Lots of Options When Shopping for New Windows

By Connie Neal, housing and environmental design specialist


Shopping for new windows can be a daunting task.  There are lots of options in regard to styles, materials and insulation, all of which can impact maintenance and energy costs for years.   New windows can also make your home more attractive, quieter and less drafty and they don’t need painting.   Another plus is that they are easier to clean.   When you’ve found the window you like, look at its energy label to see how it compares to other windows.  According to Consumer Reports, Energy Star-qualified windows can lower your energy bills by 7 to 15 percent.  There are no federal tax credits planned for Energy Star-qualified windows in 2014 or 2015.  However, some utilities and city and state programs offer rebates or incentives to buy Energy Star windows.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, sometimes companies that sell replacement windows exaggerate how much money people might save on their heating and cooling bills when new windows are installed.  The truth is the money you could save depends on several factors:

  • What material your existing windows are made of
  • How well your home is insulated
  • The size of your home and how many windows it has
  • The shade around your home
  • The climate you live in

The first thing to consider is the upfront costs.  Prices for new windows can range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, depending on the materials and features you choose and cost of installation.

The choices you make about style, glazing, materials and installation can have a big impact on your energy bill.  There are many different frame materials to choose from which can affect the appearance, durability and insulation of your window.  Wood-framed windows are heavy and high maintenance but do provide good insulation.  Whereas, vinyl-frame windows insulate well but don’t need painting.  The style of the window you choose can affect how well it insulates.  Sliding, single-hung and double-hung windows leak more air than casement, awning and hopper windows.  Certain glass and window glazes may provide better light quality, insulation and condensation resistance.  Low-emissivity (low-e) coatings often are more energy efficient than windows without.  Features that make windows easier to care for make cleaning and maintenance easier as well. 

Proper installation is very important.  If installed properly, windows could end up using more energy rather than less.  Some manufacturers recommend installers that are specifically trained and certified for their products.  According to Consumer Reports, you should look for certification from the American Window and Door Institute.  You can check credentials at www.awdi.com  or installation Masters at www.installationmastersusa.com

The National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC) is a nonprofit organization that empowers consumers who are in the market for energy efficient windows, doors and skylights – otherwise known as fenestration products.   When you see the NFRC label on these products, this is your assurance that these products are independently tested, certified and labeled.  This label does not recommend which products to buy but simply provides you with information on how the product will perform so you can decide for yourself if it’s right for you. 

Below is the National Fenestration Rating Council’s window label to help you when you shop.

U-factor rates how much heat escapes through a window.  The range is 0.2 – 1.2   In a cold climate, look for a low u-factor rating.

Visible Transmittance rates how much light comes in.  The range is 0 – 1.  The closer this number is to 1, the more light the window lets in.

Condensation Resistance rates how well a product resists condensation.  The range is 1 – 100.  The closer this number is to 100, the better the window is at resisting condensation.

Solar Heat Gain Coefficient rates how much heat from the sun is allowed in.  The range is 0 – 1.   In warm climates, look for a low SHGC rating.

Air Leakage rates how much outside air comes in.  The range is 0.1 – 0.3.  The closer this number is to 0.1, the more outside air leaks in.