Being Totally Transparent
A window to the world of the miracle of new windows.
I have an older home, a Tudor built in 1941. It needs new windows. When the thermostat says 72 degrees, it feels like 65. I’m cold all winter long, and wear layers of sweaters. For a long time I thought it was charming, true to the architectural detail until I got a notice from Centerpoint Energy illustrating the fact that I was using 40% more energy than my neighbors.
First I thought, “How is that possible? I keep it cool.” Not so much, it keeps itself cool.
While visiting a new construction home, a builder explained to me the miracle of new technology windows. Directional placement of windows helps energy efficiency. In a cold climate big windows facing south pick up warm rays in the winter when the light is low. Smaller windows facing north where there is always less sun, loses heat. Not everyone uses this logic, and production builders are held to template designs. My own house was built with more windows on the north side when homes were built manually.
What amazes me is that quality windows are engineered for both northern and southern climates. Windows for northern climates are double paned with Argon gas filling the space between,AND an invisible film on the inside of the exterior pane that reflects UV rays and heat back outside during the summer, while letting it pass through bringing warmth and light in during the winter.
Windows for a southern climate are built the same, but with higher rating to reflect UV and lower Solar Heat Gain Coefficient. These words are new to me too, so I’ll explain.
The National Fenestration Rating Council, NFRC, designed a label to compare windows and doors by providing energy performance ratings in 4 categories. (Fenestration comes from Latin, Fenestra, which is odd because ancient Romans didn’t have a lot of windows.)
U Factor measures how well the window keeps heat from escaping from the inside. Lower numbers are better, and between 0.20-1.20. This is important in Minnesota.
Solar Heat Gain Coefficient measures how well it resists unwanted heat gain. Do you not think that is a big fat deal in Arizona at 110 degrees? The lower that number, the less you spend on cooling, or electricity. Range is between 0-1.
Visible Transmittance measures how efficiently the room is lighted by daylight, saving on artificial light. Here, the higher the number the more natural light fills the room. Range is 0-1.
Air Leakage speaks for itself. We want zero, range is 0.1-0.3. No one wants to hear wind blowing in our living rooms in February.
To my way of thinking, this should make window shopping an easy way to compare. I was wrong. I researched several sites online, Lowes, Home Depot, Window World, and only found frustration. There are categories like Series 6000, or the Next Generation of Wood, with sample sizes of 23” by 34,” prices at $xxx per window. They show white windows, beige windows, in a couple sizes. I was looking for a range of sizes with a range of designs, colors, wood finishes and prices. Energy Star is an umbrella category, with zero information about the NFRC label. It seems that I could only get information by have an installer bring samples of what they want to sell into my living room.
Lowe’s was the only site that gave me any hope, and I whipped over the St Paul store for answers. I halted a Lowe’s employee in the Fenestration Department, “You!! Talk to me about windows and NFRC labels.”
“Well, you are in luck. Right behind you is our Pella Window rep. He’s all yours.” He backed away.
I told Joshua, the Pella rep, that I was frustrated in not finding any info online, and there are no NFRC labels even in the showroom. He opened his laptop, and pulled up a massive grid of options including Northern and Southern climate categories. There it was, NFRC ratings for every one of them, in all sizes and ratings. You can even mix and match if you have a sunny or dreary room. We had a long exploration of options, and online resources. He told me that was the first time anyone ever asked anything about the windows. People just look for size and price. That might be why I see some windows with plastic over them in the winter.
Whether you plan to invest in new windows for your old home, or are looking at new construction, explore options and ratings of windows. Builders will use brands that compete with name brands, and have equivalent energy ratings, with competitive pricing. Name brands are no guarantee of sustainability or energy efficiency. They all have a variety of quality windows. Most builders will have information on their feature sheets, but if they don’t, you do want to ask.
The other piece that is critical to windows doing their job is installation. If a window is poorly installed, without the right insulation, it is a basically a hole in your wall. Sometimes what’s wrong with the window isn’t the window, its poor installation. If you can feel air around the frame of the window, that’s a problem.
The next time you feel the sun streaming across your back on a cold winter day, you have the miracle of high tech windows to thank. Energy Star windows pay you back in several ways; a 10% of cost tax deduction (up to $500), savings on your gas bill, reduced condensation, improved comfort, and longer life than traditional wood windows. It’s hard to research all this info on your own, so here’s a little help from the Energy Star website, they’ve researched products for you. https://www.energystar.gov/products/most_efficient.
Your home is an eco-system with parts that work together. New high tech windows improve the value, comfort, and affordability of your home. It’s a worthwhile investment of time and money to find the right windows.