Basics of Choosing Windows
Written by Lee Wyatt (last updated January 7, 2022)
Having the right windows for your home can actually make all the difference between a low energy bill, and one that will break the bank. By understanding the basics of choosing windows, you will be able to make certain that you not only know what you are getting, but make certain that you get the best windows for your home. Before you get your new windows for your home, take some time going through these guidelines to make sure that you know what you are doing, and what you are looking for.
- Frame materials. The only time that a window will not come already in a frame is if you purchase the glass as a pane. That being said, you will need to understand how the different types of frame materials will affect the life of the windows. For example, vinyl frames are virtually maintenance free and act as a decent insulator, while aluminum frames will last a long time but are rather ineffective at insulating. Wood frames of all kinds require regular maintenance, but do a decent job at insulating.
- Gas sealed windows. Unlike traditional, single paned windows, gas sealed double-paned windows are extremely effective as insulators. This effectiveness comes with a cost though, gas sealed double-paned windows are usually significantly more expensive than single paned windows. The most effective type of gas used is Krypton, but that dramatically increases the cost of the windows.
- Low-E coating helps insulation. Another method for dramatically reducing the amount of heat transfer that a window can experience is by having a window with a layer of low-E coating. This is actually a very thin coating of metal which ends up reflecting some of the light and solar heat. Manufacturers currently produce this coating in three different levels which allow a low, medium, or high amount of solar gain.
- Double paned is better than single. Even with no extra frills, a double-paned window will provide much more insulation than you would ever receive from a single paned window. Basically, even with no extra gas sealing, or low-E coating a double paned window is about 1/3 more effective at insulating your home than a single paned window. This is because these windows have a little extra space between the panes which allow the air to heat up and act as a buffer zone between the outside and inside temperatures.
- Understand Energy Star lingo. Take some time to learn a little bit about the phrases and words that are used by the Energy Star program to rate windows. For example, U-factor is how heat loss is rated (so the lower the U-factor, the better it insulates); VT stands for visible transmission which references the amount of light that is allowed through the glass (the higher the number, the more light can get through); or the acronym SHGC which stands for solar heat gain coefficient. The last is a scale from 0 to 1 which rates the amount of solar heat that the window will transmit, the lower the number the less heat gets transferred.
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