The Truth About Upgrading To Energy-efficient Windows And Doors
Without a doubt, upgrading your home’s windows and doors to energy-efficient alternatives is a good idea. However, it’s also a major decision, and there’s a good chance that you’ve talked yourself out of embarking on such a significant undertaking. There’s just so much to consider, and there’s a lot of information floating around out there—not all of it completely accurate or constructive. You need the most up-to-date facts and figures to help you determine the best course of action for your abode. Here, industry experts debunk some of the myths about energy-efficient windows and doors that may have been preventing you from moving forward and making your home as functional as it is fabulous.
Replacing my windows or doors won’t really save that much energy.
“Replacing old windows with high-performing, energy-efficient ones can save significant amounts of energy,” says Jeffrey F. Lowinski, vice president of technical services for the Window & Door Manufacturers Association (WDMA). In fact, he notes that reports published by the U.S. Department of Energy and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in 2006 reveal that almost half of the homes in the U.S. still have single-pane windows; if all of those homes upgrade to Energy Star-certified windows, the energy savings would be approximately 20 million BTUs per house per year.
What does that mean for your home in particular? According to Nils Petermann, program manager for the Efficient Windows Collaborative, “Changing from drafty single-pane windows to Energy Star windows will save a lot of heating energy in a climate where winters are cold. Where summers are hot, Energy Star windows will also save significant electricity by keeping the house cooler through invisible low-E coatings on the glass.”
“When you reduce your heating and cooling needs, it will, in turn, reduce the time that your heating and cooling units run, and since most units run on a set temperature and when your home drops below or goes above the temperature that you have preset on your thermostat, it tells your heating or cooling system that it is time to run,” says Christopher Wood of WeatherTite Windows. “When you reduce the amount of energy loss in your home, you reduce the amount of times the temperature drops below your preset comfort level in your home.”
Changing my windows and doors will cost more money than it will save.
Yes, replacing your home’s windows and doors is an investment. However, it’s unquestionably a worthwhile one in the long run. “The investment in new windows and doors is just that, an investment,” Stacy Einck of Andersen Windows and Doors tells us. “Recovery of that investment in home value and energy savings is dependent on how long you stay in your home after replacing the windows and doors and how energy efficient the home itself is.”
“Energy-efficient windows and doors can reduce monthly heating and cooling bills by 15-20 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Energy,” explains Berit Griffin from Marvin Windows and Doors.
Of course, it’s important to realize that savings may not be seen immediately—it can take some time to recoup the money that you’ve spent. “Windows don’t typically have as quick a payback as energy-efficient lights or cheaper air-sealing measures have,” Petermann explains. “However, windows can be around for decades, so durable, energy-efficient windows are a very valuable investment.”
Peter Diehl of AVI, a Marvin Design Gallery, tells us that there are a few things to consider when deciding on the products and the quality if we are deciding to change out windows and doors. For example, pay attention to U-values, SHGC, the thermal expansion and contraction rates of the materials used in frame and sash and the Design Pressure rating of the window (The higher the rating, the less the air and water infiltration will be.) “If done right, you will see an immediate return on your investment,” he says.
To help calculate the amount of time it will take to recoup your investment, Lowinski says that most energy payback calculations estimate a payback period of about 7 years. “If the energy improvement can save enough money to pay back the purchase and installation costs in 7 years or less, then the improvement is generally considered cost-effective,” he adds.
It’s better to repair windows and doors than to replace them. Repairs are less expensive and can make the windows and doors energy-efficient.
Unless the repair is quick and easy, replacing your windows and doors is a better option. When replacing, you get to choose from incredible new designs, as well as environmentally friendly and energy-efficient choices.
“It’s almost impossible to repair a window or door in a way that significantly improves its energy efficiency,” Lowinski says. “Modern, high-performing, energy-efficient windows combine insulating glass, inert gas fills, low-emissivity coatings, high-performance framing materials, tight weatherstripping and other features to achieve their rated performance. These manufacturing improvements would be nearly impossible to incorporate into an existing window.”
However, if you feel that replacing all of your windows is not possible right now, there are maintenance initiatives you can use to ensure that what you have is performing at its peak. “Old windows can be made from durable materials and may offer aesthetic value,” Petermann contends. “If you prefer repairing and retaining your old windows, do make sure that there’s no water damage around the window frame, that you don’t retain hazardous lead paint and that you are limiting energy losses with weatherstripping by sealing air leaks and by using upgrade measures such as inserting insulated glass or adding storm windows or shading.”
“Certainly, repairing windows will be the lowest cost solution. Repairs to existing windows can be troublesome, as locating original hardware can be difficult,” Troy Welch of Silver Line Windows tells us. He goes on to add that if you choose to just repair your windows, remember that older windows will not give you the benefit of newer glazing technology that uses low-E coated glass to maximize energy efficiency.
