Energy & Environmental News September/October 2023

October 17th, 2023 by Nathan Hobbs

EPA Proposes New Criteria for Energy Star Most Efficient Program

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released an update on its Energy Star
Most Efficient program, including proposed criteria for 2024. As of June 2023, 2,651 models meet
the current Most Efficient criteria across all categories, including 517 fenestration products produced by 48 partner companies. After a review of the data associated with currently recognized models, officials found that updates to the program’s criteria are needed “to recognize the best of Energy Star.” As a result, the agency is proposing changes for numerous categories, including sliding glass doors and windows. Criteria for skylights will remain unchanged in 2024.

No changes are proposed in the Northern and North-Central climate zones for windows and sliding glass doors. In the South-Central zone, EPA proposes revising the requirements for solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC) from ≤ 0.25 to 0.23, aligning with new Energy Star Version 7.0 criteria set to take effect in October. At the same time, EPA proposes revising the current U-factor requirement of ≤ 0.20 and the SHGC requirement of ≤ 0.25 for the Southern zone to two equivalent energy
performance options: U ≤ 0.21 and SHGC ≤ 0.23, or U ≤ 0.22 and SHGC ≤ 0.21. Changes to
Southern zone requirements “may help expand the number of products available to consumers,” officials say. Proposed combinations of performance criteria for the Southern Zone have equivalent
energy performance when using a Results and Assumptions table created for the Version 7.0 criteria revision analysis, they say.

The agency is also proposing the removal of North American Fenestration Standard/Specification (NAFS) Performance Grade ≥15 for doors, windows and skylights to help simplify criteria.
Officials believe that the NAFS Performance Grade requirement “has not been shown to be beneficial in the product’s energy performance.”

EPA will provide additional information regarding the roll out of its Energy Star Most Efficient
2024 recognition with the finalization of criteria.

Colorado to Bypass Energy Codes by Requiring Energy Star Products

A new law in Colorado is set to take effect in January 2026, requiring all residential structures three stories or less to use Energy Star-rated products. Requirements apply to a range of appliances, fixtures and other products used in residential buildings—including doors, windows and skylights. The new law mandates the use of fenestration products that are Energy Star-rated for the Northern climate zone, despite the fact that parts of Colorado are in the North-Central
climate zone. It also marks a juxtaposition of rule for a state in which building and energy codes are adopted at the local level, suggests Kathy Krafka Harkema, U.S. technical operations director for the Fenestration & Glazing Industry Alliance.

“Energy Star is not a code,” says Krafka Harkema. “This is a far-reaching, precedence-setting law that acts like a code.”

Introduced in Colorado’s House of Representatives in February 2023, the bill was passed under strong bipartisan support, commanding 38 votes to two. It was signed into law by Colorado’s governor.

Window Retrofit Technologies Selected for Governmental Testing

The U.S. General Services Administration’s (GSA) Green Proving Ground (GPG) program has selected 20 building technologies to test in buildings to help decarbonize the built environment, including three window retrofit technologies.

The administration is set to test vacuum-insulating glazing from Pilkington, an R14 interior window retrofit system from Vitro Architectural Glass and a secondary window framing system from Indow.

The technologies were selected in response to GSA’s request for information, which sought recommendations of technologies that could improve the operating efficiency of commercial buildings while promoting healthy workplaces; enable whole-building electrification; facilitate greenhouse gas reductions; and provide on-site energy generation and storage systems. The Inflation Reduction Act funds the program in an effort to support GSA’s goals of achieving a 65% reduction in greenhouse gas by 2030 and net-zero operational emissions by 2045.

Researchers Develop Low-Energy Carbon-Friendly Glass

A new type of glass engineered by Penn State University researchers aims to cut glass manufacturing carbon dioxide emissions in half. The material, dubbed LionGlass, was designed to use less energy to produce while remaining more damage resistant than standard soda lime silicate glass.

Researchers recently filed a patent application and are in the process of exposing various compositions of LionGlass to different chemical environments to study how it reacts.

“LionGlass eliminates the use of carbon-containing batch materials and significantly lowers the melting temperature of glass,” said John Mauro, Dorothy Pate Enright Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Penn State and lead researcher on the project.

Mauro says that the bulk of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions originate from the energy needed to heat furnaces that melt glass. LionGlass, however, only requires temperatures of around 300 to 400 degrees Celsius to melt (compared to 1,400 degrees), which leads to a roughly 30% reduction in energy consumption compared to conventional soda lime glass.

LionGlass’ lack of carbon-containing batch materials also eliminates the release of CO2 emissions and makes it stronger than conventional glass, says Mauro. Tests show the material is at least 10 times as crack resistant as standard soda lime glass.

Are Government Regulations Hindering the Market for New Homes?

Officials from the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) met with members of Congress to address how they see government regulations impacting housing production and affordability.

NAHB chairperson Alicia Huey told members of the House Financial Services subcommittee that the growing number of regulations and mandates are leading to a domino effect of negative repercussions. Several codes and regulatory policies fuel the housing affordability crises, including the increased costs associated with updating energy codes to meet the 2021 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), she suggested. According to NAHB officials, adopting the
2021 IECC can add as much as $31,000 to the price of a new home, yet it can take as long as 90 years for homeowners to see paybacks.

Huey suggested that approximately 24% of the price for a newly built single-family home stems from various regulatory burdens imposed by state, local and federal governments. She also said ESG policies have already caused home insurance companies to drop out of some areas, while raising rates in others.

“Bank lenders are being urged to minimize the risks associated with their portfolios, causing concern they may cease lending in certain locations or increase their borrowing rates,” she says. “And as supply chain woes continue to stifle residential construction projects across the nation,
we worry that ESG disclosure requirements could further impede or prevent the availability of needed building supplies and transportation to their required destinations.”

Huey said governmental regulations hinder the abilities of local builders to provide affordable housing and remain in the black financially. According to NAHB, small businesses cannot handle ESG paperwork, reporting obligations or further project delays.

“While there is no silver bullet, rather than further incentivizing and supporting ESG policies that unnecessarily add to the regulatory burdens homebuilders already face and further impede the ability of our industry to increase the supply of affordable housing nationwide, NAHB urges Congress to pass legislation to alleviate these regulatory burdens and let the market forces determine how best to incorporate ESG considerations into the residential sector,” she said.

DOE Invests in Training for Home Energy Contractors

According to a task group led by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), around 70% of homes in the country were built before stricter building codes were enacted in 1990. As a result of aged materials and outdated codes, 30% of a home’s heating energy is lost through windows, the task group says. During the summer, about 76% of the sunlight that falls on standard double-pane windows becomes heat. DOE hopes to address these issues through a Contractor Training Grant Program and the Home Energy Rebates Act, which will issue $8.8 billion to state energy offices to retrofit and electrify homes. In the process, DOE will distribute $150 million in grants to states
to reduce the cost of training, testing and certifying residential energy efficiency and electrification contractors. The funds will be made available courtesy of an Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) Section 50123, State-Based Home Energy Efficiency Contractor Training Grant Program.

The initial application deadline to participate in the Contractor Training Grant Program ends Sept. 30, 2023. The negotiation process will run from Oct. 1, 2023, to Oct. 31, 2023, followed by the awards announcement, which runs from Nov. 1, 2023, to Feb. 1, 2024.

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