An Optimistic Outlook for a Busy Industry
Last week’s FGIA Virtual Annual Conference painted a positive picture of a recovering economy with a strong focus on sustainability and energy efficiency
Last week’s FGIA Virtual Annual Conference was packed with information for the fenestration and glazing industries, and covered everything from economics to safety to design to codes and regulations, and more.
Read on for some of the key residential takeaways from the event.
1. Residential Construction’s Strength May Depend on Continuing Low Mortgage Rates
Dr. Chris Kuehl’s keynote economic forecast offered a positive outlook on the financial recovery and sees what he calls a “jagged swoosh” recovery where, throughout the next several years, the country will see periods of growth followed by decline. The collective trend will be positive, but it won’t be a smooth ride. “We’ll be finishing the year higher than before, but not without some adventures in between,” he says.
Industry reports support a robust residential construction outlook through this year, partially driven by low mortgage rates, says Kuehl. Maintaining the record-low mortgage rates is of particular importance now as home prices are rapidly rising. Rising lumber prices alone have added an average of $24,000 more to the price of a single-family home since April 2020, according to the NAHB. “If mortgage prices go up, along with the price of homes that has already gone up, it’ll throttle [residential growth] in a hurry,” says Kuehl. He believes banks haven’t raised rates because they know housing is driving the economy and they don’t want rising mortgage rates to stifle that growth.
Read more from Kuehl’s economic forecast.
2. Energy Efficiency is About to Take Center Stage
Kathy Krafka Harkema and Marg Webb updated FGIA conference attendees about U.S. and Canadian codes, respectively. Top of conversation was the International Code Council’s potential to move the International Energy Conservation Code from a code development process to a standards development process, with the intent to strengthen the IECC and its adoptability.
In other sustainability discussion, part of the Vinyl Forum’s meeting revolved around conducting an industry-wide Lifecycle Assessment study. The forum plans to update and re-issue a previous letter to gauge extruders’ interest in participating and funding this study. Forum members pointed out the LCA could be especially valuable moving forward in light of the administration’s expected focus on climate, sustainability and efficiency moving forward.
3. COVID-19 Further Drove the Already Growing Trend of Designing for Health
John Peterson with MJMArchitects spent much of his presentation on what he called “post-vaccine” design, much of which revolves around overall sustainable performance, and a focus on safer spaces and indoor air quality. We'll likely see more biophilic design and natural ventilation in buildings moving forward.
Passive House is also creating more buzz and even beginning to drive some building codes, Peterson said. Hand-in-hand with Passive House is thermal resilience, when structures should have a high level of passive survivability, or the ability to house occupants during outages and times of crisis, such as the recent severe winter weather in Texas.
Vacuum insulating glazing is another category that Peterson expects to come out “quite strongly” in the marketplace.
Read more from Peterson’s design session.
4. Keep an Eye on the Busy Legislative Landscape
President Joe Biden has signed more than 40 executive orders since taking office on Jan. 20, said Harkema during the legislative and regulatory report. Among those affecting the construction industry include EO 13990, which directs heads of agencies to review all existing regulations, orders, guidance documents, policies and other agency actions between Jan. 20, 2017, and Jan. 20, 2021; EO 14005, which continues the federal focus on buying goods made in America; EO 13985, which defines equity and embeds it across the U.S. federal government; and EO 13999, which directs OSHA to update any emergency temporary standards around COVID-19 by March 15.
Contractors also must remain vigilant about the EPA’s Lead, Renovation, Repair and Painting Program, as the EPA recently fined Home Depot more than $20 million for alleged violations when subcontractors allegedly failed to properly follow lead remediation guidelines.
The first draft of Energy Star, version 7, could arrive as early as April or May. Harkema said it will move sliding glass patio doors into the window category and that skylight specs will remain the same, but could be simplified down to only two climate zones.
5. Safety Should Take a Front Seat
FGIA established a safety committee in August of 2020 with the intent to provide safety information and education related to the fenestration industry. Mike Troutman, MI Windows and Doors, and co-chair of the FGIA Fenestration Safety Committee, led a session in which he emphasized the need for a good accident protocol to not only protect companies, but protect teams by finding root causes and removing hazards. Troutman referenced the OSHA Safety Pays program as a resource to help companies estimate the cost of occupational injuries and illnesses and the impacts on a company’s probability worksheet. Documentation, communication, corrective actions and system improvements are all vital to a company’s accident protocol.
Also in safety-related news is ICC estabishing partnership with the pandemic task force with the National Environmental Health Association to help develop resources to prepare buildings and communities for disease-related threats.