“Just repairing a window is usually a temporary solution. It’s kind of like the cartoons when you see them putting chewed gum over a leak in a raft. It’s only going to work for so long,” Wood adds. “Most likely, the problem will happen again, and parts can sometimes be very difficult to come by if not non-existent.”
My home is only 10 years-old—I don’t need to think about replacing my windows and doors now.
While energy efficiency has become more common in recent years, that doesn’t mean your current windows and doors are as effective as they could—or should—be. Therefore, it’s a good idea to consider your options. “Ideally, you don’t need to change your windows after just 10 years,” Petermann says. “However, be aware that 10 years ago, many conventional windows were still being installed that would not meet today’s energy codes. Particularly in the southern states, windows with solar-control, low-E glass were not as common 10 years ago, and today’s Energy Star windows can keep homes significantly cooler through advanced low-E coatings.”
“Energy Star is an excellent way to ensure that the windows being purchased will meet the local thermal requirements,” Welch says.
So how do you know what today’s energy codes are? Diehl tells us to go to www.southface.org to find out.
Lowinski also points to the significant improvements made in window and door manufacturing. “The products that exist today are significantly better than the products that existed 10 years ago. So even if your home has the most energy-efficient product available when it was constructed, you could still see significant—and cost-effective—improvements by replacing your windows with more efficient products that are on the market today,” he says.
If I replace with wood windows, they can rot. And steel or aluminum windows can rust. There aren’t any good options out there that are as durable as they are energy-efficient.
The worst-case scenario for any product is its deterioration, but no matter what material it is made of, windows and doors are manufactured to withstand wear and tear. “Wood products are treated with proven water-repellant preservatives during their assembly,” Lowinski says. “Vinyl products use formulations and stabilizers that preserve their flexibility and strength. Aluminum products use anodized or paint coatings to protect the metal from corrosion. But, as with everything, windows must be maintained in order to preserve their durability and should be properly protected according to the manufacturer’s instructions.”
“Today’s high-quality products are engineered to last a lifetime,” Tim Rush of Davis Window and Door says. “The best products will have a manufacturer’s warranty that reflects their superior quality.”
Steel and fiberglass doors might be energy-efficient, but they will not be able to hold up against extreme weather conditions.
Today’s door replacement options are as sturdy and reliable as they are energy-efficient and attractive. You just have to do a little shopping around to find the right fit for your region’s climate and your home’s individual needs. For instance, Griffin notes that products like Integrity from Marvin Windows and Doors are extremely effective in certain areas of the country.
“Integrity offers IMPACT products made to withstand severe-weather conditions in the hurricane regions,” Griffin says. “Integrity IMPACT products are Wind-Zone-3-rated for winds up to 140 miles per hour and are constructed of Ultrex, a revolutionary pultruded fiberglass material that resists corrosion and UV degradation while withstanding heat up to 350 degrees—So they are perfectly suited to resist the salt, heat, sun, wind and humidity that accompany coastal living.” When you have a good understanding of what you need, you can find the right fit among today’s many products.
As for shopping for products made of materials that are suitable for the climate here in Atlanta, Welch, Wood and Rush all agree that vinyl is the way to go, but Rush agrees with Diehl on also choosing fiberglass. “These materials require little or no maintenance and are engineered for a lifetime of performance,” Rush says.
Technology is changing so quickly that today’s energy-efficient windows and doors will be obsolete very soon, so there’s no point in replacing them now.
While technology is evolving on a daily basis, this is no reason to refrain from replacing your windows and doors and enjoying the benefits today. “Technology does change rapidly, and improvements are continually being made to the design and materials used in window [and door] assembly,” Lowinski says. “But you wouldn’t not buy the latest smart phone, waiting for the next new product to come along, would you? The longer you wait to replace your windows [and doors], the more energy you will waste…waiting.”
When it comes to window and door energy-efficiency, timing really is everything—and the time to consider upgrading is now. As Griffin states, “Windows and doors are an important part of your home’s energy-efficiency. And modern windows and doors feature high-quality construction to make sure that your home is as energy-efficient as possible.”
Can window blinds help with energy-efficiency if I can’t afford to replace my windows right now?
Window blinds can help you reduce cooling costs by reflecting sunlight and solar heat. During seasons when you prefer solar heat to help warm up your home, though, make sure that you open the blinds during the day. Blinds that reflect more sunlight than they absorb (typically light-colored) are more effective at keeping away the heat. Some heat will get trapped between the blinds and windows, though, so exterior sun screens, awnings or roller shades are an even more-effective means of keeping out the solar heat.
—Nils Petermann, Efficient Windows Collaborative
What exactly is home window-tinting, and how can it benefit me?
