Infrastructure Takes Aim at Energy Efficiency

In my final post of 2021, I mentioned how a continued focus on energy efficiency in the glass space would be a large driver this year. New legislation and building code requirements will drive emissions reductions in the commercial construction space, and the fenestration industry will need to meet the challenge with high-performance glass systems.

A prime example: The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which passed Congress in late 2021,  includes a provision providing $225 million in grants over five years to state and local governments to adopt updated building energy codes (including more recent versions of the International Energy Conservation Code, or IECC) and to train the workforce on meeting them.

That’s a significant amount of money we’ll see flowing into the commercial construction space—and cities adopting newer codes will need to leverage the right technological solutions in building projects to meet those aggressive targets. Since buildings contribute over 30% of total US greenhouse gas emissions, this legislation is a very important part of the United States’ effort to reduce greenhouse gases in the coming decades.

As the Alliance to Save Energy (ASE) notes, it will take more than just efficient building products to meet requirements:

Most states require code officials to achieve a threshold level of certification, but don’t require training on the code provisions they’re responsible for overseeing. This creates a situation in which workforce training is majorly lacking.

In an industry that is increasingly becoming more innovative and complex in its systems, it is even more critical that the workforce be up-to-date on the latest challenges and opportunities for energy efficiency. This means ensuring city and state codes officials, home builders, architects, energy auditors, and installers are brought on board with code changes.

High-performance glass and curtainwall systems have certainly become more innovative in the past several years and will continue to evolve to pursue higher thermal efficiency targets. I believe robust training for glaziers (and all building professionals) is a necessity for these systems to fully meet their potential. However, I don’t believe these systems need to be inherently complex. Seeking simplicity, whether within the fabrication or the installation process, is something that can benefit all stakeholders. And it can help our industry help builders make the most of that $225 million.

High-performance vinyl window profiles offer a good example here. They have increasingly become an attractive option for their ability to provide outstanding thermal performance. Comparatively, historically attractive for its structural benefits, metallic framing tends to need thermal break systems to isolate the interior space from the outside environment to meet modern thermal requirements. Today’s vinyl systems can deliver the necessary structural integrity while offering a simpler, high-performing and cost-effective alternative. Combined with the right insulating glass package, efficient and resilient vinyl windows are attainable for a range of commercial applications and can help satisfy increasingly stringent codes that will be adopted sooner rather than later.

Additionally, any measures our industry can take to help simplify the installation process can reduce the potential for error. Doing so will help us deliver the kind of performance that codes demand and builders expect. It’s incumbent upon fabricators to weigh these choices when designing high-performance products. Simple-to-install solutions can go a long way to supplement the required training that the infrastructure bill accounts for.

I’ll be very interested to track how the infrastructure bill impacts code adoption in the coming years. And I’m confident the commercial fenestration industry will be up to the challenge of providing high-performance solutions to meet those code requirements.

Joe Erb is commercial sales specialist for Quanex Building Products.