Volume 2   Issue 2               Summer 2001

t h e   c u t t i n g   e d g e

Marketing the Benefits of Efficient Windows
by Jim Plavecsky

Several weeks ago, I was visiting one of the top five window manufacturers in North America, and I stopped into its research and development department to say hello to a friend of mine. I saw an interesting chart on his wall—one that brought back memories from the mid-1980s when I worked as a design engineer at TRW’s oil-pump division. 

At that time, we were in the business of designing, building and marketing the world’s most efficient oil recovery systems. With demand outstripping supply, the major oil companies asked not “how much does it cost?” but rather, “how soon can I get it?” Those were boom years for the oil exploration industry, and I was as busy as ever. Well, I don’t know if a little genie whispered into my ear or what, but, lucky for me, I decided in 1986 to leave the oil exploration industry in favor of the fenestration industry. On occasion, I would call my old friends in the oil-exploration business, and was shocked to see that many of them were gone. You see, supply started outstripping demand, and the boom times in oil exploration were over. Indeed, we have enjoyed fairly stable oil supplies during the last decade. However, the chart hanging on my friend’s wall says that is all about to change!

“Window manufacturers marketing the advantages of energy-efficient 
windows and doors have never had it better in terms of support coming from government-backed agencies, trade associations, utility companies, industry suppliers and consultants.”

The chart (see Figure 1) is part of a U.S. Geological Survey publication, written by L.B. Magoon. He refers to the situation in the mid-1980s as a “rollover,” which, very simply, is a situation whereby the demand for oil exceeds the capacity to produce it. He also includes forecasts made by leading economists that predict we will experience a big rollover somewhere between 2003 and 2020, but most likely sooner than later.

You see, since 1965, the volume of new oil discovered every five years has been decreasing steadily (see Figure 2). The result is that overall annual production is forecasted to do the same in the coming years. So the only way we can mediate the effects of the big rollover is by reducing the world’s overall oil consumption. 

Mandate and Market

To accomplish this we need to implement what I call the M&M approach—Mandate and Market. On the new construction side of the industry, the government needs to mandate the use of the most energy-efficient products and materials. In addition to code development, however, window manufacturers need to market the energy-conserving benefits of advanced window technologies effectively. We have seen mandates happening slowly, but surely, over the last ten years with the emergence of U-value codes in many parts of the nation. One thing is for certain, with new housing starts clipping along at 1.65 million units per year, new construction codes represent a significant opportunity to reduce our nation’s overall energy consumption in an effort to match that declining oil production curve.

The Model Energy Code (MEC) sets minimum energy performance standards to assist builders and homeowners in obtaining energy-efficient products. Currently, 32 states have adopted some form of the MEC, and thermal-performance ratings for fenestration products must meet the National Fenestration Rating Council’s (NFRC) Certification Program requirements.

However, in many states with codes in place, effective code enforcement and compliance is not being achieved currently. Builders are often resistant to government regulations, and many of them simply do not understand the codes. 

Marketing Power

Perhaps this is where the power of marketing comes in. Window manufacturers marketing the advantages of energy-efficient windows and doors have never had it better in terms of support from government-backed agencies, trade associations, utility companies, industry suppliers and consultants. Before the advent of the NFRC, I heard complaints from window manufacturers such as: “How can I effectively market this warm-edge benefit you’re talking about when my competitors are promoting U-values that have been measured at the center of the glass?”

Today, of course, we have the NFRC, with consistent methods of rating and labeling U-values, solar heat gain, visible light transmittance and air leakage. In the near future, we will also see standardized rating systems for optical properties, condensation resistance, long-term energy performance and seasonal heating/cooling ratings. Nearly all of my customers who conduct value-added marketing campaigns emphatically agree that the existence of nationally-accepted uniform standards for measuring window performance makes their job much easier.

A Common Goal

Still, having all of this great information and educating builders, remodeling contractors and consumers alike with respect to what it means and how to use it are two different matters. That’s where the various energy alliances and coalitions come in. Back in 1977, with the Arab oil embargo creating a national energy crisis, one such group was founded called the Alliance to Save Energy. It is a nonprofit coalition of business, government, environmental and consumer leaders who promote the efficient and clean use of energy worldwide. Since then, many other organizations, some existing and some new, have joined together in the common goal of educating builders, contractors, architects and consumers with respect to the latest window and door technologies and their associated impacts upon energy conservation. The Efficient Windows Collaborative (EWC) is one such group devoted solely to the fenestration industry. The EWC is comprised of window, door, skylight and component manufacturers, re-search organizations, federal, state and local government agencies and others interested in expanding the market for the most energy-efficient fenestration products. Its goals is to double the current market penetration of efficient window technologies. The EWC offers training and education to company sales organizations and trade association members thereby building the core awareness needed to sell energy efficiency in the marketplace. 

We have a wonderful catalyst that is working in conjunction with all of these efforts—the Internet. In May of 1998, UPI estimated the number of Web users in the United States at more than 57 million. The Graphics, Visualization and Usability (GVU) Center at Georgia Tech estimates that 85 percent of these Web users access the Internet on a daily basis. This makes the job of promoting value-added products so much more cost-effective as the Web is capable of significantly increasing the overall number of people that we reach per dollar spent. Actually, it is the other way around as the people that land on a given website are there because they are seeking information as opposed to information seeking people. That makes a big difference when it comes to getting the message across.

So, yes, we are experiencing somewhat of a flat window market. But with energy demand soon about to overtake supply, energy-conservation is on everyone’s mind. This means that window manufacturers marketing value-added products with energy-saving features are finding themselves in a position similar to that of my old days in the oil-exploration business: consumers are asking, “How soon can I get them?” 

Jim Plavecsky serves as vice president of marketing and sales for Edgetech IG, based in Cambridge, Ohio.

© Copyright 2001 Key Communications Inc. All rights reserved. No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.