Volume 12, Issue 8 - October 2011

Eye on Energy

Selling High-Performance Windows
A Must with Today’s Savvy Consumers
by Ric Jackson

Now that the stimulus package is behind us, many companies are struggling to find a niche or customer group that is in a position to buy replacement windows. Many also are being forced to resort to building the lowest cost product possible. However, there are consumers who seek the most energy-efficient products available. They are willing to pay for the features that save energy but they aren’t willing to compromise on curb appeal and the low-maintenance attributes often achieved through high-performance, composite framing materials.

We talked to a few key regional market leaders who are marketing a high-performance window system, to gain an understanding of what these savvy consumers are asking for in terms of windows.

"Who would think that triple-pane insulating glass units would be a feature requested by consumers in Texas?"

They Ask for R-5 by Name
For most of 2009 and 2010 our industry has benefited from hefty tax credits and now we are suffering from the hangover effect. Appealing to consumers looking for the best-in-class products means being able to show proof of meeting criteria outlined by certifying programs, such as the High-Performance Window Volume Purchase Program (formerly R-5). And, yes, consumers are asking for R-5 by name—and they know what it means.

According to Bob Maynes, marketing director for Mathews Brothers, “Right now, people who are asking for R-5 windows are doing so more as a political statement, like buying a Prius.” He continued, “We have also begun selling more through architects looking for R-5 in residential and light commercial projects.”

Other programs, such as the Green Approved Products listings with the National Association of Home Builders offer criteria that go beyond Energy Star® and are third-party verified. Do not expect to sell a lot of windows through these programs, but use them as endorsements of the high-performance standards consumers are seeking.

They Want the Best in Performance and Aesthetics
Consumers might be shopping for energy efficiency and environmental benefits, but they do not want to compromise on features that have no impact on energy efficiency or, even worse, detract from that benefit. So what features are consumers seeking?

“Consumers don’t necessarily know which features they are looking for initially, but gravitate toward triple-pane and high-performance framing materials because it’s considered the best available,” said Bryant O’Neal, owner of AWS in Texas. Who would think that triple-pane insulating glass units would be a feature requested by consumers in Texas? This is partly the impact of programs such as .30/.30 and the effect of years of selling the energy savings advantages of high-performance windows.

We asked Maynes this: are consumers willing to compromise on aesthetic features when shopping for energy-efficient products? “In this geographic area, many customers want a traditional look and aren’t willing to compromise,” he said.

Because of a combination of framing materials and low-conductivity spacer systems, Mathews Brothers is able to achieve much lower U-values (higher R-values) with fewer lites of low-E, which translates to higher solar heat gain and visible light transmittance. They do this while achieving the traditional look consumers want with simulated divided lites. “Our products provide a balance of efficiency, visible light, aesthetics and economics,” Maynes said.

They Encourage Us to Be Prepared
The ultimate question is: where will Energy Star and the Environ-mental Protection Agency’s most efficient programs go next? It is a safe bet that we will see U-value requirements approaching 0.20 or R-5, and many manufacturers, such as Mathews Brothers and AWS, have already taken steps to build R-5 and beyond – enabling them to appeal to sophisticated consumers and architects, while preparing for efficiency regulations still to come.

When asked how much of his business high-performance energy-efficient windows are now and what that percentage will be in the future, O’Neal responded, “It’s about 25 percent right now, and we anticipate it will reach 50 percent in the next few years.”

Maynes also has a strong belief in the category. “We wouldn’t have made a major investment if we didn’t see the market going in this direction,” he said.

Designing, tooling up and marketing a new window line is a major expense. Look for programs from major suppliers in the industry to reduce the risk and support the launch of new high-performance products. Enlist supplier support to train your sales team and your channel partners.

Today’s high-performance window may be tomorrow’s standard product.

Ric Jackson serves as director of external affairs for Quanex Building Products.


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