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New Blog: The Myths of Energy Efficient Windows

A new Patch blogger, with 20 years in the industry, says If you've ever thought about replacing your windows to help save energy and money, think again.

One of the most common questions I get asked is, “What should I look for in replacement windows?”

My immediate answer is always,“Wait, why are you replacing your windows?”

Window manufacturers, retailers and builders have done a fantastic job of spreading the perception that the key to energy efficiency in the home is through the purchasing and installation of new windows, but I’m going to share some myths related to this industry that should help you become a more aware shopper and homeowner:

1. The Window Salesman Myth

When talking to any sales person trying to sell you windows, all the factual-sounding information they share is, unfortunately, based strictly on subjective data.

First, from a basic insulation value, a single pane window is about a R1.5-R2. As a comparison, a NEW high-end window replacement is around R3.5-R4. In relation to all other types of insulation materials that exist in your home, even the BEST windows you could buy would not come close to competing for significant energy savings. The good news is that in most homes, windows don’t make up a significant amount of the house anyway, so in truth, even if energy modeled windows had a R20 value, they wouldn’t make a significant difference on the heat/cooling load of the house.

2. The Low E Window Myth

Everyone wants Low E windows because they come with the perception of being more technologically efficient, but are they the state-of-the-art, top of the line windows that you must have? Simply put: ABSOLUTELY NOT! Low E windows only reduce the radiant load so they are highly beneficial in the cooling season but detrimental in the heating season. So, unless you are living in Hawaii, Florida or the Caribbean, Low E is not a smart choice (but, you’ll never hear that from the guy selling Anderson windows at Home Depot)

3. The Drafty Window Myth

The most common complaint I hear from clients is “my windows are drafty.” The truth is that in almost every instance, doing scientifically derived testing (a blower door, smoke test, thermal imaging, etc.), what they are feeling isn’t a draft, but rather basic science at work! Most of your drafts come from so many other places in your home, not the windows. When homeowners feel what they call a “cold draft” coming from their window, it is usually a cold convective loop caused by warm air from something like a supply grille or radiator. That air rises up, and then cools by the window’s cooler interior surface (remember R1-R4 at best). The cooler air then moves away from the window making a cold draft. This is not cold air coming in from the outside (but you won’t hear certain sales people say that).

At best, a window replacement job will yield maybe 5% on total energy savings for your home, with a payback of 30+ years. There are far more effective energy savings measures you make in your home at far less cost, and true experts in the energy auditing field can help establish those. This is easily shown through scientifically derived data from an Energy Star Audit. So, lets replace the myths behind energy efficient windows with solid, practical solutions that will help homeowners save more of their hard earned money.

See the original Blog Post at: http://holistichomeenergy.wordpress.com/

energyMusings is written by Sean Schmidt, President of Holistic Home Energy Services, an Energy Auditing & Home Performance Contractor in Maryland. In addition to being a certified Building Analyst and Envelope Specialist, Sean has been in the HVACR field for 20 years. He is currently the President of Heating & Air Conditioning Contractors of Maryland, sits on the Board of the Maryland Alliance for Fair Competition (MAFC) and is an active member of Efficiency First.

