Energy Efficiency is a Dirty Word in Canada


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I’m shopping around for new doors and windows.  My goal is to replace several poorly performing windows suffering from seal failures between the triple panes and my entry door has a split in the frame and its now leaking air pretty badly.

Background

I bought my current doors and windows for a custom home I built nearly 20 years ago.  I ordered everything with triple glazing, Low-E Argon gas filling and coatings to minimize Solar Gain.  The windows and doors were all wood with metal cladding on the outside and were considered to be at the higher end of the builder grade windows. These were the best doors and windows I could afford at the time.  Within a year of installation half of them had seal failures – the glass became foggy between the panes and some had water droplets inside.  I called the manufacturer for replacements under my “20 year” warranty.

Eight years later 100% of the windows and doors had seal failure.   After constantly bugging the company to honour their warranty, they finally sent out a contractor to replace all of the sealed glass units.  At this time the contractor informed me that I was lucky to get any kind of service from them as they were going bankrupt.  He said that the company got a great contract with HomeDepot (aka The Borg) to supply their windows and doors.  Unfortunately The Borg had a habit of holding on to several million dollars of inventory “on spec” and didn’t pay the suppliers until 180+ days after the products were sold.

Nearly 20 years later I’m back to nearly 100% seal failures again.  The other thing I experienced is that the windows are poorly constructed from an energy efficiency standpoint.  Wood frames have an R-Factor or resistance to heat loss of approximately 1.5 per inch.  Glass is a notoriously poor insulator as well. The best modern triple glazed insulated glass units probably have an R-Factor of about 8.  The best double glazed glass units are about a 4.  A single pane of glass is 0.9.  As a reference a 4 inch air space between two walls gives you an R-Factor of about 1.  I think my Bonneville windows have an R-Factor of about 3.  Slightly better than nothing, still close to having a large gaping hole in every wall of my home.

Why Do I care?

As an interesting aside I designed and built my home from scratch.  I did a lot of research into things like Passive Solar and energy efficiency.  My goal was to make a home I would live in for the next 50 years that would be economical to maintain and live in.  The surprising fact I learned was that 80% of the cost of a building is not in the construction but in the day-to-day operation including heating and cooling. In Canada space heating/cooling is the #1 cost of operating a home.  Water heating is #2.  At least that’s my experience.

I built my home to an equivalent R-2000 spec.  It’s comparable to the Energy Star label before there was Energy Star.  If I were to build again I would strive to build to the Passivhaus standard.  This shouldn’t be confused with the “zero net energy” idea where people just strap on a bunch of solar panels and call their homes “green” and environmentally friendly.  That in my mind is like buying an H1 Hummer and gluing moss onto the roof so you can think you are being environmentally friendly on your daily commute in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the highway.

So what?

I contacted over a dozen suppliers to get quotes.  I did my research on the internet.  Every door/window guy seemed to have an “Energy Star” emblem on their website but zero data when it comes to energy performance.

When I called I asked “I’m interesting in buying your most energy efficient doors/windows and I’m looking for technical performance data for comparison.  I can’t find anything on your website.  Do you have any of this information I can review?”

Jeopardy Theme music playing here…

“Oh yes our windows are Energy Star.”

“Great.  Can you send me the technical information or tell me where I can download it?”

Jeopardy Theme music again.

“Um.  What do you need that for?”

“I’m looking for the most energy efficient windows I can get.  I want to do a comparison.”

“Why would you want to do that?  They are all the same.”

“So are you telling me that a one piece sealed frame triple glazed window has the same energy efficiency as a double pane sliding frame window?”

“Yes, they are all the same.”

“Do you have a technical person I can speak to?”

“I’m it…I can help”

So goes the circular argument.  They get frustrated with me because I’m asking for the moon and I’m frustrated because they are promising me nothing.

Bottom line is that it’s like going car shopping to buy a 2018 Prius and the salespeople keep showing me the 1980 Oldsmobile six passenger sedan with the V8 engine and telling me that they are all the same.

And why is it when I make a request for quote and I provide a spec sheet to a dozen suppliers only 3 bother to quote?