Through the Looking Glass: 5 Ways to Improve Your Windows’ Energy Efficiency

Taking steps to improve your windows' energy efficiency can save you heating and cooling costs.

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Windows account for more than 30 percent of a typical home’s heating losses, regardless of their age. This means that they can be the key to improving your home’s comfort and lowering your energy bills.

Given that, if your home is feeling a bit draftier than usual as winter weather settles in, you might be thinking, “We need to replace our old, drafty windows stat!” In fact, the first thing many people do in a renovation is to replace all the windows. And it’s true that there is really neat, effective smart window technology coming to market (stay tuned for a future post on that!).

However, study after study shows that conventional window replacements have just about the worst bang for your buck when it comes to home energy efficiency investments. On the other hand, you can enjoy significant payback through energy savings if you simply improve your windows’ energy efficiency.

Whether you are a do-it-yourself homeowner or rely on professional contractors for your home improvement projects, take note of these five simple steps to make your windows more energy efficient.

5 Ways to Improve your Windows’ Energy Efficiency

Prepare Your Existing Windows

Are your windows are in fairly good condition? Is there any missing glass, rotting wood, or air/water leakage? If so, a little rehabilitation can go a long way. There are three primary ways to  “rehab” your windows.

Window Frame Upgrades

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) offers a helpful Wood Window Repair, Rehabilitation & Replacement Guide. Along these lines, we love the “Indow window.” This frame insert has a compression tube that holds it in place and seals tightly to the frame to eliminate any air leakage.

Caulking & Weatherstripping

Caulking and weatherstripping are also key steps to deal with unwanted drafts. The U.S. DOE provides helpful step-by-step guides for window caulking and weatherstripping.

Purchase Upgraded Window Coverings

A low-cost way to effectively improve your windows’ energy efficiency is through window coverings, like blinds and curtains. While they don’t actually make your windows more efficient, they can make a dent in your energy efficiency efforts. In the winter, heavy curtains (or even thermal curtains) can block drafts to help your home stay warm. In the summer, they can block sunlight from heating the room.

To ensure that your curtains do their job effectively, make sure that they fall below the ledge of the window. This will enable them to trap as much of a draft as possible. Also be mindful of when you open and close the curtains. As an example, during the winter, close your curtains at night when the temperatures are the lowest. Then open them during the day to welcome in those warm rays of sunshine!

Install Storm Windows

Once you’ve rehabbed your windows, or if they are already in good condition, the next step is storm windows. In particular, low-emissivity (also known as “low-e”) storm windows can boost energy efficiency at low cost. The low-e coating, which is nearly invisible, reduces conduction and radiation heat losses and can improve energy savings by 10-15 percent as compared to standard storm windows! In fact, a U.S. DOE study found that low-e storm windows have an average payback of two to four years, regardless of climate.

While you can find low-e storm windows at big-box retailers, we recommend custom ordering them in order to make sure that it perfectly fits the measurements of your window.

Look for Utility Incentives

Interested in purchasing low-e storm windows but operating on a tigh budget? Some regional utilities offer rebates and incentives for their customers to purchase and install storm windows. The U.S. DOE provides a database of such opportunities. Check it out to see if there are any programs that could help you with your window energy efficiency projects!

Install Window Films

Window films provide another layer on your window itself, which reduces convection and conduction. This not only provides energy efficiency, but also “solar control” window films can protect your skin by blocking infrared and ultraviolet rays. Win-win!

Keep Your Storm Windows Up Year Round

You can remove storm windows and panels during times of the year with more mild weather. But it’s even better to keep them in year-round. Just as low-e storm windows can help hold heat in during the winter, they can keep heat out and hold cool air in during the hot summer months. In fact, across the four seasons, low-e storm windows can save 12-33 percent in combined heating and cooling costs.

Taking steps to improve your windows' energy efficiency will ensure they provide beautiful views, not higher electricity bills! Source: Gabriel Tenan
Taking steps to improve your windows’ energy efficiency will ensure they provide beautiful views, not higher electricity bills! Source: Gabriel Tenan

Keep It In Perspective

It is important to remember that if your concern is maintaining your home’s temperature, windows are not the only place to focus your attention. Unfortunately, with energy efficiency, there is not one silver bullet. Most of the heat loss in older houses is, in fact, through the roof. So proper insulation of your home’s walls and attic is an important area to invest, as well.

That said, the investments set forth in this post help you improve your windows’ energy efficiency and enjoy reduced heating and cooling costs. So if you’re walking around your house in your winter jacket, don’t wait! It is definitely worth taking the steps above before expensive window replacement.

Let us know how they work for you in the comments! For more electricity essentials and energy saving strategies, subscribe to the WattDoesItUse blog for weekly updates on the latest and greatest!

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