The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently released its initial draft of Energy Star Version 7.0. If you’re reading this, you’re probably aware of some of the eye-popping performance targets contained therein, including energy efficiency requirements in the Northern Zone (which covers roughly half of the U.S.) of a < 0.22 U-factor.
That’s a figure that, today, is not broadly achievable by most residential window and door manufacturers—at least not without significant re-engineering of core products. And while finalization of the proposed new specification wouldn’t go into effect until 2023 or perhaps 2024, it’s something that forward-looking fenestration professionals need to be thinking about today.
Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, it’s important to keep in mind that the initial draft is exactly that: a draft, which is subject to change based on feedback from the industry and continued collaboration with lawmakers. While I do expect some potential moderation before the final draft (either in terms of timing or performance criteria), it’s entirely possible that manufacturers will need to hit these exact numbers by 2023 or opt out of the program.
So where does that put us? For those that want to keep the Energy Star logo on their products, some significant innovation will be required, particularly on the glass side of things. Consider that the baseline U-factor of 0.22 is virtually impossible to hit with a standard double-pane insulating glass unit. Standard triples could be an option here, requiring some potential re-engineering on the framing side to compensate for extra weight. Thin-glass or “skinny” triples are another option, which can meet the baseline U-factor performance when installed within a typical double-pane window frame. Vacuum insulating glass is another burgeoning technology that has demonstrated potential to hit very low U-factors, though it may be cost-prohibitive for widespread adoption in the near term.
Regardless of whether the current draft of Energy Star 7.0 becomes final, it’s indicative of where this industry is headed. As I wrote in this magazine several years ago when the entire program was in jeopardy under President Trump’s administration, Energy Star is a recognized mark of quality and a great branding tool for window companies. But that in and of itself doesn’t drive efficiency. Demand does, and high levels of energy efficiency are simply a customer expectation at this point. Meanwhile, building codes and standards across the country have only gotten more stringent in recent years and will continue to do so. Energy performance is a marker that only moves forward, and it’s incumbent upon the fenestration industry to continue rising to the challenge.
With all of this in mind, I think window and door companies can take the Energy Star 7.0 draft as a worthwhile reminder that continuous innovation is a necessity. No matter what other challenges we might be grappling with at a given time, the future of our business rests on our ability to meet evolving performance demands.