The Push for Energy Efficiency

The Role Window Film Plays in Architecture

By Tara Taffera

Up to $500 Federal Tax Credit Available for Residential Window Film

Your residential clients may be eligible for a maximum federal tax credit of up to $500 total, for qualified energy improvements designed to reduce heat loss or gain in their primary homes.

Window film products qualify for this tax credit as an insulation material or system that is specifically and primarily designed to reduce heat loss or gain. If the total of any nonbusiness energy property credits taken in previous years (after 2005) is more than $500, then a filer may be ineligible to take the credit in 2020. The International Window Film Association (IWFA) suggests anyone filing for this credit may also want to consult a tax advisor.

“Window film products may improve the overall energy efficiency and lifespan of windows, doors and skylights and they also have a useful lifespan of 15 years or more,” says Darrell Smith, executive director of the International Window Film Association. Many window films are rated for their energy saving performance by the National Fenestration Rating Council, the same nonprofit organization that rates various window, doors and skylight products for their energy performance. Window film has been shown to be a cost-effective means of improving energy performance and often may be installed for about one-tenth of the cost of a replacement window.

“Window films may reduce energy consumption from solar heat gain in summer or reflect interior heat back inside in winter, while allowing in natural light without the negative impact of UV exposure. In terms of added safety, window film can help to control glass breakage and may prevent glass shards from hurting people,” says Smith.

Instructions from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) on how to receive this credit can be found on its website.

City and state governments, along with code officials, continue to push for greater energy efficiency in buildings. This creates an opportunity for architects to specify window film that offers energy saving solutions for both commercial and residential applications. In fact, tax credits are available to homeowners who install energy-efficient window film, and when it comes to commercial applications, there are many opportunities, particularly in retrofit applications.

Retrofitting Older Buildings

“… When it comes to energy standards and different states implementing zero energy policies, those will require a lot of retrofits, whether it is changing out the glass or window assembly,” says Kevin S. Louder, program manager for the National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC). “Sixty percent of buildings are going to need a full retrofit, but it’s not a simple fix—it’s literally replacing all the fenestration, particularly on older buildings.”

Louder says window film could help but we won’t know that until it is applied and rated through NFRC certification procedures. “There is a process where films would get tested, approved and then entered into the approved applied films list which is updated with each release of the International Glazing Database (IGDB),” he says, further explaining that it has to do with the type of film, such as those for blocking solar gain. “That would help with cooling and decreasing solar loads,” he says. Louder adds that products that have a low-E component can also offer some U-factor benefits. The bottom line is that, if a building owner is striving for zero energy, there are a lot of factors to be considered and film is just one component. “It could be an option but not the sole solution,” says
Louder. “We won’t know the full impacts as each product has different performance characteristics.”

California Codes

Opportunities already abound in states such as California that have implemented strict building codes, all aimed at moving away from gas and turning to wind and solar, says Darrell Smith, executive director for the International Window Film Association (IWFA).

“We see that as a tremendous opportunity for window film,” says Smith. “Until they can have more solar faster, they are going to have to block more solar and use more solar control film in the southern half of California to decrease air conditioning use.”

Smith reiterates Louder’s earlier statement that the films will have to be NFRC-certified.

“This will be the better films,” says Smith. “It’s a great opportunity for film companies.”

He further explains that single-pane windows still comprise a large percentage of the existing building stock, and it is expensive to replace one window. “Those windows can use window film …. and there are films that have low-E capabilities that lower the energy use of heating during winter.”

He says the biggest opportunity exists in the middle and southern thirds of the U.S., primarily in areas that rely heavily on air conditioning in the summer months. “There is only one way to air condition and that is using electricity,” says Smith. “In winter there are other ways you can heat a building. The biggest electrical saving would be in the south in terms of total savings and reduction in carbon—that is where having window films with better insulating properties will help.”

Tara Taffera is the vice president of editorial services for the Architect’s Guide to Glass & Metal magazine. You can reach her at

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