Trying to save money on your utility bill in the heat of summer or the chill of winter can be difficult for any homeowner. Either you’re spending money regulating the temperature or you’re forced to sweat in the heat or pile on sweaters to keep out the cold. If this is a problem you’re struggling with, then your home’s windows may be a major culprit.
When it comes to windows and your utility bill, the issue is heat transfer. In the winter, the outside air naturally absorbs some of the heat from inside your home in an attempt to equalize the two temperatures. This causes the now cooler air to become heavier and then sink to the ground, bringing warmer air in contact with the windows. This allows the cycle to continue and forces your heaters to work overtime to keep your house warm. The exact same thing happens in reverse during the summer, with the air inside your home absorbing the heat from outside. Sunshine and UV light are another major factor during the summer months.
To help limit this vicious cycle and let you start saving some money, here’s a beginner’s guide to ensuring your windows are energy efficient.
Although installing new windows is the most involved option on this list, it can also be the most effective. Energy-efficient windows can provide long-term savings while also boosting the overall value of your home. Before you begin, take a look around your house and assess the condition of your current windows.
Age can tell you two things about your windows: their condition and the likelihood they’ve been designed for energy efficiency. Years of keeping out rain, wind and snow can cause window frames to warp or breakdown, maybe even in ways you can’t see yet. Any gaps between the window and the surrounding walls, no matter how small, will force your heating and cooling to work overtime and raise your bills. Older windows are also less likely to be designed with energy efficiency in mind. The demand for energy-efficient homes really took off in the 1970s during that decade’s energy crisis, so determining whether yours were installed before or after this time period can be a good benchmark. However, technologies and designs are always improving, so an efficient window from the 80s may not meet 2017 standards.
If you’ve decided to get new windows, here are a few features to keep in mind when shopping:
In the world of windows, the glass portion is called the glazing. Traditional windows only featured one pane of untreated glass, which did little to insulate the home. However, today’s windows boast a variety of energy-saving options that you can take advantage of. The first is to increase the number of windowpanes. The most common variety is double-hung glazing, which features two pieces of glass with an empty space between them. A gas like argon is then pumped into this space to further cut down on temperature transfer.
Triple-paned insulated windows take this a step further by having a single pane of glass sandwiched between the two outside pieces. This creates two empty spaces inside the frame where more insulating gas can be injected. Because of the extra glass, this type of glazing is usually the heaviest and most expensive, but it’s also the most energy-efficient and resistant to condensation.
The windowpanes themselves can also be altered to ensure better energy efficiency. A low-emittance coating can be added to cut down on the amount of infrared and UV light that’s allowed to pass through the glass. This coating acts as another type of heat barrier, keeping it in during the colder months and out during the warmer ones. It’s also very thin and invisible to the naked eye. However, since it’s designed to block UV light, in the winter you won’t get the same heating benefits from the sun as you did before, so make sure to factor that into your decision.
In warmer climates, tinted glass is another great option. Specialty colors, like gray or bronze, are worked into the glass to help block solar radiation and keep the overall temperature down. Because the windows have this coloring, they will let in a reduced level of natural sunlight. Deciding to use these windows will involve learning which side of your home gets the most sunlight, considering the climate you live in and determining whether you can live with the aesthetics of this option.
Although there are a number of different framing options, not all of them were designed with your budget and energy efficiency in mind. The main consideration here is insulation. Metal frames conduct heat, meaning they carry it through to colder areas, so it will bring hot weather in during the summer and take the heat out during the winter. Wood frames are great insulators, but they require more upkeep and aren’t always the best in humid and wet environments. Synthetic materials like vinyl or fiberglass provide excellent insulation and durability but have some limitations when it comes to how they look. Fiberglass is the more versatile of the two, but it’s also the most expensive, so this decision will require some thought.
Storm windows are designed to sit right outside or inside the primary window. By reducing airflow and creating another barrier between the inside of your home and the elements, storm windows can greatly increase the efficiency of your home. If your house is older and you want to maintain as much of the original structure as possible, adding storm windows is a great lower-cost option.
To help make choosing the right windows easier, the National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC) has created a performance label. Companies that choose to participate are tested and certified by an independent company on a number of important factors. Reading the labels can be tricky at first, but the NFRC has a handy guide you can consult when you start shopping.
Completely changing out your windows isn’t the only way to save on your utility bill. The type of blinds and drapes you choose can also have a major impact, and determining which ones will work best in your home will depend on the climate you live in.
Window blinds are treatments that feature long “slats” hanging either vertically or horizontally from the top of the window. They come in a variety of styles and are ideal for people looking to reduce their air conditioning bill. Keeping them closed during the hottest parts of the day and in rooms that get the most sunlight will assist with this.
While blinds use slats to form the treatment, cellular shades use string and fabric to create pockets of space that provide added insulation. Some shades will have honeycomb-shaped pockets, so these shades are also known as honeycomb shades. Because this method relies on an insulation technique to help with efficiency, they can work in both warm and cold weather. The number of pockets the shades come with can vary from one to three, with three typically being the most insulating. As with the other options on our list, they work best when fully closed.
Shutters are a firm window covering made out of a series of slats that fold open and closed. They can also be swung to the side to completely reveal the window, depending on our mood or need. Most shutters are used for decoration today, but they, like blinds and curtains, can really help to limit drafts in your home. Many people decide to install interior shutters, rather than exterior ones, to prevent drafts and for easier access when opening and closing them. Interior shutters do need a relatively wide area of space around them to fully open and close, making them a bit cumbersome at times.
Drapes are long pieces of fabric that “drape” down from the top of the window and can be used with other types of treatments on this list. Since they are usually made out of thicker types of fabrics, sometimes with thermal linings, they can really help keep out drafts during the winter months. Blackout lining is also available if you need to keep out the sun’s glare during the summer, and using drapes with this type of lining in rooms that get the most sunshine and keeping them closed will help you get the greatest benefit.
If you’re saving up for newer windows or can’t make any major changes to your place, then something a little more temporary might be your best bet. These temporary options are designed to be quick, easy and inexpensive while still helping to cut down on your energy bill.
This can be purchased as either a kit or in a sheet, and it works just like a giant sticker that you either attach to the glazing of your windows or over the entire window frame. This acts as another barrier to cold drafts that can seep in through poorly attached windows. The price of the film and the kits will vary by what they include and how much film you need, but it is very inexpensive when compared to some of the other options on this list. However, the glass will no longer be completely clear, cutting down on the natural light that comes through into the home.
If you’re looking for an even more cost-effective option and don’t mind the decrease in natural light, bubble wrap makes a great insulator. The air pockets within the bubble wrap act as little barriers between the cold of the windows and the air in your home, cutting down on heat transfer. Spraying a little water on to the glass before you attach the wrap will help the two stick together and create a better seal. The wrap is then attached with tape, but make sure you place the tape strategically since it could chip paint when removed.
A great solution if you’re looking to stop hot air, cold air or rain from seeping into your house during the summer months, weather tape is specialty tape designed to cover gaps between your windows and your frames where sealant or other issues have caused the seal to weaken. This is great for the rooms where you want to maximize sunlight or just don’t want to cover the windows with anything.
Plastic Sheet and Tape
For the absolute cheapest method of winterizing your windows, buy some painters tape and some plastic sheets that you would normally use to cover floors and furniture when painting. Use the tape to secure the plastic sheet around the window area. Granted, it’s not the most fashionable idea on the list, but it gets the job done and is super cheap.
If you give any of these options a try, let us know how it went in the comments!
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