While the material each window is constructed from is important, the reality is that most recent window-related buzzwords are all about what's inside the frame. But what do all these upgrades mean?
John Lala, president of Rycorp Construction in Virginia Beach, Va., is familiar with the gamut of efficient window options. He's built houses in all price ranges, from bare-bones-basic structures to million-dollar-plus projects for very eco-conscious clients. And after seeing everything out there and talking to lots of home buyers, he says, he ends up using windows with the same basic energy efficiency features in most of his projects.
"A double-pane window with low-E glass with a vacuum-sealed argon fill that's what people ask for," he says. "It's an extra $40 or so per window for me to add these features, and they really do make a difference in a home's utility bills." Lala says he's found that doing anything more, such as using triple-pane glass or denser gases with greater insulative properties, "just adds cost and gives diminishing returns in efficiency."
So what exactly are you getting when you choose a window with the aforementioned options? "Low-E, argon-filled, double-paned windows provide significantly more insulation than a single-pane window," says Kendra Weinisch, a residential energy efficiency consultant in San Jose, Calif. "These windows protect the inside of the house from the sun's heat and UV rays in the summer, and they prevent heat from escaping during winter. From the standpoint of energy efficiency and value, these types of windows make a lot of sense."
Weinisch adds that while triple-pane windows may be notably more efficient in especially harsh winter climates, they can also reduce the window's visibility and light transmittance.
You shouldn't have to look much further than a window's glass to find out what the unit's efficiency features are. All windows in the voluntary Energy Star program will have stickers on them displaying ratings by the National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC). To qualify for Energy Star status, window manufacturers must meet standards for these two main metrics:
For both U-value and SHGC, the lower the number, the better the window will perform.
Another option for providing UV protection is UV-repellent film that manufacturers use to tint windows. It’s undetectable to the eye, and they preserve paint and textiles in addition to keeping a house cooler. Homeowners in the South, the Southwest and other hot regions can reap energy-saving rewards even with a small degree of tinting.
Learn about window design options like bay, casements and more.
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