Choosing Energy-Efficient Windows for your Home


    Do your windows stick in their frames? Do you detect drafts around the windows? Are they more than 15 years old? It might be energy-effective to replace them, but costs can total $8,000 to $15,000 or more for a typical home. So before you commit to new windows, consider investing $1,000 on insulation, sealing air leaks, and repairing your windows. If that option does not sound like the right choice to solve your problem, read on and learn how to spend your replacement window money wisely.


    Window pricing varies widely, but Energy Star-qualified windows start around $120 for a 36-inch-by-72-inch, single-hung window and can increase to 10 times that. Including labor, each window may cost $270 to $800. Typically, the lower price on the window, the less energy efficient it may be.

    Keep in mind that window replacement is one of the best home remodeling projects for investment return. Vinyl windows can recoup 72.9% of the project cost in added home value according to Remodeling magazine’s annual “Cost vs. Value Report. That report also notes the return on investment on wood windows at about 78%. For vinyl windows, that’s an added value of about $8,000-$10,400. If you replaced windows during 2014, you might be eligible for a federal tax credit as well.

    Replacing windows for more energy efficiency can result in modest saving on your energy bill. The Efficient Windows Collaborative, a coalition of government agencies, research organizations, and manufacturers, assert that a 2000-square-foot home with single-pane windows replaced with tax-credit-eligible windows will save $126 to $465 a year. Of course, savings can vary widely by local energy costs, climate, and the efficiency of the windows versus those replaced. Low-interest loans and incentives offered by local utilities may help to facilitate replacement.


    Though the most efficient windows are usually the most expensive, you can improve comfort and aesthetics while increasing your energy savings without buying the highest-price windows on the market. Check the Energy Star labels to determine which windows will perform well in the area based on rating from the National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC).


    When reading the labels or talking with a contractor, it will be helpful to know the language of windows.

    GLAZING is the glass in the window. The number of layers doesn’t always equal the degree of efficiency. Glazing coatings can affect the window’s U-factor, or degree of insulation against the outdoors.

    LOW-E means low emissivity, the window’s ability to reflect, not absorb, heat when coated with a thin metallic substance. Low-E coatings generally add up to 10% to the window’s price. If your present windows are in good shape but better insulation is desired, consider applying low-E films to your windows. They are not as effective as the coating added between glazing layers during manufacturing but can improve your present windows’ insulation. Starting at about $0.50 per square foot, you might consider having the films installed for large or complicated projects. NFRC rating is marked on packaging.

    GAS FILLS are argon or krypton gas between glazing layers; they improve insulation and slow the transfer of heat. These are ineffective at high altitudes where air pressure causes them to leak out.

    SPACERS separate the glass sheets to improve insulation. Material and design prevent condensation and heat loss.

    FRAME MATERIALS may be wood, vinyl, aluminum, fiberglass, or a combination of those. Vinyl windows are good insulators and easy to maintain; however, they contract and expand with temperature changes, which can cause air leaks. Wood is classic but affected by moisture changes and requires maintenance. Fiberglass is low-maintenance and very stable but may be expensive. Aluminum is stable, lightweight, and a good sound proofer, but it conducts heat which makes it less energy-efficient.


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