Volume 36, Issue 11, November 2001
How One Electric Utility Company is
Helping Sell Better Windows
by Bill Mattinson
Improved windows offer one of the most attractive paths for increased energy savings in homes, yet less than 10 percent of 1999 Texas window sales included low solar heat gain low-E glass and most of them had aluminum frames. This differs dramatically from nationwide figures of greater than 40 percent low-E and less than 15 percent use of aluminum frames. Although window heat loss and heat gain account for about 25 percent of a typical new home’s heating energy and up to 60 percent of a home’s cooling costs, most homebuilders and building suppliers in sunbelt areas are still unaware of the benefits of high-performance windows.
To help save energy and reduce peak cooling electric energy demand, the Texas Window Initiative (TWI) was created in March 2000 to promote the installation of high-performance windows in the residential new construction and retrofit markets in Texas.
The TWI program is funded by American Electric Power and its Texas subsidiaries: Central Power & Light, West Texas Utilities and South Western Electric Power Company. So far, TWI has presented more than 150 high-performance window training sessions in East Texas, West Texas and the Gulf Coast regions and several sessions in the Dallas and Houston areas for manufacturers and key distributors. More training sessions are scheduled through 2002.
TWI is a market transformation program, providing education and training to window manufacturers, distributors, retailers, building product sales professionals, homebuilders and remodel and replacement contractors. These industry members, once trained, will deliver the high-performance message to the homebuyers and homeowners to help them make informed purchasing decisions.
Education is the Key
Unfortunately, many building industry professionals don’t know how to identify a high-performance window, let alone sell its benefits to customers. Thus, TWI training sessions include an in-depth presentation of the technology and benefits of high-performance windows and detailed information on ENERGY STAR® and NFRC rating and labeling programs. Better windows present a win-win situation: consumers win with reduced energy bills and improved comfort, while window vendors yield greater profits on value-added products.
Topics covered in the TWI presentation and in the handouts include:
• Energy efficiency as a selling point—the benefits of high-performance windows to homeowners;
• Window energy basic concepts (the solar spectrum, conduction, convection and radiation);
• How a window really works—heat gain and heat loss through windows;
• Comparison of window types—heating, cooling, energy and dollar savings and comfort;
• Measures of window performance and NFRC testing and labeling—the U-factor and SHGC rating;
• Window features (low-E coatings, frame materials, gas fills, number of panes, spacers and type of glass);
• Fading and condensation effects;
• ENERGY STAR window labeling;
• What works best in Texas, especially in light of the new Texas building energy code (see "Texas Emissions Reduction Plans,
The TWI program is brand neutral and promotes window products that are certified to be ENERGY STAR compliant. Particular attention is paid to identifying the high-performance window products appropriate for use in Texas, with a focus on the ability of low solar heat gain low-E glass to reduce cooling loads. Strong emphasis is given in the TWI training to identification of ENERGY STAR qualified products through recognition and understanding of the ENERGY STAR and NFRC performance labels required for energy code compliance and for consumer protection.
Delivering the Message
Ken Nittler and I created the TWI training material, with program administration by Frontier Associates in Austin. Nittler is a mechanical engineer who also owns WESTLAB, a window testing company with offices in California, Wisconsin and Canada. He is also a software developer and energy codes expert who has been active in building code development nationwide. I have been operating SOLDATA, a California energy consulting firm since the mid 1970s, and have created training and marketing material for national and regional window companies, and provide technical consulting services to major utility companies.
Knowledge Makes a Difference
TWI training efforts have already made a significant impact on the business practices of a number of Texas businesses. Several examples illustrate this point:
• A major Texas window manufacturer supplying new homebuilders in much of the state, had only dabbled in low-E glass products
prior to its session with TWI trainers. A lively discussion of product features and benefits, followed by numerous follow-up phone
conversations, led the company to establish a major marketing emphasis on low solar heat gain low-E products. TWI trainers
visited a major glass supplier the day after their first session with the window company. The trainers were pleased to hear that
although the glass makers had long been seeking to sell the window manufacturer low-E glass, they received their first major order
just hours after the conclusion of the TWI window company training session.
