each morning, asking myself how I can make these transparent openings in a building envelope more insulating. I mean, to me it’s unthinkable. I’m even more thankful that I’m not the one paying for those advancements. And let’s face it—that is a big part of the problem. If money was no object, I can only imagine what manufacturers would bring to market. But somebody has to pay for all of that science.
Speaking of who pays for what, I’ll never forget the time I heard a representative for one U.S. Senator yelling through the phone at me, “Of course we did! Do you have any idea how much this would have cost the U.S. government if we hadn’t done this?” I’ll refrain from the particulars, but lets just say that I had been chasing that answer down for days, while backtracking the arbitrary numbers we once referred to simply as “30/30.” And while there’s no doubt that those requirements (of 0.30 u-factor and 0.30 solar heat gain coefficient) caused a lot of costs and headaches for window manufacturers (while in some ways shifting the costs to consumers … but that’s a longer story), at the same time you have to admit—they sure did light a fire under the industry. That leaves me wondering: Where will the next big push come from? The need for more resilient homes? Consumer demands, as their walls get better and better? Or maybe new codes and regulations, like the ones they’re rolling out in Canada?
Let’s be honest, I’m a man with no suggestions. But regarding the original question—whether any of us likes it or not—energy efficiency remains my answer.