High-performance windows could become more affordable for builders and homeowners by mid-year if a Department of Energy (DOE) effort to lower costs goes as planned.

DOE is initiating a volume purchase program for R-5 and low-E storm windows, hoping that the effort will level the playing field for small builders who, until now, have found such specs prohibitively expensive. By catalyzing a virtual marketplace, the federal agency hopes to amass greater demand for high-performance windows, thus enabling high-end window manufacturers to reduce their per-unit operating costs.

Anticipated customers include home builders, contractors, and remodelers, as well as academia, local governments, nonprofits, individual homeowners, and other groups focusing on weatherization and green retrofits.

The ultimate goal, of course, is to improve the overall energy efficiency of the nation’s housing stock. Funded through DOE’s annual EERE/Building Technologies program, the volume purchase initiative will raise the bar on Energy Star standards, which require a minimum R-value of 3. Agency officials note that raising the R-value of a home’s windows from 3 to 5 can reduce heat loss by as much as 40%, reducing monthly energy bills for the homeowner as well as the home's carbon footprint.

In mid-December, the DOE issued an RFP to window manufacturers to submit proposals for program participation. Products accepted under the program will receive a DOE seal of approval and will be listed in an online directory of qualified manufacturers.

The first phase of approved windows at reduced prices is expected to become available in spring 2010.

DOE has set minimum order guidelines at 15 for retrofits and 20 for new construction. However, participating window manufacturers may choose to offer purchases in smaller quantities at their discretion. Minimum totals may be reached with any combination of window types and sizes available through the program.

Jenny Sullivan is a senior editor covering architecture and design for BUILDER