Q: My windows are old and drafty, and I’m thinking about replacing them. Can you
recommend a few options I should consider?
A. Upgrading or improving your windows is an important component of your home’s energy efficiency. According to the Department of Energy, heat gain and loss through windows consumes 25% to 30% of residential heating and cooling energy use.
Start by identifying the kind of windows you have. Are they single pane or double pane? Looking closely at the window’s edge, you can see the number of windowpanes. Are the frames metal, wood, or vinyl? Some manufacturers etch the make and model numbers in a corner of the glass, so you can look up the manufacturer for more information.
Single-pane windows and double-pane windows with metal frames are the least energy efficient. The lower the efficiency of your existing windows, the higher the potential for energy savings.
There are several options for improving your windows, ranging from replacement windows to storm windows to budget-friendly repairs.
Maintain your existing windows by ensuring the sashes lock properly,
adding caulk around the trim, and replacing worn weatherstripping.
Several components can make windows more efficient. High-quality frame materials insulate and reduce heat transfer. Two or more panes of glass with space in between (filled with air or gas) improve the window’s insulation capability. Warm edge spacers hold the panes of glass the proper distance apart and help insulate the edges of the panes. Low-emissivity coatings applied to the glass can reflect infrared light, keeping the heat in during the winter and out during the summer.
Window efficiency is rated in U-factor and Solar Heat Gain Coefficient, or SHGC. U-factor measures heat transfer through the window, which relates to how well it insulates. The lower the U-factor, the more efficient the window. The SHGC measures how effectively the window blocks heat from the sun.
Replacement and Maintenance
If you want to replace your existing windows, I recommend shopping for ENERGY STAR®-certified windows. ENERGY STAR® sets specific U-factor and SHGC requirements based on your geography, so you get the best fit for your location. Replacement windows offer additional benefits, like improved operability and aesthetics. As with many industries, the window industry has been impacted by price increases over the past few years, so keep in mind, this can be an expensive upgrade.
Storm windows are a lower-cost solution for some homes. Traditional storm windows are made with clear glass. Low-emissivity storm windows have energy savings similar to replacement windows at about a third of the cost.
Storm windows are mounted to the interior or exterior and are available in operable styles, so you can still open and close your windows. Look for ENERGY STAR®-certified models.
If you want to maintain the historic architecture of your existing windows, low-emissivity storm windows are a great option. Some companies can refit your existing window frames with custom double-pane glass and weatherstripping.
As with any home improvement project, be sure to get multiple quotes to compare pricing and scope of work. You may find additional savings with rebates from your electric co-op, or state or federal tax credits for window upgrades.
If new windows or storm windows are not in the budget, your best bet is to maintain your existing windows. Keep the paint and caulking on the exterior in good condition. That will help prevent damage from the elements. Caulk around the inside trim, and ensure sash locks are installed properly and seal tight when locked. There are a variety of weatherstripping types for windows to keep drafts at bay.
Whether you replace or make improvements to what you have, adding efficiency to your windows will add year-round comfort to your home.
Miranda Boutelle writes on energy efficiency topics for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the national trade association representing more than 900 electric co-ops.