Plavecsky's Ponderings By Jim Plavecsky
by Jim Plavecsky
January 20th, 2022

Looking for a Vinyl Backup Plan? Think Long Term

The latest trend among vinyl window fabricators these days is second sourcing. For years many fabricators have been married to a single extruder with very little impetus to consider anyone else. After all, costs related to changing vinyl suppliers can easily go into the 6-figure category, which represents a significant hurdle for competitors. But now, due to supply chain issues, the door for an alternative or second source has been unlocked. Everyone is thinking of a backup plan.

What amazes me is that many fabricators I talk to are seeking a backup supplier with a platform that is very similar to what they are building today. They want to play the same game with a different player. The problem with this approach is that the game is changing. The rules are being re-written. It’s called Energy Star 7.0

I pulled up the Eligibility Criteria for Draft 1 – Version 7 of Energy Star, and what popped out at first glance were the numbers for the southern zone. I remember a day when these southern zone U -Values were being proposed for the northern zone! Now the northern zone prescriptive number represents a whole new ball game – Version 7.0 is proposed to be 0.22 vs the current 0.27 requirement.

So, unless someone convinces the EPA to lower the bar somewhat on these new standards, we are looking at a 5- point drop in the northern zone. This will go into effect as early as January of 2023 with fabricators needing to show compliance by the end of 2023 to keep that Energy Star label on their windows. Now if someone told me that this was to be decided by a vote in Congress then I would significantly lower the probability of this happening, but that is not the case here. Despite pushback from FGIA and the WDMA, the decision lies squarely in the EPA’s court, so I am betting that Energy Star – Version 7 becomes the new standard in 2023.

So, if this is indeed the playing field of the imminent future, all window and door fabricators should not be seeking an identical platform as their backup plan. Instead they should be seeking one with the potential for significant improvements. In this regard, there are three main things to consider.

Number One – A frame design that offers improved thermal performance in the frame area itself. The overall window U-Value is determined by a weighted average of three components – the Frame U- Value, the Center of Glass U-Value and the Edge of Glass U-Value. So, if you are going to look at a different vinyl platform, then the design and thermal performance of the frame itself should be at the top of the list. Vinyl frame design engineers can significantly improve the thermal performance of the frame itself by incorporating small cavities, webbing, or even cellular-like materials into the frame which minimize convection occurring within the frame cavity itself. This can provide significant reductions in the U-Value without the need to inject foam into the frame cavity. Ask for simulation results for windows constructed with the frame designs under consideration and look for one that offers the lowest U-Value of Frame for the buck.

Number Two – the capability of the frame to accommodate wider glass packages. Many current vinyl platforms have glazing pockets that max out at ¾ or 7/8 of an inch. This limits your options when it comes to building and inserting the most energy-efficient triple pane IG configurations. So, if you are going to spend money tooling up a backup vinyl window from a different supplier, then it is crucial to consider a platform that accommodates wider IG packages up to 1 1/8 inch in overall thickness. The reasoning is that if you decide to include a window design in your lineup that meets the new Energy Star requirements, you will be able to put the most thermally efficient triple pane IG unit into this window, allowing you to meet the new 0.22 prescriptive requirement in the northern zone. You are not obligated to make all of your windows with triple panes. Still, the ability of your extrusion to accommodate wider triple-pane configurations makes such a platform much more useful in the long run. Maybe it is no longer meant to be that all windows will meet Energy Star. But having a platform that accommodates thicker IG units will at least have the option of producing several window offerings – an Energy Star rated window offered at a higher price tag and a standard window at a lower price tag. The consumer makes the choice.

Number Three – The strategic advantages of the vinyl supplier itself. What else does this potential vinyl extruder bring to the table? How stable of a supply partner have they been to other customers? What is their track record? How vulnerable are they to potential supply chain problems with their own suppliers? Are they single sourced when it comes to raw material suppliers? How many extrusion plants do they have in case yours is hit by a tornado? What is their backup plan when it comes to supplying your needs? And one final point of consideration is what other window components or technologies do they offer that would enable them to build upon and catalyze a strategic partnership with you?

Yes, investing time and money to partner with a secondary or even tertiary vinyl extrusion supplier is becoming increasingly important these days, but it is crucial to do this with a long- term view of the horizon instead of looking out the back window. Companies that think long-term ensure that they will be around in the long run!

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