Philibuster: Roadmap to a dead end?

The problem is real, but some of the solutions are not.
Phil Lewin
March 05, 2019
By Phil Lewin
I believe climate change driven by human activities is real and is well past the crisis point. The problem is, the solutions being discussed for the window industry will fail.

They say windows account for 35 per cent of energy use in residential homes. So we can agree that it is a critical area where more needs to be accomplished. Raising the bar on U-values in particular is a reasonable goal. They say the technology exists in the lab at this time and will be ready within a decade or so. So that’s the implementation period for the extreme prescriptive requirements NRCan lays out in its roadmap.

Here are some factors that they may not be considering or even be aware of because, in my experience, they do a great job consulting engineers, consultants, lab personnel and government employees and a lousy job actually talking to industry. I have personally attended two large meetings where, of approximately 60 attendees, 57 were from the first group and three were actually from the window and door industry.

As far as I can tell, there are two technologies that may be considered to meet the extreme requirements NRCan has specified. Let’s start with triple- and even quad-glass windows. Let’s start with the reality that even now, where most sealed units are still doubles, requiring up to 50 per cent more float glass creates a problem. The glass is not available in the quantity required. Could more float glass factories be constructed? Sure, but who is paying for it and who is shouldering the risk that the extreme requirements go the way of the dodo bird after a federal election? Entrepreneurs are actually quite risk-adverse and without government participation and guarantees, supply will be a problem.

What about low-E? To get the required ratings, a triple unit would require three coatings of low-E. As one participant put it at the meeting last January, “So, we’re going to be selling windows with sunglasses?” Maybe we will be, but homeowners will not be pleased. To what extent will they rebel at the ballot box if this is forced down their throats?

The cost of these triple units will also be hard for homeowners to swallow. A lot of triple was sold this year in Ontario, but that was primarily due to the GreenON rebate and these units did not require a third low-E coating.

Here is another factor that may anger homeowners: triple units are not as durable as double sealed units. Why? Simply, there is twice the length of seal, so there is more room for a serious defect or weakness. The extra weight may put more pressure on the unit to shear and lose seal if not properly glazed. (Of course, we want to say that every unit is properly glazed, but….) Homeowners won’t be happy even if they only have to cover the installation costs of replacement units under warranty.

So is there an alternative? Yes, Virginia there is a life-saving technology in the lab, waiting to burst on the scene and save the world. It is the much-awaited vacuum sealed unit. I have an extremely reliable industry contact who has whispered to me that he has solved the edge seal problem. This individual has tremendous credibility and a track record, so there is hope. I’ll let the individual make the product public when it’s ready for prime time.

The question is who will take the long-term liability for a new product in the field. Any of you remember getting burned by swiggle seal in our climate? (Just asking!) Without a decent timeframe to prove success in the field, I do not expect industry to take the liability. Will government step up to the plate?

If government only changes the code, Houston, we have a problem. Rebates will only exacerbate the industry issues. What we will need are public/private partnerships to add capacity for float glass in Canada. Government could even sell warranties for vacuum units.

I’m all in favour of saving the planet. I have kids. I want to live in a modern world and not a returned Stone Age. But let’s be careful out there, people!

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