Ask a half-dozen window and door manufacturers what defines a green product and you’re likely to receive as many different answers. What they all seem to agree on, however, is that residential customers— while increasingly open to green, and specifically energy-efficient, designs— are sensitive to cost increases unaccompanied by perceived value.
Energy Star Drives the Market
The EPA’s Energy Star program is seen as a huge boon to the drive for greater acceptance of greener fenestration in the residential market—but one that has had the effect of focusing homeowners’ attention on energy efficiency rather than other green issues such as recyclability or sustainable manufacturing.
With more than 80 percent of windows sold today Energy Star-certified, few would deny the success of Energy Star in promoting energy efficiency. This year, the program added a new “gold standard” for energy efficiency in residential windows: its “most efficient” designation (residential doors and skylights are excluded).
Reducing Manufacturing’s Carbon Footprint
All of the executives confirm that their companies engage in practices designed to minimize their operations’ carbon footprint—not only to save raw material and curb emissions, but as a measure of good business sense.
“We’re recycling PVC, glass, water, sawdust….not because we’re green, but because we’re frugal Yankees,” says Mathews Brothers’ Maynes. “We don’t like to throw things away. We like to use up what we can. And what we can’t use, we see if we can sell it.”
“Our builder customers, our channel partners expect us to engage in sustainable practices in our operations,” reports Ply Gem’s Pickering. “When we bring folks through our plants and we talk about our company culture and practices, that is always part of the conversation.”
Whether that influences customers’ purchasing decisions is another matter, however. “I don’t think it’s something where they say, ‘Hey, if Company A recycles 90 percent of its glass and Company B recycles 95 percent, we’re willing to pay more for [Company B’s product] because there’s more recycling going on,’” Pickering notes.
When asked whether vinyl’s image among some industry observers as less than green is a concern going forward, manufacturers—all of which use vinyl to one degree or another—categorically reject the question’s underlying assumption.
“We consider vinyl to be a green technology,” says Soft-Lite’s Schwartz. “It costs less to manufacture, and the products are very energy-efficient.” Where the industry might have fallen short is in its recycling of the material, but it is quickly making headway in that regard, he adds. “We do a much better job of recycling our vinyl than we did five years ago,” Schwartz says.
A lifecycle analysis of vinyl reveals it as a “very, very smart choice,” Pickering says. “If you have a wood window, you’ve got to maintain it, which includes painting it probably every three to five years over its lifetime. So if you think of the lifetime of the window as 25-40 years, you’re talking about five or six cycles of having to take a VOC-heavy paint and painting all the windows…as opposed to vinyl, which you can clean with some mild dish soap once a year.”