The stars are lining up for the vinyl siding industry thanks to the new 2021 International Energy Conservation Code (Energy Code) requirements that are being adopted by every U.S. state and the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (IRA) that has committed billions of dollars to energy efficiency improvements for homeowners over the next decade.
For our industry, this is where the rubber meets the road. No other cladding category provides the ease of installation to achieve “continuous insulation” that these mandates require (or incentivize) as affordably or efficiently as insulated vinyl siding. Similarly, vinyl siding and polypropene siding are preferred options based on their ease of installation over foam sheathing used to achieve continuous insulation.
To build and support industry momentum around these exciting developments, the Vinyl Siding Institute (VSI) Energy Efficiency Work Group consists of professionals who are VSI member manufacturers’ subject matter experts. Collaborating with VSI’s Marketing Committee, the new Work Group has developed the guide “Achieving Energy Efficiency Through Polymeric Claddings: 2021 International Energy Conservation Code.”
This eight-page guide includes the new R-Value requirements in different regions of the country based on the new Energy Code and a climate zone map that illustrates the new requirements in each region. It also features helpful definitions and fun facts that explain why vinyl siding is the “simpler solution” for preventing “thermal bridging” (also known as “wall cavity insulation” – a common factor for other cladding applications) and ensuring continuous insulation (insulating material that is continuous across all structural members and hence, covers the building envelope).
It's Time to Create Greater Awareness
VSI has worked diligently for over 15 years to get insulated vinyl siding into the code as a form of continuous insulation. Insulated vinyl siding products improve home energy efficiency, but their presence in the Energy Code has not taken full traction to date. Fortunately, now that the increased performance levels achievable through continuous insulation are required in most climate zones, VSI’s products are well-positioned as the “optimal choice” for meeting these requirements. VSI’s Product Certification Program – upgraded in 2022 – certifies the R-value of insulated vinyl siding for use as continuous insulation; so, we need to communicate to contractors and homeowners alike that insulated vinyl siding and continuous insulation are synonymous.
And while insulated vinyl siding is an ideal match, regular vinyl siding and polypropylene products are also superior to other claddings because of ease of installation for applying over foam sheathing to achieve continuous insulation. They are lighter products, easier to install and more cost-effective for meeting the new minimum R-5 requirements on the outside of walls.
The Energy Code normally applies to new home construction and not to retrofits to existing housing, but much of the existing housing stock is owned by low-to-moderate income families who need these energy efficiencies the most. That’s where the IRA comes into play. This program provides almost $4.3 billion in rebates to homeowners who complete energy-saving retrofits including home insulation. And low/moderate-income households qualify for double the rebate amount and are eligible for up to 80% of project costs. This could mean $4,000 max if they can cut energy use by 20%, or $8,000 max if they cut energy use by 35% (source: A Consumer Guide to the Inflation Reduction Act).
VSI Energy Efficiency Work Group Co-Chair Andy Breuer, a Product Development Engineer at Ply Gem, is especially excited about the IRA’s energy-saving opportunities for existing homes. According to Breuer, “A new heater might increase efficiency by 5%, but new siding and added insulation could give you 20-30%. Adding R-10 to make it R-25 is a huge increase in the wall structure. Since it constitutes 75% of a home’s outer surface, wall construction is a major energy barrier. Focusing on replacing the siding while adding insulation is the easiest, lowest cost, highest impact solution. Dollar for dollar, the ultimate energy reduction is replacing the siding, and this will last you 40-50 years or for as long as the home lasts.”
Breuer also likes that the actual target for IRA rebates is the low- to middle-income consumers.
They will want to focus on our products because they offer the lowest cost and maintenance, best style enhancements and highest energy efficiency performance. There is no other comparison with any other exteriors. Vinyl siding is nicer looking and longer lasting. In 40-50 years, these homes will still look nice and provide substantial energy efficiency.
Breuer is a 25-year veteran of engineering of components for the construction industry. He has focused much of his career on energy efficiency solutions for windows and doors. He describes the changes to the energy code as an “impressive opportunity” for our industry and the IRA as a beneficial remedy for our existing housing stock.
“The IRA is doubling down on renovation, replacement and remodeling to add insulation and follow recommendations by the Department of Energy (DOE) to add 1-2” foam to exteriors in the existing housing stock,” Breuer explained. “Add R-5 and add R-10. The goal of the IRA is a 40% reduction in energy usage across the United States. A 25-45% reduction in existing housing stock is difficult from a DOE standpoint since much of the housing stock was grandfathered in the past. The IECC focuses on new construction. The Reduction Act is pushing on R-5 and R-10 during the re-siding process. It’s the best way, and the best product to use is vinyl siding. It’s the lowest cost and most efficient way to add siding to existing insulation.”
The Energy Code and the IRA are key action items for a significant energy efficiency movement that the vinyl siding industry can support with products that complement key provisions of these mandates beautifully.
Through the Energy Efficiency Work Group, the VSI will engage with weatherization programs to raise awareness of vinyl siding’s housing solutions for the communities they serve; they are working with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority to leverage IRA funds with the impact of vinyl siding products; and they are submitting a Request for Information with the DOE to explore possible partnerships on communicating best practices and implementation.
“We would like to know more about what various government agencies are doing with the IECC moving forward,” said Work Group Co-Chair Sal Vaccarino, Director – OEM and Home Improvement Channels, Progressive Foam Technologies, Inc. “We want to know how they envision this program coming together, how they plan to enforce it and how we can better utilize energy efficiency in our industry to make a better world for our grandchildren. One of the biggest concerns I’ve had with different federal and international regulations is that they have been left up to states and local municipalities to follow or not follow them.”
Vaccarino also wants the Work Group to play a lead role in disseminating information about the IECC and IRA opportunities in a proactive manner.
“I don’t want our customers to learn about these new regulations in the middle of a job onsite. And I certainly don’t want them working on jobs in different counties where the regulations are interpreted differently,” Vaccarino said. “I would like to see VSI and our industry come together through our new Work Group to get the message out to our members, contractors, builders and partners throughout North America. And the message is – we’re selling energy efficiency and more comfortable homes.”
Vaccarino likens continuous insulation to wrapping a blanket around yourself when you get cold (as opposed to turning up the thermostat). “When you cover your house with a foam blanket and vinyl siding, it’s like you’re wrapping a big blanket around your family.”
He also recalled when there used to be a chart that demonstrated rising energy costs versus potential savings if insulation is added. “If we could develop a more modern method that shows the ROI from continuous insulation over five years that’s easy for consumers to understand, we could make such a big splash on improving energy efficiency and quality of life.”
In addition to the foundation piece, the VSI Energy Efficiency Work Group is also working on contractor and consumer-focused brochures as well as construction details to educate on the opportunities made available through the IECC and the IRA.
It will be a remarkably busy year for this group, but we highly encourage support from everyone in the vinyl siding industry. Please contact me at email@example.com to see how you can participate. The “win-win” potential for business growth through improving energy efficiency is far too promising to ignore.
Matt Dobson, CAE, is Vice President of the Vinyl Siding Institute.