FAIRBANKS — Well-designed windows are essential to any home — they provide light and a connection to the outside environment while keeping out the wind and the cold. On the other hand, poorly performing windows can be drafty and uncomfortable, can increase heating costs, and can contribute to condensation and frost.
Installing energy efficient windows in new construction can reduce energy costs and keep a home comfortable for many years to come. The additional costs of purchasing a triple-pane window with a low-emissivity coating (which helps keep heat inside) instead of a double-pane one of similar quality are relatively low compared to the benefits it can provide during the life of the home. CCHRC researchers estimate that the additional costs to purchase these more efficient windows for a typical 1,800-square-foot home in Fairbanks will be recouped in energy savings in six to seven years. Properly installed energy efficient windows will be warmer on the inside, making them more comfortable and less likely to form condensation. The energy savings and increased comfort are benefits that will continue over the life of the home.
Upgrading windows after the home has already been built is not as straightforward. While better windows will save energy, the cost of removing an old window and installing the new one in a home are often very high. CCHRC analyzed the economics of window replacements in roughly 1,300 homes in Fairbanks that have participated in a home energy retrofit program since 2011. Professional energy auditors in these buildings evaluated more than 4,200 windows to determine whether it would be cost effective for homeowners to replace them. These auditors found that more than 75 percent of the time it was not cost effective to install replacement windows.
Even in the relatively few cases where window replacement is cost effective, it’s important to consider the alternatives for saving energy. Often, other measures such as air sealing and adding more insulation in the attic will save more energy and have lower up-front costs than replacing windows.
Since replacing windows is rarely cost-effective, many people insulate their windows to save money and improve comfort. There are a wide variety of window insulation options. CCHRC has evaluated the most common methods in a report that can be found here: http://cchrc.org/docs/reports/window_insulation_final.pdf.
If you’re building a new home, spending a bit more on energy efficient windows will bring you years of comfort and energy savings. On the other hand, replacing windows in an older home is generally not cost-effective, especially compared to other steps that can be taken to save energy in a home. In these situations, the best option for reducing heating bills may be to simply insulate the windows and focus time and money on more cost-effective energy efficiency measures.
Ask a Builder articles promote home awareness for the Cold Climate Housing Research Center (CCHRC). If you have a question, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 457-3454.