Volume 13, Issue 1 - January/February 2012

Eye on Energy

Give Homebuyers What They Want
House Hunters Value Quality Over Quantity

“How much square footage do we really need”? This is a question homebuyers are asking from coast to coast. The recession has been blamed for many things, including a rebirth of practicality.

According to the National Association of Homebuilders’ (NAHB) survey, “The New Home in 2015,” there’s reason to believe that buyers are seeking smaller, more practical homes. Driving factors for this shift are lower purchase prices and simplicity.

For most, however, lowering long-term cost of ownership is the key driver for downsizing; this can include lowered property taxes, less maintenance and, most significantly, lowered heating and cooling costs.

Window of Opportunity
Reports show that people are buying homes with the intention of staying longer than in the past. Granite countertops, hardwood flooring and state-of-the art appliances are all great selling features, but, surprisingly, they aren’t at the top of most buyers’ wish lists.

"Many are waiting for the economy to turn around–or,
until they absolutely have to change to meet the new standards. As a result, ‘good enough for now’ products currently are being sold in showrooms nationwide."

Instead, NAHB reports that the most desirable upgrades for homebuyers are energy-efficient windows with low-E coatings, as well as whole-home Energy Star ratings.

In short, buyers want homes made with quality materials proven to provide long-term energy performance and, fortunately for us, windows with low-E are a main priority–yet only 7 percent of windows in existing homes in the United States have low-E. Clearly, we have work to do as an industry.

Economy vs. Progress
Despite consumer trends and regulatory factors, many manufacturers are concerned about making any sudden moves when it comes to product development. In fact, many are waiting for the economy to turn around, or until they absolutely have to change to meet the new standards.

As a result, “good enough for now” products currently are being sold in showrooms nationwide. If the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which controls Energy Star for windows, has anything to say about it, by 2013, “good enough for now” windows will have reached their expiration date and today’s “high-performance” products will be commonplace, replaced by something better. That is evidenced by the latest proposed Energy Star updates for 2013, which, in its current form, will require windows in the Northern Zone to achieve U-values between 0.25 and 0.27 to wear the label.

In the grand scheme of things, a year is a relatively short time when it comes to product development when you factor in design time, sourcing, re-tooling and certification testing. Wise companies are preparing now because, like it or not, economic conditions clearly have not slowed the need for progress.

After all, the fenestration industry will continue to face significant changes, from Energy Star to ICC700 and IECC, that will drive thermal performance to new levels, and likely increase thermal performance standards by 30 to 40 percent in 2012.

These are just the imminent changes. There will be more.

Consult for Results
As an industry, we are in a constant state of transition. We all have to be vigilant in understanding what’s happening now and what the future will bring in order to make decisions that best position our companies for growth. Just as we spend time understanding new standards, consumers also are educating themselves about the thermal performance and durability they should expect from their significant investment in new windows. Homeowners are indeed more practical as NAHB warns, but they are also more educated. They want their home improvement investments to translate to long-term energy savings.

The bottom line? Energy efficiency is no longer just “nice to have.” It’s expected. Househunters are recognizing the important role windows play in the overall efficiency of the home, and their purchase decisions can be swayed accordingly.

Ric Jackson serves as director, external affairs, Quanex Building Products, based in Houston, Texas.



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