Businesses serving the window industry have been working to position themselves to take advantage of an anticipated upswing in window buyers.
The reason for the expected surge is the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which includes a tax credit for buyers of certain energy-efficient products, including windows.
When taxpayers buy replacement windows in 2009 and 2010 that meet energy-saving requirements mandated in the legislation, they can qualify for tax credits of as much as 30 percent of the purchase amount.
Bayport, Minn.-based Andersen Corp. has launched an entire new brand, called EcoExcel, dedicated to the energy tax credit.
While the incentive is expected to boost the vinyl window industry, there will be few if any changes to the vinyl profiles themselves. Enhancements made to existing window products are typically achieved through more formidable glass packages.
The biggest difference is really in the glass side, said Christopher Burk, product manager for Parkersburg, W.Va.-based Simonton Windows. Vinyl is thermally efficient to begin with.
At the vinyl extrusion level, the only expected change is increased volume.
While window makers appreciate the tax incentive as a means of generating new business, they are equally frustrated by what several have characterized as inefficient information sharing by the federal government.
Already in place are Energy Star ratings for home appliances and for closures such as windows and doors. U-values measure how much energy escapes. Lower U-values indicate more efficient products.
Energy Star a conservation program backed by the U.S. Department of Energy requires a .33 U-value rating for Energy Star certification.
The newest legislation stiffens that requirement to a .30 U-value, adding a layer of complexity at the manufacturing level, the tax credit qualifying level, and ultimately, frustrating an already struggling industry.
If you're living in Texas, Florida [or] Georgia, you want a very low solar heat gain coefficient. What that measures is how much of the sun's heat comes through the window. The lower the number, the less comes through, which is good for cooling, Burk said.
But in the North, you want that solar heat gain. It's free heating for those [cool] sunny days.
Another issue is that when the largest window companies added energy-efficient packages to their lowest-cost windows to push volume, smaller players like Simonton were forced to follow suit, according to Burk.
It's a unique time for the window industry. In previous housing slumps, the replacement window market would often see an uptick, but in the current recession, virtually everything lost value, and for the first time window makers have seen business slide across the board.
No data exists on how much the tax incentive might help window sales. Anecdotally, sales are increasing, but there is no way to be sure without comparing year-over-year sales in the future.
John Swanson, editor and associate publisher of Washington-based Window & Door Magazine, said the incentive could lead to more sales in 2010.
This could really get a lot of momentum next year for the market, he said.
Perhaps more significant for vinyl profile manufacturers are plans by the Energy Department to consider changing the 2010 Energy Star requirements, he said.
That could produce changes that could lead to more window redesigns that would affect the vinyl suppliers, Swanson said.