High-Performance Windows Offer Efficiency—for a Price

Ultra-efficient Energy Star Version 6.0 windows are here, but are homeowners willing to pay the higher prices?

June 07, 2015
A house that uses Marvin Windows' Contemporary Awning windows, from the Contemporary Studio collection.

Marvin Windows says that all of its windows currently meet the Energy Star Version 6.0 standard. (Pictured here are Marvin’s Contemporary Awning windows, from the Contemporary Studio collection.)  

It’s been about six months since the Energy Star Version 6.0 (V6) window requirements for most parts of the country went into effect. And while the new standards boost efficiency, they also increase unit prices. So how is this shaking out in the remodeling and replacement window markets?

“Each new version of Energy Star requires an enormous leap of faith that consumers will recognize and understand the cost increases that come with meeting the requirements,” says Maureen Knight, government affairs/product stewardship manager for the American Architectural Manufacturers Association (AAMA), which represents window makers and suppliers.

All Zones Not Equal

The Environmental Protection Agency, which administers the Energy Star program, rolled out Energy Star V6 requirements for residential windows, doors, and skylights on Jan. 1, except for the Northern zone criteria, which will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2016.

The EPA revised its implementation date for the Northern zone in response to manufacturer concerns about being able to produce cost-effective units by 2015 that meet the more stringent Northern zone standard. Currently, the U-factor requirement for the Northern zone is 0.30; Energy Star V6 calls for a U-factor of 0.27. 

Many manufacturers believed that triple-pane windows would be needed to meet Northern zone criteria. Frames for double-pane units typically aren’t deep enough to accommodate triple-pane glass, resulting in the need to redesign and retool. According to the AAMA, the EPA’s stated $20 per Northern zone unit upcharge is only about 25 percent of the ultimate production cost increase. 

But many manufacturers are ahead of the implementation schedule. “Each of our vinyl, fiberglass, and wood product lines … met the Energy Star 6.0 guidelines in January 2015, including the more stringent Northern zone,” says Erik Ashcraft, product manager for Milgard Windows & Doors.

Still Early Days

To qualify for the V6 requirements, windows must meet or exceed the following U-factors and solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC) ratings:

Energy Star V6 window, sliding door, and skylight units also must have air leakage ratings that meet or exceed 0.3 cfm per square foot.

In the future, manufacturers say that they will continue to look to glazing producers for improved technologies, both in coatings and films, to help them meet lower U-factor requirements. Milgard’s Ashcraft says that within five years, it’s likely that additional climate-specific glazing options will be available.

“The question is how well it will be accepted, demanded, or requested by the consumer,” Lance Premeau, Kolbe Windows & Doors product and market manager, says of the new V6 criteria. “I think we’ll see a shift in the perception of the Energy Star program,” adds Christine Marvin, director of marketing for Marvin Windows and Doors. “Now homeowners will have to think, for this investment, what’s the payback over time?” According to the National Association of Home Builders, homeowners typically live in a house for 13 years, but manufacturers say that the payback on V6 windows could be more than 20 years. 

Still, some believe that buyers will pay the higher prices, as the trend for energy-efficient homes grows. “The homeowner marketplace is ready to say yes to these windows,” says Sarah Nettleton, a Minneapolis-based architect. “The public gets granite counters, but now the public is coming around to energy efficiency, too.” As far as green features that are being embraced by homeowners are concerned—as evidenced by the NAHB’s Remodeling Market Index (RMI) survey for the first quarter of 2015—Nettleton is on the mark: Energy-efficient windows rank high, with almost nine out of 10 surveyed remodelers saying that during the past year they commonly installed low-E windows in their projects. While those windows may not meet the V6 standard, consumer awareness is definitely growing. And—particularly in parts of the country that experience severe winters—remodelers such as Abby Binder, owner of Abby Windows, in Milwaukee, see real benefits to higher-efficiency windows. "I think the V6 windows are all priced competitively in our market and are a necessity for this climate," Binder says. "I’m a huge fan of triple-pane windows because of the condensation resistance rating on them as well as how much better they perform compared to a double-pane window."

But although consumer awareness of energy-efficient window options is on the rise, it varies widely. Chris Zorzy, owner of A&A Services, a roofing, siding, and window company in Salem, Mass., says that his company’s window supplier, Sunrise Windows & Doors, still has to “do a few tweaks” on its V6 product offering, adding, “I’m not seeing a big demand for it. I’m not sure people are even aware of it. Of course, every once in a while you’ll get the homeowner who wants the most efficient window.”

Newer state and local building codes require more efficient housing, and V6 windows can play a role in meeting those requirements. But it may take several years for municipalities to adopt V6 requirements as code, and even then, they may not adopt them in full.

In Petaluma, Calif., John Gorman, president of Save Energy Co., a window, door, siding, and solar installer, says that his focus is not so much on Energy Star V6 but on meeting the state’s Title 24 energy standards (maximum U-factor 0.32; SHGC at or below 0.25). His company installs Simonton, Milgard, Marvin, and Cascade windows.

But, as Zorzy points out, the benefits from all these advances in energy efficiency are moot if windows are leaky or poorly installed. A window really is only as good as the installation. “Anything we sell is based on installation,” Zorzy says. “We tell homeowners that if the manufacturer is offering a lifetime warranty and the product’s not properly installed, you don’t have much of a warranty.”  PR

Adapted from the article “Higher Performance, Added Cost,” by Jean Dimeo, that appeared in the February issue of our sister publication Professional Builder.

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