Window-tinting involves applying a film to the interior surface of existing windows, which creates a barrier that reflects radiant heat and filters ultraviolet rays. It can provide some benefit over single-pane glass but is not recommended over insulated glass. Most manufacturers’ glass warranties are voided if tint-film is installed on their windows.
—Tim Rush, Davis Window and Door
Choosing Your Pro
With so many people and companies out there, how do I decide who to hire to install my new windows and doors?
Get at least three quotes. The second-most-important part of any window or door purchase is the installation. What install warranty do they have? Be sure to look for a 5- to 10-year install warranty. Installation issues account for 90 percent of problems with windows and doors, and most manufacturers’ warranties will not cover problems caused by poor installation.
—Peter Diehl, AVI, a Marvin Design Gallery
I have sidelights next to my front door. What kinds of window treatments or options can I consider to make these smaller windows more energy-efficient?
Sidelights are difficult because many treatments cannot be manufactured with working parts in less than 12-inch widths. Due to these constraints, the best treatment for sidelights is shutters. Their louvers provide great light control as well as privacy and can be manufactured in small widths to accommodate sidelights. They also appear to be an integral part of the window trim once installed. Another popular choice is cordless honeycomb shades. These shades have high efficiency ratings and operate without cords, so they can be manufactured in small widths.
—Meghan K. Hodge, Next Day Blinds
What do I need to look for to make sure that I’ve chosen energy-efficient window treatments?
For energy efficiency in colder months, look for high R-values, which measure a product’s ability to insulate. In warmer months, look for low solar-heat-gain co-efficients, which measure a product’s ability to resist heat. In addition to boasting high R-values, a product like the Duette Architella window shades from Hunter Douglas have solar-heat co-efficients as low as 0.15, which means that only 15 percent of the solar energy striking a window actually passes through it to heat the room.
—Kim Kiner, Hunter Douglas
Consider these tips before splurging on new windows:
• Don’t get caught between the supplier and the installer. When a warranty-service is needed, you will be the loser, as each side points their finger at the deficiencies of the other. Choose a direct dealer who is responsible to manage the manufacturer’s warranty as well as the installation warranty. This reduces your involvement to requesting a service from one party that takes care of the complete process.
• Be sure to read the warranty (especially the fine print), and get performance data that is published by the National Fenestration Rating Council, including air-filtration ratings, which can vary 300% from one window series to another.
• Select a maintenance-free, high-performance product. It may cost a little more initially, but it will give you a lifetime of satisfaction and a real return on your investment.
—Tim Rush, Davis Window and Door
Calculate the Savings
If you want to predict the energy savings and other benefits of replacing your windows and doors, RESFEN is here to help. A computer program developed by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory for the U.S. Department of Energy, RESFEN lets you input a specific scenario that includes your house type (single-story or two-story), geographic location, orientation, electricity and gas cost and building configuration details. After receiving the information, the tool will calculate a typical comparison of your potential energy savings (Although, you won’t get an exact actual value.) You can access RESFEN free of charge at http://windows.lbl.gov/software/resfen/resfen.html.
—Jeffrey F. Lowinski, vice president of technical services, Window & Door Manufacturers Association
When shopping for new doors, make sure the company has a solid reputation. You want to make sure that the company has an A+ rating with the [Better Business Bureau] and is lead-safe certified. You want to make sure that the company’s installers are employees of the company and not subcontractors, and that the company has worker’s compensation as well as general liability. Last, but certainly not least, you want a company who will show you their warranties in writing.”
—Christopher Wood, general manager, WeatherTite Windows
Did You Know?
While federal tax credits for energy-efficient windows and doors were set to expire at the end of 2010, they have been extended through 2011—though with a lower limit. In addition, the requirements have changed to reflect Energy Star criteria. So, between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2011, you could be eligible to receive the following tax credits:
• For windows, get 10 percent back (up to $200)
• For exterior doors, get 10 percent back (up to $500)
Visit www.energystar.gov for more information.
—Information provided by JELD-WEN Windows & Doors
Before you upgrade to new, large air-conditioning equipment, be aware that the cooling-load reduction provided by Energy Star windows with a low solar-heat-gain co-efficient can save you money because you won’t need as big an AC unit.
—Nils Petermann, program manager, Efficient Windows Collaborative
How Will I Know?
If you have an older home, you need to be able to recognize the signs that indicate it’s time to consider replacing your windows. Here are some tips:
• Look for cold or warm spots near the inside of your windows—This means that the window is not insulating the house adequately.
• Check for frost and ice buildup on the exterior of the house near doors and windows.
• Be on the lookout for drafts. Run a lighted candle around a window’s edge—If it flickers, then drafts are coming in through that window.
• Make sure your windows operate smoothly. It shouldn’t take effort to open and close them.
• Realize that if you find yourself propping your windows open with a stick, it’s time to replace them.
—Berit Griffin, Marvin Windows and Doors