To learn more about Sean and Holistic Home Energy, visit our website, as well as our pages on FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Jane December 21, 2011 at 05:12 AM
Totally agree. I have my original Andersen (upgraded a notch) double hung windows that are now 24 years old. Had an energy audit done. The guy told me my windows were fine..no replacement needed. LOL, I couldn't have afforded it anyway!
Kym Byrnes (Editor) December 21, 2011 at 02:23 PM
@Jane, just out of curiosity, why did you have an energy audit done and did you feel it was worth it -- meaning, did you get sounds advice and feedback that was helpful in managing your energy use?
Jane December 21, 2011 at 03:06 PM
I had the energy audit done because I'm hemorraghing (sp?) money to BGE. It was done by a company subcontracted by BGE. The cost was zilch, tho they say it will be $45...still cheap. The man who did the audit couldn't have been nicer. He and I combed throughout my whole house. He replaced my hot water heater blanket (free) and showed me the proper way to do it...I had it on wrong. He replaced all of my faucet aerators..free. He left me about half a dozen curly cue lightbulbs..free. I've done everything I can think of so that I don't waste energy, right on down to adding insulation pads (found at Lowe's, etc.) behind all of my electrical outlets located on outside walls.. Only one very small thing was found that could be improved upon, having to do with gaps in some of the duct work. He also suggested having my windows tinted (this can be done in clear tinting nowadays). He said to make it affordable, I could do only a couple at a time, for example. Was it worth it? You betcha it was! Did he give me sound advice and suggestions? Absolutely!
energyMusings by Holistic Home Energy December 21, 2011 at 11:18 PM
Thanks for sharing your experience Jane! Speaking on behalf of emPower MD and BG&E's Home Performance w/Energy Star Program, we are dedicated to helping MD homeowners save money on their energy bills and lower our State's demand on the electrical grid. There are SO MUCH rebate money available to BG&E customers to make energy improvements on there homes. Feel free to call me at Holistic Home Energy or any of BG&E's participating contractors to find out how to SAVE!!!
energyMusings by Holistic Home Energy December 21, 2011 at 11:27 PM
As a point of note, none of the Home Performance w/Energy Star or Quick Home Energy Check-up Contractors are "sub-contracted" by BG&E. We are ALL privately owned contractors who specialize in energy audits & home performance. We've spent many years getting trained & licensed in our field which has allowed us to meet the requirements of the Energy Star Program that BG&E and MANY other utilities across the country use. These programs and rebates are YOUR money NOT BG&E's money that they are giving back out of the kindness of their hearts. All the MD utilities are required by the emPower MD Law to put these programs together to help Marylanders reduce their energy bills. It is the rate payer's money and hard working Maryland business owners making these programs happen, helping save you from wasting money each month and lowering our energy demand as a State and Country!
Iru Kandji December 22, 2011 at 01:11 AM
I lived through 5 winters with original 1927 (rope pulled) windows....there was definitely a draft coming from the windows.....Brrrrrr!
Jane December 22, 2011 at 01:17 AM
This is what I was told by the service man; he was from Computer Geek (they apparently do more than computers these days). Just stating what I was told. I really don't care, anyway, he did a thorough job...I followed him around the whole house. Unfortunately, there is nothing more I can do to make my home any more energy efficient, other than replacing my stove, washer and dryer. Which I won't do, because if it ain't broke, then don't replace it. I cannot afford all this right now, as I'm sure you can understand. I use these older appliances as efficiently as I can.
Jane December 22, 2011 at 01:20 AM
Brrrrrr is right! Those were some OLD windows...wow! Bet you didn't have storm windows either.
energyMusings by Holistic Home Energy December 22, 2011 at 03:22 PM
Understood.... just wanted to make sure everyone understood how the Programs worked. BG&E sometimes has a tendency to create a perception that they are doing all this themselves when it is really your Legislature that passed the emPower MD law requiring them to use these programs. If it wasn't for the MD Legislature, my guess is that BG&E would not be doing a thing to help homeowners reduce their energy bills. In addition, it is YOUR money funding these Programs not BG&E's, which they would like you to think they are funding. I'm glad he did a thorough job, all the contractors that work in the Programs are well trained and qualified. Do you now if he just did a QHEC (Quick Home Energy Check-up) or a full Comprehensive Energy Audit? If he only did a QHEC then there are many other areas for energy savings that could be isolated through a comprehensive audit by doing blower door testing, thermal imaging, etc... Stay tuned, the 2012 Energy Star Program may make a comprehensive Energy Audit VERY affordable to all homeowners.
energyMusings by Holistic Home Energy December 22, 2011 at 03:23 PM
All houses need to breathe for safety and indoor air quality. On the rare occasion a house has leaky windows, I've always found other leaky areas of the house that can be more economically sealed for energy savings, leaving the windows to be the source of clean air that the house needs rather than dirty air from attics, crawlspaces, rim joists, etc. If anyone would like a more detail explanation feel free to contact me at Holistic Home Energy.....
Jane December 22, 2011 at 03:36 PM
@ energy: I think he did both, definitely the QHEC, but a bit of the Comprehensive too. It would be great to have a Comprehensive done at an affordable rate! I agree 110% about a house needing to 'breathe'! Any building that is totally sealed to be energy efficient is very unhealthy to the occupants. During the winter, when we get some of those warmer days, I cut my heat off and open the windows for a while :) Love getting some fresh air in my house...prefer fresh air to heat & a/c...I only turn on my a/c on the most unbearable summer days/nights. I have neighbors who, as far as I can tell, have NEVER, EVER opened their windows! They go right from heat to a/c and back again. Yuck. I have ceiling fans in almost all of my rooms and use them both winter & summer (yes, I know about reversing the fans, lol). I also make use of window fans. I simply cannot afford the BGE bill. I despise BGE (not the employees, but the corporation itself and its honchos). Since the economy crashed in 2007/2008, I have to question myself every year: Do I take a vacation? Or open the pool? Do I run the a/c? Or open the pool? I'm fortunate to have a pool at all and it's won hands down every year since then. The pool IS our vacation and our a/c, lol! It's cheaper than the other two options. When my husband was alive, we could afford to do it all. No more. What's a vacation? For me, it's my pool and day trips. I do miss a vacation. I can live without a/c most of the time.