• A relatively small West Texas local window manufacturer had previously rejected use of low-E glass products because the
company felt it could not afford to stock yet another variety of glass. After the TWI training, now aware that low solar heat gain
low-E could actually replace a number of lower performance tinted and reflective products, the company made a commitment to
focus on low solar low-E as a better alternative. This enabled them to market energy efficiency as well as enjoy reduced stock
• A number of production homebuilders throughout the AEP regions are now offering high-performance window products as a buyer
upgrade in their new homes. They’ve said the knowledge given them by TWI should enable them to sell better windows in a high
percentage of their homes.
• A window manufacturer specializing in replacement windows sold throughout Texas had been offering only hard coat low-E
products until TWI training showed them those products were more suitable to cold Northern climates and offered little benefit to
Texans. Now they are strongly marketing low solar heat gain low-E as their featured glass product, a perfect complement to their
previous position, which primarily emphasized the energy efficiency of their thermal break frame materials.
• Several remodel and replacement contractors asked TWI trainers to provide them with glass samples and a heat lamp similar to the
tools we used in their training to demonstrate reduced heat gain through low-E glass. The builders are convinced they can sell
high-performance windows on almost every job if they can just give the same demonstration to their clients. These builders
recognize that they can benefit from offering value-added products that increase customer comfort and satisfaction.
• The installation of energy-efficient windows will not only yield utility bill savings, but may permit downsizing of HVAC equipment,
thus partially offsetting the increase in first cost of high-performance windows. Several HVAC contractors have been reducing the
air conditioner size on homes that utilize low solar heat gain low-E glass.
What we have done in Texas may be done in other states as well. An initiative like TWI would be possible in any state where the public utility commission or the state energy office is requiring the electric utility companies to participate in Market Transformation or Demand Side Management programs.
The benefits of high-performance windows are so great that it really only takes an education program like TWI to convince builders and retailers to sell better windows to their clients. However, in places like Texas where there has been no energy code in the past, window manufacturers were happy enough to keep on selling the same old products. Now with the TWI training, they and their vendors are aware of the value-added opportunities that come with high-performance products and are confident that there are trained people who are capable of selling the benefits.
Texas Emissions Reduction Plan:
What it Means for the Industry
The Texas Emissions Reduction Plan, Senate Bill 5, was signed into law on June 15, 2001, and went into effect on September 1. The legislation requires that a building energy code be implemented in clean air non-attainment areas. There is also significant funding mandated for energy efficiency programs to be administered by the electric utilities.
This new legislation will allow grant monies to be made available for energy efficiency. “Low solar gain low-E glass coatings are a powerful way to reduce energy demand when coupled with downsized air conditioners,” said Ken Nittler, a mechanical engineer and owner of WESTLAB. The grant program requires approved programs to include the retirement of materials and appliances that contribute to peak energy demand, peak loads and associated emissions of air contaminants.
The Texas building code is a reference to the International Residential Code (IRC), which in turn references the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC). According to the new legislation, “to achieve energy conservation in single-family residential construction, the energy efficiency chapter of the International Residential Code, as it existed on May 1, 2001, is adopted as the energy code for use in this state for single-family residential construction.” Additionally, “to achieve energy conservation in all other residential, commercial and industrial construction, the IECC, as it existed on May 1, 2001, is adopted as the energy code for use in this state for all other residential, commercial and industrial construction.”
The legislation also prohibits local amendments from resulting in less stringent energy efficiency requirements in nonattainment areas and in affected counties than the energy efficiency chapter of the IRC or IECC.
According to Nittler, one of the most relevant code sections is in regards to solar heat gain. According to the code, “The area weighted average solar heat gain coefficient for glazed fenestration installed in climate zones 1 and 2 (to a maximum of 3,500 HDD) shall not exceed 0.40.”
“In effect, this is a mandate for low solar gain low-E glass as virtually all of Texas has less than 3,500 heating degree days,” said Nittler.
However, Nittler warned that some in the building industry may try to find their way around the codes. “Like many other energy codes, be aware that there are multiple compliance paths including a performance method that could allow a builder to trade-off building features including the solar heat gain requirement,” he said. “Unlike, California, I do not expect there to be widespread use of the performance method—in the next few years anyway.”
Bill Mattinson serves as program developer for the Texas Windows Initiative.
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