Defending Energy Star - Lewin weighs in

Phil Lewin
July 14, 2017
By Phil Lewin
In an email to the editor Phil Lewin, vice-president of technical marketing for Vinyl Window Designs in Toronto, responded to Chris Meiorin's Fit & Finish column in the summer issue of Fenestration Review. His comments posted here with permission.

Chris' article is pretty one sided. That is not to say that that side doesn't have merit, but it ignores what doesn't fit in nicely with his premise.

The first two paragraphs correctly point out that an Energy Star window is not necessarily for everyone. But, the information we now see because of Energy Star is critical in appreciating fair comparisons of windows that might not be Energy Star, but meet the purchaser's needs. We try to train our dealer's salespeople to explain that home comfort situations are also a consideration, using the data now commonplace because of Energy Star.

Fun with math. If 38% agree with Chris and 18% don't care, this vote is won by Energy Star with 44% in favour. If this was an election total, 53.6% of those voting would be considered near landslide results.

Chris is correct that Energy Star may be on its way out, but this is because it has done its job by dragging the window industry into awareness of the issue and there is now publication of energy-related data. Historically, there has been a chase between building codes and Energy Star. When the building code catches up to the program, the program has upped its requirements. Actually, when the program was conceived, the idea was for only 15% of all windows to meet its requirements. This was quite naive. (I was once told that some in the Energy Star hierarchy  expected that every market would have only one dealer selling Energy Star-certified products. Did those who believed this really expect the rest of that local marketplace to sit on its hands and watch sales go elsewhere?)

Interestingly, there is consideration of dropping the requirement for Energy Star-certified windows in the New Houses Energy Star program. This is because there are other ways to achieve energy savings in regard to heat loss, making cooling a bigger cost factor. Especially in renovation, as noted (and based on research), Energy Star values solar hear gain and winter heating savings higher than cooling savings and that is not likely to change.

This leads to where I believe Chris has made a factual error. He claims that no value or concern is given to the costs of cooling versus the benefits of solar heat gain (my paraphrasing.) Not exactly true. The U-value path focuses only on radiation control which penalizes solar heat as a form of radiation leakage. Even the ER path, which does have a very high benefit from solar heat gain, also has a significant value assigned to radiation control via U-value.

Energy Star did not invent the concept of a house with a low percentage of window surface in the building envelope. I believe that ASHRAE published a standard a long time ago that attempted to limit glass. As I walk through our factory, windows just seem to be getting bigger and bigger anyway, so I don't see the issue. Energy Star  was never intended to be for everyone. It is the industry itself, not the program, that has made it into a near requirement for any window company and not the government. The key to going forward is for the industry to get together and make sure that there is good information for the consumer to help them match their personal requirements with an available product. I don't think throwing darts at a great program that has moved us so far forward is the answer.

Finally, I see the effects of significant climate change around me every day, from the rapidity of changing weather patterns to the types of birds that visit my bird feeders that really shouldn't be here. I'm not sure where we will have to go next as an industry in our efforts to contribute to fighting for our planet, but I'm proud to tell people that I work for an industry that is contributing to the solution and proud to have worked for so many years to date with the Energy Star program.

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