Beyond the Label
by Deb Callahan
June 30th, 2021

New Partnership Puts Windows at Center of Energy-Efficiency Campaign

I’m thrilled to share that the National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC) has joined a new public-private alliance called the Partnership for Advanced Windows Solutions (PAWS), to speed up the mass adoption of energy-efficient windows and attachments. The Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, the organization leading this initiative, convened a meeting with potential partners to discuss strategies to make windows central to the drive for more energy-efficient homes and buildings in the U.S.

In the kick-off event, NFRC joined representatives from the U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the California Energy Commission (CEC), and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, among others. The discussion ranged from advocacy to technology, to contractors to consumers, with tactics shared for each constituency.

While window technologies are important, this effort will need to educate consumers to be successful. NFRC’s plans to step up consumer education include the Efficient Windows Collaborative, the consumer-facing web portal acquired in 2020. The site receives more than 20,000 unique visitors each month, a rising figure as its pages and sections are streamlined and improved.

The PAWS initiative identified five broad priorities so far:

  • Utility and program collaborations;
  • Ratings, codes, and certifications;
  • Resources and tools;
  • Incentives, rebates, and tax credits; and
  • Targeted campaigns and initiatives.

These actions broadly fit into two main categories: consumer-oriented campaigns to boost demand, and industry reforms to push politicians; change laws, regulations, and building codes; and penetrate construction supply chains.

“This is about leveraging and aligning our resources and programs to meet the challenge of aggressive goals to accelerate adoption of primary windows and attachment products,” said Elaine Miller, NEEA’s market transformation manager for building envelopes.

NFRC aims to play a role in each of these areas and has positioned its Efficient Windows Collaborative as a portal for consumers. The site is built around the proprietary Window Selection Tool. It digs through a range of key performance metrics for currently available windows, such as U-factor and Solar Heat Gain Coefficient, to find efficient options suited to specific geographic orientations of a consumer’s house and climate zone. In the future, the site will add the details PAWS hopes to spread to consumers, covering windows as well as attachments such as storm windows and smart technologies for blinds and solar shades. The Efficient Windows Collaborative looks to partner with the Attachments Energy Rating Council (AERC) on the attachments products to ensure consumers have information on the right options.

Consumer outreach is crucial, said Doug Anderson, who manages the Energy Star program for the EPA, because many consumers wrongly assume that efficient windows must also be expensive. “Many manufacturers are making the products, but consumers have a hard time finding them and knowing what to ask for.”

When the conversation turned to industry reforms, participants highlighted the importance of outreach to builders to boost awareness. “Builders will choose products that are minimally disruptive to their existing construction practices,” said Jeff Harris, NEEA’s chief transformation officer. That highlights the importance of thin triples – triple-glazed windows with a thinner inner pane that deliver efficiency upgrades without disrupting the installation process.

“There’s a lot of focus on smart [solutions] and digitization, but hard-shell technologies we need to incorporate into the building supply chain is real market transformation,” said Andrew McAllister, Commissioner of the CEC.

Outreach to builders should be paired with stronger building codes, the group agreed. But that effort should transcend simply pushing for higher thresholds, said Helen Sanders, general manager at Technoform North America. “The structure of our codes hold back higher-performance fenestration,’’ she told the group. “Changing the code structures to focus on performance and changing the narrow cost-effectiveness requirement is critical.” She cited an example from Canada, where performance isn’t measured against a reference building but against a set energy-use intensity target. This avoids unintended consequences and high-performing options that aren’t widely used.

As PAWS grows and develops its strategies, NFRC will be doing the same. Improvements to the Efficient Windows Collaborative’s Window Selection Tool will soon be underway to improve the user experience and make it easier for members to ensure their products are included in the database and front and center as consumers and contractors embrace efficiency.

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