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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Breaking the 20 Year Logjam to Better Insulating Windows

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Windows account for about 4 Quads of US energy consumption or 12% of building energy use. After 20 years of public/private investment (from 1980 to 2000) in technology R&D, coupled with new rating and labeling organizations (NFRC) and with subsequent voluntary ENERGY STAR programs and tighter codes and standards, windows using low-E/argon gas fill (~R3) gained a dominant market share and now account for >86% of all annual sales. However, this remarkable transformation of prior markets has stagnated, with triple glazing (~R5-R7) comprising less than 2% of all window sales in 2016. U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) estimates the national technical potential savings using R5-R7 windows at ~ 2Q annually, but manufacturers claim they would have to redesign their entire sash/frame inventory to accommodate the thicker and heavier insulating glass units (IGUs) in conventional triple glazed window designs. This paper outlines the initial findings from the first phase of a new collaborative effort, now underway with industry partners, to transform window markets to the R5-R7 insulating levels by introducing a novel packaging of existing technology elements, implemented as a “drop-in replacement” for current IGUs. The program involves working with supply chain partners to ensure component availability, with leading window manufacturers to integrate the key technology elements and initially deploy the new designs, and with market pull partners to speed adoptions rates. Market pull partners include building code officials, utility rebate/incentive programs and ENERGY STAR, along with early adopters such as builders targeting net zero and passive house designers.

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