Buck Harmon December 24, 2011 at 09:53 PM
It's really a shame that most of the homes built in the last 20+ years were not built to offer real energy savings. The vast majority were built to minimum standards at best... forcing folks to spend to save... odd cycle.
Jane December 25, 2011 at 09:45 PM
On the contrary, my home is quite well built (1987) along with being custom built. My late husband was onsite twice a day, before and after work, so he observed its construction from the ground up. Our first home was a tract house, built in 1978 (we were its original owners). Believe it or not, it too was quality built, though not custom built. We only moved because of the growth and traffic in the community and some absentee landlords who neglected their homes, as did their tenants...when the renters behind us got busted for drugs, that was IT.
Jane December 25, 2011 at 09:48 PM
We were energy conscious even back then as we both hated the electric bill, lol! We had the Andersens upgraded, extra insulation sprayed into the attic, extra insulation in the walls, insulation between the first floor and the basement and whatever else was available at the time. It was well worth a little extra money. Even when we finished the basement into a family room, we sealed the block walls (imagine that, block walls!), sealed the floor and when the walls were studded out, we glued insulation to the block walls. The only 'error' we made was having a working fireplace. It's now closed down and I put candles in it...it was like having a chimney sucking all the heat out :( It was great to use for a number of years, though. Since then, he and I have been adding other relatively inexpensive energy saving things, like a blanket for the hot water heater, just to name one. The man who inspected my house informed me that it wasn't on correctly. The top of the heater needed to be covered also. He fixed that with a completely new blanket! But, yes, unfortunately many, many houses were shoddily built.
Jane December 25, 2011 at 09:49 PM
The funniest thing that happened one morning was the time my husband arrived onsite and the contractor was getting ready to asphalt the driveway. My husband pointed out that it was being put in the wrong place. He held up the whole project! All the asphalt trucks, the people, the whole shebang. Upon checking things out, it was found my husband was right and this was corrected. In the evenings, he (and sometimes I) would come and he always had his Stanley tape measure. He measured EVERYthing. I had to really laugh because he discovered the house had an extra square foot of living space all around. The builder's wife was none too happy, but there was nothing she could do about it; the contract was signed, sealed and delivered. I was the one leaving sticky notes about things located in the wrong places, etc.
Jane December 25, 2011 at 09:50 PM
BTW, my husband died in 2003...I've still been adding energy efficient stuff. If my husband saw one of my electric bills today, he'd go nuclear!
WestMonster December 29, 2011 at 04:08 PM
Worth noting that old windows on old houses are important historic features, and were built to last! the National Park Service did research years ago that supports Mr. Schmidt's comments that window replacement in one fo the least cost-effective ways to save energy. They concluded that properly-maintained wooden windows with storms were every bit as efficient as modern replacements. Look here http://www.nps.gov/history/hps/tps/briefs/brief09.htm for info on maintaining old windows, and here: http://w3.gsa.gov/web/p/HPTP.NSF/gsagovAllProceduresDisplay/0110004S for information on conserving energy in old buildings. Plus, how green is it to replace windows made from natural materials with new ones made from vinyl and aluminum?
Buck Harmon December 29, 2011 at 10:30 PM
Nice post Westmonster.. the country is currently being "greenwashed" with gov. promoted green building materials. Foam for insulation and petro chemical plastic or vinyl products are the only ones that the gov has qualified for green tax incentives. Natural building products that offer even better efficiencies don't qualify... go figure this illusion..
energyMusings by Holistic Home Energy December 30, 2011 at 02:07 PM
Thanks @Westmonster & @Buck for your posts! @Buck is spot on in his comments that many of the energy saving products promoted by our government & industry are not natural and certainly not "green". For example, most of the spray foam insulation on the market contains petroleum as a main ingredient. Shocker that our government would promote, huh :-) We use an amazing spray insulation product called AirKrete. It has the same insulation and air sealing properties as the polyurethane spray foam but is environmentally safe, non-toxic insulation and free of cfc's, formaldehyde & petroleum. Unlike spray foam that is HIGHLY flammable, AirKrete provides a 2hr rated fire wall. It is so safe and non-toxic, I've actually eaten it. Doesn't taste good but makes a statement. There are many green alternatives to insulating your house while still being environmentally friendly. It is also important to note that our State of MD emPower MD program called Home Performance w/Energy Star provides 50% rebates from BG&E and allows for green insulation. And, if the proposed Federal Tax Credit 25e gets passed it would offer tax credits up to $5000 for homeowners to install qualified energy efficient measures in their homes which would include green, environmentally safe products.
Buck Harmon December 30, 2011 at 02:32 PM
One of the REAL problems with any foam insulation is the unknown out gassing effects. The test of time can only answer that BIG question related to potential health issues. The cost factor to use "approved" perceived green building products also drives the cost up for the perceived green effort. The more the government dabbles, the further from green it travels....
Buck Harmon December 30, 2011 at 02:36 PM
Is AirKrete a soy based foam ??
Jane December 30, 2011 at 02:57 PM
@ energy: You sound as if you want to sell us something, LOLOL!

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