Plavecsky's Ponderings By Jim Plavecsky
by Jim Plavecsky
April 17th, 2018

Fewer Energy Stars Would Shine Brighter

As a recent DWM story pointed out, changes to Energy Star proposed by Resources Canada (NRCan) could result in the elimination of three-quarters of the fenestration products that currently meet the criteria in that country. Imagine going to look for a door or window product in Canada and only seeing that marvelous label on only one out of four products that you come across.

If this happens, you will also see a couple other things occur simultaneously. Manufacturers of the products that do not meet the new criteria will no longer have to pay for testing and labeling associated with Energy Star for the non-compliant products. This gives them added opportunities to focus their marketing efforts on other properties of their non-compliant products.

Perhaps greater affordability might be one thing since they can now switch to lower-performance glass coatings or eliminate argon. Or with the savings realized by reducing energy-related components and testing, manufacturers might choose to invest in other features to market this segment of the market – perhaps improved aesthetics, ergonomics or safety. They can still talk about energy savings features which will still exist at least to some level. It is just that these products did not make the cut that puts them in the top 25 percent.

But there is nothing wrong with allowing non-compliant products to take a back seat, at least in terms of energy efficiency. Allowing this to happen will further elevate the roughly 25 percent of the products that do meet Energy Star. Why? Well, because then Energy Star becomes something special as opposed to a sticker that is seen on virtually every product. Think about it. If everyone got all A’s on their report card, there would be no need for the honor roll.

The same thing may end up happening in the U.S. Energy star program. The results of my recent survey indicate that if Energy Star, as a result of federal budget cuts, were to become a pay-to-play program in the U.S., only half of the market would choose to participate. The other half of respondents feel that they would sell windows just fine without it.  Indeed, those who originally conceived of Energy Star fully intended to design a criterion for which only one in four products could qualify. But, somewhere along the way, market forces played out such that virtually every fenestration product seemingly had to meet it or be somehow be considered inferior. How did this happen?

Well, this largely occurred as a result of the economic stimulus legislation introduced in 2009 that paid out tax credits for purchases of fenestration products that met what became known as the “30-30” criterion. This .30 U-value/.30 solar heat gain coefficient standard was born in Congress, virtually overnight, with what many believe was a few late-night phone calls from one or two congressmen to a handful of window engineers. The result was that, at least for a few years, this 30-30 criterion became more important than the Energy Star label.

As more than one excited homeowner had put it, “Sure, Energy Star products can save me money in the long run by impacting energy bills, but the 30-30 products can put tax credit dollars in my pocket today!” The result was that, within the span of a few months, nearly all window companies did whatever they had to do to get a 30-30 product on the market or they would not get to cash in on the boom in window sales brought on by the economic stimulus legislation.

So, when the smoke cleared, and the stimulus program expired, most of these product changes were still in place, making adherence to Energy Star standards much easier to accomplish. The outcome of all this is that the majority of fenestration products sold today now meet Energy Star. Heck, if a consumer sees a window without it, he or she probably just thinks someone just forgot to slap on the label.

So perhaps a more stringent Energy Star program would make sense not only for Canada but for the U.s. as well. This would allow “the Star” to shine much brighter while the non-compliant products can be marketed based on other attributes.

What do you think?

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