DOE Launches Website for Affordable, High-Efficiency Windows

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Windows in the 400 Series from Andersen are offered to meet the R-5 criteria of DOE’s bulk purchase program.

Photo: Andersen

Hoping to make high-efficiency windows more affordable and to expand their market, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has created a bulk-purchasing program aimed at homeowners and builders in northern climates. It has arranged with over 30 manufacturers to list windows with insulation values of R-5 or better through a DOE website, Spurred by this spotlight, DOE hopes that manufacturers will offer their windows at relatively affordable rates, although they are not required to do so.

Anyone can buy, but options limited to vinyl

The program is intended for anyone purchasing at least 15 to 20 windows. Included in the lineup of windows are windows for new construction, retrofits, low-emissivity (low-e) storm windows, and patio doors—the latter are available with no minimum purchase. All the windows listed on the site at press time were white and vinyl-framed—a limited selection that may deter some buyers. The limited selection appears to be a result of the cost-competitiveness of vinyl, and not because of a DOE criterion.

A savings estimator on the website helps purchasers calculate the payback for triple-glazed, very-high-performance windows as opposed to more typical double-glazed windows. According to DOE, triple-pane, R-5 windows can reduce heat loss through the windows by more than 30% when compared to a double-glazed, R-3 window in a northern climate. Low-e storm windows, DOE says, can reduce heating loads by 20% and have a payback of about five years in a climate like that in Chicago.

Website may not save time

Don’t expect to actually compare window prices or buy windows through the DOE website, however. The site allows users to select the type of window they want, and the size, and it gives a price range in which users can expect to find windows. That range, however, can encompass several hundred dollars.

At that point, the site provides links to vendor websites where windows compliant with the program’s technical specifications can be found. To compare offers and to search for the lowest price quoted on the DOE website you may have to go through the price quoting mechanisms of over 30 manufacturers, however—a time-consuming proposition. Many of these companies don’t offer specific information on the DOE program on their websites, so a user may easily lose track of whether the windows they’re shopping for are compliant with the R-5 specifications of the program.

Work in progress, DOE acknowledges

According to Graham Parker, project manager for Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, which designed the program for DOE, the goal of the program is to encourage price competition, and he thinks it has been successful. Parker told EBN that some R-5 windows are now available at costs competitive with less-efficient windows that still meet Energy Star (approximately R-3). He says it’s now common to see a cost premium of only $2–$4 for R-5 windows over minimally compliant Energy Star windows, while a year ago that premium might have been $5–$6.

Parker says that the program originally proposed listing window prices on the website, but that resulted in “wholesale rebellion” due to sensitivity in the industry about showing prices. The compromise, he says, is to show the range of available prices, which he promises will get more refined as the website evolves. Parker said he was disappointed that many vendors are sending buyers to their generic websites, with no specific directions on the R-5 buying program.

– Tristan Roberts

For more information:

U.S. Department of Energy

Volume Window Purchasing

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June 10, 2010