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Volume 6, Issue 1                                                January/February 2005


Spotlight on Energy Performance
by Michael Fischer

Window performance features are usually a behind-the-scenes scenario for the average homeowner. After all, water penetration testing protocols and glass strength limitations are not part of dinner table conversations in most households. Energy performance features may also be considered highly technical and not readily understood by consumers. 

A Simple Program
Unlike structural features, however, energy features are communicated to the consumers as part of the government’s Energy Star® program. 
The Energy Star label cuts through the details of solar-heat gain and fenestration thermal transmittance and other highly technical information and simply sets the bar at a level 30 percent above the model energy code requirements in different zones of the country. All the consumer needs to know is that the Energy Star label on his window indicates that it is designed for his location. The genius of the program lies in its simplicity. 

The concern about reducing the average energy consumption in today’s generation of new homes has increased the emphasis and value of the Energy Star program. Windows are only one part of the home, however, and the sum is only equal to the lesser of its parts. High-performance windows will not compensate for inadequate insulation levels, and high-efficiency heating equipment is only as effective as the ducts that carry warmed air throughout the house. 

Some states have adopted means to monitor the effectiveness of the Energy Star Homes program. In New York, for example, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) administers programs for new Energy Star homes, upgrades to existing homes using Energy Star components, energy management services, the NYS Energy-Smart Loan Fund as well as incentive programs for solar-electric systems. 

“A New York ENERGY STAR labeled home offers homeowners a more comfortable, healthier living environment, while saving money on their energy bill. From better insulation levels to high-efficiency heating and cooling equipment, these homes achieve a higher efficiency rating,” said Peter Smith, acting president of NYSERDA.

According to the NYSERDA, New York has some of the most stringent standards for Energy Star-labeled homes. Each home must pass a rigorous evaluation by a Home Energy Rating System (HERS) evaluator, including computer-based energy analysis, inspections and certification testing to verify performance. 

HERS Designation
This advanced, whole-house, performance testing helps ensure that the home is insulated properly, well-ventilated (including high performance heating/cooling systems) and that all the cracks and gaps in the home are well-sealed. Each qualifying home receives an Energy Star designation from the EPA, which is a point of distinction for the homeowner and proof that the home will perform to high-efficiency energy performance levels. Additionally, NYSERDA performs customized home overviews to measure the overall performance of the home. 

The emphasis on energy use in the United States has led to widespread consumer acceptance of the Energy Star label as a way for the average consumer to compare products, including windows. With the recent flurry of hurricane activity and structural damage to homes in areas hit with the high wind events, a similar approach to simplifying the message of windstorm code compliance may be part of future industry labeling programs. 

Perhaps future fenestration certification programs will look for similar opportunities to simplify the way that technical performance measures are communicated and help the industry to better tell its story to the consumers who live in the homes we build.

Michael Fischer serves as director of codes and regulatory compliance for the Window and Door Manufacturers Association based in Des Plaines, Ill.

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