Buyer’s Guide To Energy-Efficient Windows

Going green has long been more than just a trend in North America, and the government is encouraging sustainable choices and green home improvements with incentives and subsidies. Energy-efficient windows installation tops the list of go-to home renovations and can reduce energy bills by 7% to 15% annually.

As homeowners become increasingly aware of their carbon footprint and escalating energy costs, the emphasis on energy-efficient solutions has never been higher. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, traditional windows account for an average heat loss of between 25% and 30%, raising the cost of heating or cooling a home.

Energy-efficient windows offer up to 55% more energy efficiency than regular windows, saving on energy bills and ensuring homes remain cool in summer and warm in winter. A typical energy-efficient window has:

  • Double or triple-glazing. Glazing refers to the number of panels of glass in a window. Double glazing is now standard, offering improved insulation and comfort. Triple-glazed windows, while more expensive, provide even greater energy efficiency and are particularly beneficial in colder regions, where they significantly reduce heat loss.
  • Low-E (low-emissivity) coating is a microscopically thin metal or metallic oxide layer deposited on the surface of the glass to reduce the amount of infrared and ultraviolet light that can pass through the glass. These layers are virtually invisible so do not compromise the amount of visible light that is transmitted.
  • Air spaces filled with Argon or Krypton gas. These inert gases are denser than air, providing better insulation. The increased density lowers the amount of heat that can pass through the window, boosting overall thermal performance. Argon is commonly a more cost-effective option, and Krypton, which is more expensive, offers even better insulation and can be used in thinner spaces, making it ideal for triple-glazed windows.
  • Efficient window frame material typically made of vinyl. Vinyl frames are favored for energy-efficient windows due to their excellent insulation properties, low maintenance, durability, and cost-effectiveness, significantly reducing heat transfer and enhancing overall energy efficiency

Energy-Efficient Windows: What’s In It Homeowners?

Improved thermal performance is usually the number-one reason why homeowners consider installing new windows. But the benefits of modern replacement windows extend beyond mere energy savings:

  • Increased Home Value: Homes with energy-efficient windows often fetch a higher market value. 
  • Noise Reduction: The multi-pane designs and specialized coatings used for energy-efficient windows also offer superior noise insulation. This means a quieter indoor environment, which is especially beneficial for homes in busy urban areas.
  • Heating & cooling bills: Energy-efficient windows can reduce heating and cooling costs by 12% on average.
  • Green choices count: By reducing energy consumption, new windows contribute to a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions. 

There are many energy-efficient options for homeowners considering a window upgrade. From double-glazed windows perfect for moderate insulation to triple-glazed options ideal for colder regions.

Choosing New Energy-Efficient Windows

When shopping for new windows, taking the time to understand key features helps simplify the decision.

Material: Most window companies now offer vinyl window frames as the best option that combines quality, price, durability and energy efficiency. While there are other options, such as wood or fiberglass, vinyl is usually the top choice due to its cost and resistance to moisture and decay. Moreover, vinyl windows qualify for most rebate government programs.

Glass: Triple-pane (a.k.a. triple-glazed) windows are hands down the best investment homeowners can make if they live in colder regions. However, these models are approximately 15% more expensive per window than double-glazed units. Before deciding on what works best for your home, make sure to consider the weather conditions in your region and annual heating and cooling bills. Quality double-pane windows may work just fine.

Window Style: Among the different styles, casement windows will perform the best in terms of energy efficiency because their design allows for a tight seal when closed, minimizing air leakage. Other models to consider for energy efficiency include picture windows, which don’t open and thus are airtight, double-hung windows  that are good for ventilation because both sashes can open, and awning windows, which are similar to casements in sealing but open outward from the top.

Energy Rating: Understanding window energy ratings can be daunting, but it’s a pivotal step in window selection. The most common rating to pay attention to is ER (Energy Rating). It is the overall energy value of your window based on such crucial indicators as U-factor, Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (SHGC), Air Leakage and Visible Transmittance. A higher ER indicates superior energy efficiency, ensuring optimal insulation and savings. Windows should have an ER of at least 34 to be considered energy-efficient.

Window Replacement Costs: What to Know Before Buying

Comparing energy-efficient window costs is more than just tallying installation expenses. It’s about understanding the long-term savings created by the windows. While the initial investment might be substantial, the cumulative energy savings and potential window rebates and incentives ensure a great return on investment. Your final cost for new windows will depend on many factors, including style and size, the location of the home, complexity of installation, the type of glass, and custom features, such as colors and finishes, hardware, and grills.

Many online window replacement cost estimators can help you understand the approximate price range for your project. However, they typically provide only an average price. Don’t treat estimates as a final quote for your project, as most of these tools only consider your windows’ size, glass, and style without considering any custom features. Still, if you go for the most popular window style – casement – with triple glazing and medium-size features, the price tag might be close to $700 per window. 

It is crucial to analyze your house condition, current windows, energy bills, indoor temperature (both summer and winter), and, of course, budget to make the right decision regarding window replacement. Make sure to get two to three quotes from different companies to compare the prices and products they offer.

Government Rebates: How To Save On Window Replacement

Considering that window replacement is usually a significant investment, understanding how to offset the initial investment costs is vital. Window rebates are financial incentives governments offer to encourage homeowners to make energy-efficient home upgrades. These rebates are part of broader initiatives to reduce energy consumption and mitigate environmental impact. 

Canada is an excellent example of a country rapidly innovating in this area. Recognizing the importance of energy efficiency, the Canadian government constantly launches energy-efficiency facilitating programs on federal and provincial tiers. In the U.S., the IRS offers up to $600 in tax credits for energy-efficient windows.

To find and apply for government rebates for energy-efficient upgrades like window replacements, start by visiting the website of your local utility. You’ll find detailed information on available rebates, eligibility criteria, and application procedures. Additionally, consider visiting your city or state’s website for more comprehensive information on local energy efficiency incentives. 

Before applying for the rebate, remember to gather all necessary documentation, such as purchase receipts and product details.

About the Author

Matan Korin is a VP at Ecoline Windows, a Canadian company helping homeowners nationwide with window and door replacement projects.