Manufacturers Stuck Between Government Expectations, COVID-19 and Stubborn Customers in Canada

November 19th, 2020 by Drew Vass, Executive Editor

In a panel discussion this week, representatives from three door and window manufacturers told attendees of Marketplace by WinDoor that—from their perspectives, at least—consumers are in the driver’s seat when it comes to specifying performance. Meanwhile, as homeowners are enamored with oversized glass, it doesn’t appear that they’re veering toward efficiency, the panel suggested—not without the impetus of government mandates and/or incentives.

“By the time a homeowner is looking for a window supplier, the design is done,” said Laura Weil, vice president of Euro Vinyl Windows and Doors Inc. “If they want that 14-foot-tall sliding door, the energy efficiency component of it isn’t going to be the priority,” she added. “If they need to beef up their heating system to be able to accommodate that, they’re going to do whatever they need to do.”

Weil was just one of several representatives who suggested that, especially on the luxury end of the market, there is an insistence on big glass—even when it includes sacrifices in energy performance. For example, “I live in a condo where glass is everywhere,” said Jay Madha, CEO of Tiltco Group. “The energy is just going out the windows, but it’s the look they want.”

To change those preferences, panelists agreed that it would take stricter code requirements, not only for new construction but on the retrofit side of the industry. Another alternative includes significant rebates for the use of high-performance products. But even as the Canadian government bears down on the idea for windows with U-value ratings of 0.8 (metric), the push toward better products currently finds itself at a juxtaposition with COVID-19. Weil said her company had to push back its plans for developing better casement windows until next year.

Even with economic recovery, “From my point of view, I like [the goal for U-values of] 1.05, because I think it allows a lot of manufacturers to continue manufacturing,” said Cam Drew, managing partner for Thermoproof Windows and Doors. “We’ll get to 1.05 and we’ll get lower than that, but to push to 0.8 is where the cost curve starts to go up for consumers,” he added. Manufacturers can achieve 1.05 in “fairly cost effective” ways, Drew said, though they will need to include more than just double-pane insulating glass. “But it’s getting to that 0.8 that you’re going to start to see costs continuing on a straight up trajectory,” he added.

So far as why the government is pushing for such lofty standards, “Well, it really comes down to this,” said Chris Ballard, CEO of Passive House Canada, displaying a chart of Toronto’s future weather. “By 2040, 2050, the average daily temperature max is going to hit 44 [degrees Celsius], up from 37. We’re going to have 66 really hot days—up from an average of 20 over the past 10 years.”

In what he referred to as his “previous life,” as Ontario’s minister on climate change, “This is the sort of thing we were dealing with every day … including how we adapt,” he said. “The next question is—what are governments going to do about it?”

After joining the Paris Agreement, in 2016 Canada’s provincial, territorial and federal governments gathered, Ballard said, drafting a pan-Canadian framework on clean growth and climate change—including the adoption of more stringent building codes and a goal for net-zero-ready building standards by 2030.

“It’s going to drive massive uptake of high-performance buildings and therefore high-performance fenestration products,” he said, adding that many will need to be designed and manufactured for Passive House Institute standards. At the same time, “The downside of climate change has to have an upside,” he declared. “We have to be able to strengthen our economy as we address climate change,” including job creation in Canada, he said.

“The opportunities for the fenestration industry in Canada are staggering, provided we have the product, tradespeople and skills,” Ballard suggested. “We seriously need to ramp up manufacturing in Canada to meet the coming need. Don’t wait until 2030. Get on board now. If you’re not moving down the path to developing a Passive House, high-performance window or product, you need to get on that right away.”

Ballard didn’t touch on specific performance ratings for meeting Passive House standards but urged the industry to understand that it’s about more than just U-value; installation is equally as important, he said.

“Air tightness is one of the ways you check for quality assurance in the build,” he explained. “High-performance windows [that are] properly installed … and I know I’m preaching to the converted here, but—you can have the best window in the world, but if we don’t have people who are trained and available [to perform installations], it’s all for naught.”

At the present, Ballard said he is aware of contractors throughout Canada that build to Passive House standards but have an extremely difficult time finding qualified door and window installers.

“We’re going to have to put our heads together, with your folks at Fenestration Canada, to see if we can help come up with a solution to fix that,” he said.

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