Stop Throwing Money Out The Window
Save on utility costs and increase the value of your home
By Angela C. Crissman
One of the smartest and most cost-effective ways to save on your monthly electric bill is to replace the windows on your home. Window replacement is an upgrade that will not only cut utility costs, but also increase the value of your home, update the interior, and increase curb appeal.
Quite simply, it’s hard to go wrong with the decision to replace old, worn out windows when you consider that you can instantly gain a 10-15 percent savings on heating and cooling costs. According to EnergyStar.gov, Americans can save up to $501 on electric bills each year with new energy-saving windows. In addition to saving on energy costs, new windows also increase the value and attractiveness of your home. Trading out old windows for energy-efficient models reaps more than a 77 percent return on your investment, according to Remodeling magazine’s annual Cost vs. Value report.
How do you know when it’s time to replace your windows? Signs that a window needs to be replaced include cracks in the glass, drafts in your home, condensation around or on a window, or even an increase in your energy or gas bill. Windows are typically 10 percent of your home, but are often responsible for 40-50 percent of heat lost or gained.
Apart from the local climate, consider the following factors when selecting the right windows: orientation and shading conditions; heating and cooling system; and personal preferences and habits. Be sure to weigh the importance of different features against your personal style and budget. Are you more concerned about beauty, comfort, quality of light, energy savings, or ease of maintenance?
The first decision when upgrading windows is to choose between single or double pane windows. While single-pane windows are typically less expensive, double-pane windows offer added protection from the heat and cold, and help to protect your home from dust, debris and pests. Double-pane glass insulates almost twice as well as single-pane glass, and can also help to reduce noise pollution. Multi-pane windows can be filled with gases such as Krypton and Argon to help reduce heat loss. Argon, a nontoxic gas that is denser than air, adds layers of insulation to further reduce the transfer of heat or cold.
High quality double-pane windows should adhere to the standards set by the National Fenestration Rating Council. This rating is the only reliable way to determine the entire window’s energy performance and compare products realistically. The U-factor represents the rate of heat flowing out of a window in an hour. The lower the number, the better the glass insulates. The R-value is a measure of the resistance of a glazing material or fenestration assembly to heat flow. A high R-value window has a greater resistance to heat flow and a higher insulating value than one with a low R-value.
The Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (SHGC) measures the fraction of solar radiation admitted through a window or skylight, both directly transmitted, and absorbed and subsequently released inward. The SHGC is expressed as a number between 0 and 1. The lower a window’s SHGC, the less solar heat it transmits and the greater its shading ability. SHGC can be expressed in terms of the glass alone or refer to the entire window assembly.
Another way to reduce heating and cooling costs is with Low Emissivity insulating glass. Low-E glass coatings reflect the sun’s UV rays, keeping homes warm in the winter and cool in the summer. This coating also protects furniture, carpet and drapes from fade damage.
Selecting the right framing material for your replacement windows is another key decision because each product offers different advantages and varying levels of energy efficiency.
- Fiberglass frames offer the insulating properties of wood. They are strong, durable and low maintenance. This is typically a mid-range choice that won’t expand or warp in the summer or shrink in the winter.
- Vinyl frames represent the largest portion of the market because they are low maintenance and tend to be the most energy efficient. Sections of the frame can be hollow or filled with foam insulation. This product will stand up to the elements, and is resistant to fade, peel or rot. Vinyl frames do not require painting, and the finish coat cannot be damaged or deteriorate over time because the color penetrates through the product. Some vinyl window manufacturers now offer surface treatments like laminates (wood veneer, paintable/stainable, maintenance free) and coatings.
- Aluminum frames are light, strong and durable. This product is recyclable and corrosion resistant, but generally has a lower insulation rating. Aluminum frames are available in anodized and factory-baked enamel finishes that are low maintenance.
- Wood frames are strong, provide good insulation, and are favored in historic neighborhoods. While this option may cost more, it offers the highest quality appearance and most design flexibility. It is an excellent insulator, but not the most resilient material because of its susceptibility to rot.
- Clad wood is a strong layer of metal on wood, providing extra protection and low maintenance benefits. A variation of the wood-framed window is to clad the exterior face of the frame with either vinyl or aluminum, creating a permanent weather-resistant surface.
Replacement windows come in many styles to match the aesthetics of your home. If you like your original windows, replacing them with the same size and style is often the most affordable option. New windows are also an opportunity to add more natural light, which can help with electric bills. In addition, many styles have the added benefit of increased ventilation and ease of cleaning.
Choose windows, create combinations, and customize your wall plan to maximize the benefits of well-placed windows. For example, use a huge picture window or a group of smaller windows to celebrate your surroundings by blurring the distinction between the outside and inside of your home. You can also add flair to your windows by utilizing grills on the exterior or interior side of a window or between the glass. This will create the illusion of separate windows for a timeless architectural element without sacrificing energy efficiency. A more practical idea is to incorporate shatter resistant glass into your design plan. This glass provides protection from wind and flying debris — a great asset for Houstonians who need windows that can withstand the effects of a hurricane.
Make a noticeable difference in the way your home looks and feels with a window style that showcases your home and style.
- Awning windows look intriguing when grouped with other window types. They are hinged at the top, and open out from the bottom in an upward swing.
- Casement windows are a ventilating window style that cranks outward to open. They are a great choice above cabinets or counters where opening requires a reach.
- Bow or bay windows are an elegant choice to make a home feel bigger and brighter. A bay window consists of three individual units. A bow window is a series of four or more adjoining windows installed on a radius from the wall.
- Picture and combination windows are ideal for showcasing scenery.
- Sliding windows offer the maximum glass area of any operable window. They are the perfect solution when a projecting window could interfere with walkways, patios or decks.
- Double-hung windows feature an upper and lower sash that slide vertically on a single frame. Each sash tilts in for convenient cleaning.
- Garden windows are projecting, three-sided windows that include a shelf, glass top, and single-hung window on each side for maximum air circulation.
- Single-hung windows provide a classic appearance to any home, and feature a stationary top sash and bottom sash that slide vertically.
The final touch is to create a coordinated look with window handles, locks and hardware that match other decorative metals in the home. Blinds and shades tucked between the glass are also fashionable choices that provide protection from dust and damage.
When choosing new windows, look for products that are Energy Star certified (energystar.gov). These windows meet a stringent energy efficiency specification set by the Department of Energy that will provide you with the best return on your investment.
After the new windows are installed, you can sit back, enjoy the view — and the savings. For more information about window replacement, visit efficientwindows.org.