Volume 10, Issue 9 - November/December 2009

Fenestration Down Under
Energy Efficiency is Top Priority for Australia’s Fenestration Industry
by Ellen Rogers

Contributing editor Ellen Rogers spent three weeks traveling through Australia studying the door and window industry there. Her report shows that much like the North American market, energy efficiency is a top-priority for both door and window manufacturers as well as glass suppliers.

When Vic (Vidar) Moen’s father started making insulating glass (IG) in Melbourne, Australia, 20 years ago, he said to his son,
“We’ll have to be patient because it might take a couple of years for this to catch on here.”

“He hasn’t survived to see it yet,” says Moen, who serves as the director of Moen Glass, an Australian Glass Group™ company.

Moen says it was his family’s Norwegian heritage that led his father, who had been a glazier in Norway before relocating to Australia, to start the IG line.

“My father could not believe he was glazing single-pane glass here,” recalls Moen. “He was sure, though, that IG would hit so he installed a Lisec line that we are still running today.”

Moen estimates that at the time there were, perhaps, five or six insulating lines running in the entire country of Australia. Today his company, along with the others under the Australian Glass Group umbrella, operates four IG lines (as well as a variety of other glass-processing equipment lines) and the market for IG, as well as high-performance, energy-efficient glass products in general, is quickly growing.

Changing Regulations
Similar to the Energy Star® program in the United States, Australia’s Nationwide House Energy Rating Scheme (NatHERS) uses computer simulations to assess the potential thermal comfort of homes on a scale of zero to 10 stars. The more stars, the less likely the occupants need cooling or heating to stay comfortable. Zero stars, for example, means the building shell does little to reduce the discomfort of hot or cold weather, while a 5-star rating indicates good, but not outstanding, thermal performance. According to NatHERS, before the introduction of national energy-efficiency regulations for houses in 2003, less than 1 percent of Australian houses achieved 5 stars.

Efforts are underway there to develop more stringent energy requirements and the use of high-performance glass is well-poised to grow. On April 30 of this year the Council of Australian Governments requested the Australian Building Codes Board (ABCB) increase the energy efficiency provisions in the 2010 edition of the Building Code of Australia. These provisions would include a 6-star energy rating, or equivalent, for new residential buildings, as well as a significant increase in the energy efficiency requirements for all new commercial buildings.

But Australia has a ways to go.

“The penetration of IG in the Australian market is only around 10 percent for new construction,” says Chris Barker, head of sales, strategy and marketing for the Australian Glass Group. “If you looked at it across all existing housing it would only be about 1 percent.”

Likewise, the use of low-E glass is also limited.

“The expectation is to reach 25 percent by 2012,” he says, adding that the use of value-added glass in the residential market as a whole is forecast to grow about 45 percent by 2012.

Howard Wigham, executive general manager for Viridian, Australia’s only local float glass producer, also expects to see the use of glass for energy-efficiency grow.

“It’s a great opportunity and [represents] an enormous impact on glass and windows—and it’s more than just IG, as it’s dependent upon where you live so it could be solar control, etc.,” said Wigham.

Much like the North American market, Wigham emphasized that the types of glass and windows that will be required will be dependent on the climate zone.

“The answers are different depending upon the location, but it’s becoming driven by regulation; this won’t happen unless we all do our part,” he said. “We want the right windows specified for the right problem.”

Wigham continues, “The climate zones in Australia are quite different, as one area will [benefit from] shading co-efficient or a low solar heat gain while others will [benefit more from] IG. It’s really about giving a product range to the market because it’s not a one-size-fits-all market and it’s way more than IG.”

Barker adds that manufacturing for the many different climate zones can be a challenge.

“All of the United States is covered by four climate zones; in Australia, with 20 million people, we have 80 climate zones, so we’ve complicated things a bit, but we’re also very much in a developing stage.”

Why Change Now?
“The awareness of climate change generally has brought interest up,” says Barker. “We now have a change in government that’s far greener than the previous was. I also think the introduction of 5-star was seen as a major catastrophe from a cost perspective. Now, things have moved through and we’ve all found that it wasn’t a catastrophe from a cost perspective. We’re now seeing the building industry acknowledge, somewhat reluctantly still, that going to 6-star is an affordable and necessary outcome.”

Barker continues, “I think the glass industry has been very much involved in driving some changes and the window industry is quickly catching up so we are now truly becoming partners in terms of a fantastic outcome.”

In that regard, last year the Australian Glass & Glazing Association (AGGA) and the Australian Window Association (AWA) joined forces to create Sustainable Windows Australia (SWA) in partnership with Sustainability Victoria.

“It’s important for us to work closely with window companies in terms of regulation, because if we don’t make the right glass and they don’t have the right windows it will ultimately come from somewhere else,” says Wigham.

Moen agrees, “The industry is in a position where it is trying to drive regulations itself as opposed to having to respond to regulations—the industry is leading the regulations rather than lagging regulations.”

A Step at a Time
With so much talk and discussion about the importance of energy efficiency and climate change, the Australian fenestration industry is quickly jumping on board and an increasing number of companies are starting IG lines. As exciting as it may be, this could also be a challenge for the industry.

“When you attend a meeting or conference (such as the AGGA’s annual event) and every agenda item and presentation is about IG, energy and sustainability, then it is resonating with those companies in attendance and they are going to have to respond,” says Moen. “I think they’ve been building up to this for quite a while and there are a number of people getting into this and then turning around and wondering, where’s the work?”

Cost factors may also be a concern.

“What happens to pricing in these early years and how does that then impact the price point going forward?” questions Wigham. We all know it’s much harder to get prices back up once they go down.”

Increasing imports is another challenge with which the Australian window and glass industry is faced.

“As the stringency levels increase and the complexity of the glass and window components becomes more onerous there will come a point where suddenly we are a very attractive market for overseas suppliers who already see this as their bread and butter, when for us it’s the Rolls Royce,” says Moen. “So will this increase in star ratings create a sweet spot for the imports to come in and really push in a lot of very high-performance products, but at very low prices because that’s where there markets have been for 10, 15 years?”

“And the only protection we’ve got is that our housing industry is not standardized [sizes]. The windows in our houses generally are made-to-order. It’s more complicated,” says Baker.

Moen adds, “And that complication is our relevance.”

And just like in the United States, it’s product quality that can distinguish one company from another.

“When your company prides itself on product quality you need a good regime to enforce it because you can’t allow this to go unchecked and unpunished,” says Wigham. “[If you do] it will drive down the quality.”


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