High-performance windows, doors, and skylights can make our homes and buildings more comfortable and energy efficient, but maximizing their contribution depends on occupant behavior.
It’s easy to overlook the role people play in contributing to green building and sustainability. When we think about high-performance structures, we often focus on design, construction, and technology. With Americans spending 90 percent of their time indoors, however, the way people interact with these structures is also important for improving overall building performance.
In hot sunny climates, for example, measures that reduce energy consumption yet sacrifice comfort are unlikely to achieve their intended results. This is because occupants generally act to override their discomfort. For example, they may draw the curtains across high-performance windows on a sunny day and turn on the lights to avoid glare.
Considering the building’s orientation during the integrated design process, however, can lead to better solutions. For instance, planting deciduous trees or shrubs near windows and installing canopies or awnings helps harvest (free) daylight while controlling solar heat gain and glare.
Similarly, installing windows with Low-e coating can improve occupant comfort and energy efficiency. These are ideal for heat-dominated climates because they preserve visible transmittance. They also reduce solar heat gain and glare. If you need a solution for an existing home or building, window films are a good option.
Another example of building occupants acting to override their discomfort occurs during the winter. People sometimes raise the thermostat and open multiple windows so they can enjoy fresh air without getting cold. Although rare in hot climates, this may present a challenge between December and February, when nighttime temperatures dip below 40 degrees.
A more effective solution is installing operable windows, which allow natural ventilation and prevent Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) from accumulating. Operable windows also provide an important psychological benefit – the feeling of control over one’s environment.
The bulk of our energy consumption comes from seeking the balance among comfort, energy efficiency, and good indoor air quality. Encouraging more interaction between occupants and the built environment helps them better understand how their actions affect their surroundings and their utility bills.
In the future, the highest-performing buildings may not be those that initially exceed code. Instead, they may be the ones that provide an engaging environment where occupants share responsibility for managing energy consumption.
In fact, making buildings perform better depends on educated and committed occupants who proactively interact directly with the buildings they inhabit. While ever-expanding technology will continue providing new ideas, tools, and equipment for making improvements, our actions are what ultimately get the job done.
As Kathryn Janda of the Environmental Change Institute at Oxford University said in her paper of the same title, “Buildings don’t use energy – people do.”
Film makers were challenged to create a short film, less than five minutes in length, and which answered the question “why do windows matter?” The panel of judges scored entries based on how well it answered why windows are important, the focus on fenestration, creativity, and if NFRC was mentioned.
Congratulations to all of the winners and thank you to everyone who participated.
High-performance windows protect the air-conditioned space inside your home or building from the hot, dry climate and provide several important benefits.
In addition to lowering equipment and utility costs by allowing you to opt for a smaller HVAC system, high-performance windows help utility companies reduce peak cooling loads. These two benefits working in tandem reduce energy consumption while maintaining a comfortable indoor environment and minimizing greenhouse gas emissions.
In hot climates, the peak cooling load refers to how much air conditioning capacity is needed to maintain a comfortable indoor temperature, typically 75 degrees Fahrenheit on especially hot days. Meeting peak demand, however, isn’t necessary most of the time. In fact, it varies with the time of day and the time of year, and it seldom occurs for more than several hours per month.
Nevertheless, peak demand presents a dilemma for utility companies. They must maintain adequate capacity to meet customer demand – even during the hottest summer days when many people run their air conditioners constantly.
Remaining poised to meet peak cooling demand can create additional expenses for consumers. Some utility companies implement demand charges to cover the high costs they pay for their generating and transmitting capacity even though it sits idle most of the time.
By minimizing peak cooling loads, utility companies bypass the need for additional generating capacity. This allows them to circumvent the expense of building new power plants. It also benefits their customers by keeping rates down.
Windows are typically the largest source of unwanted heat gain in homes and buildings. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), even the best-performing windows provide less insulation than the worst walls or roofs. Windows are also a common source of air leakage.
Furthermore, windows that allow high solar gain create additional heat into your home or building, where it’s already being generated by people, lights, equipment, and appliances. Eliminating windows is normally impractical and undesirable, yet replacing them is often economically feasible, particularly when part of an extensive renovation.
In fact, the windows and glazing systems in homes and buildings constructed during the 1970s and earlier are beginning to fail. These systems are often comprised of single-pane glass. A home or building with windows that need replacing offers an opportunity to make upgrades that contribute to reducing peak cooling loads.
Finally, some utility companies provide financial incentives to builders and homeowners making these upgrades, and this offsets the cost of installing high-performance windows.
During this year’s Fall Membership Meeting, NFRC had the privilege of awarding three deserving members the Board of Directors Service Award.
This award recognizes the time, experience, and integrity that NFRC’s members have given the organization through their contribution on the board.
“Their positions require not only their time, but also for them to put aside their personal interests and make decisions based on what is best for NFRC,” said Jessica Finn, NFRC’s Membership Coordinator.
This year’s awards were given to Steve Strawn from Jeld-Wen, Inc., Tony Rygg from William Rygg Consulting, and Jim Larsen from Cardinal Glass Industries.
Collectively, these three members have given over 40 years to NFRC.
“As we are celebrating 25 years, we are also celebrating the great contributions that these three members have made to NFRC,” Finn concluded. “On behalf of NFRC, I congratulate and thank all of them for their service.”
Denise Lundall addressed the membership today, citing the need for improved attention on fenestration ratings in South Africa.
“Fenestration is not yet mature, but we’re collaborating with several organizations, including NFRC to make improvements.” Lundall said.
Lundall, from the South African National Energy Development Institute (SANEDI), pointed out three areas with room for advancement. These include the following:
Providing fair, accurate, and credible energy performance ratings for fenestration products.
Administering an independent, third party certification and labeling program.
Creating a certified product directory with energy performance information for fenestration products.
Lundall added that the primary concern in South Africa’s hot climate is keeping homes and buildings cool.
“We need to take everything into account when creating a better building envelope. We’re after a harmonious rating system and regulations to create a holistic program,” Lundall concluded. “NFRC is assisting with what needs to happen.”