The Best Energy Efficient Windows for Your Climate

Whether you're building new construction or renovating an older home, choosing the most energy efficient windows is one of the most important decisions you're going to make.  Even if you're relying on a contractor, you need to be an expert so you know if he's using the best energy efficient windows. Windows, doors and skylights leak heat in the winter and absorb it in the summer. Energy efficient windows can bring you substantial energy savings.

This is not an area to compromise. Energy efficient replacement windows will provide an immediate savings on your utility bills, make your home more comfortable, protect your furnishings from fading and sun damage, and increase the resale value of your home.

As a consumer, there are four basic things you need to be aware of when embarking on a window project:

  • Familiarize yourself with Energy Star and the National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC). Energy Star is a program by the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency to protect the environment through efficient energy usage and energy efficient products. Look for the Energy Star sticker on newer appliances, windows and other building materials to ensure that you're getting the best. The NFRC is a nonprofit public/private organization created by the window, door and skylight industry. Both organizations provide ratings systems and manufacturers report them clearly in product literature and on stickers prominently displayed on the actual windows.
  • Know your climate zone. The best choice of window depends on what region of the country you live in. Energy Star divides the US into four climate zones:
    • The northern belt. the plains states and Rocky Mountain states.
    • A belt from Virginia and North Carolina across to Nebraska.
    • The southern states. From Georgia across Texas to the entire state of California.
    • The ring around the Gulf of Mexico including all of Florida. 
  • If you're buying windows from a local supplier, they probably stock the right windows for your climate zone. But, if you're ordering them from an out-of-state supplier, you need to know what to specify. To learn more and to see what zone you're in, visit the Energy Star website.
  • Know the different window types. Energy Star groups them into four types of window frames: aluminum, aluminum with thermal break, wood and vinyl-clad wood and insulated. Then there are numerous types of glazing (the glass panes inside a window frame) including single pane, double pane, clear, tinted and more, making up to 34 combinations of window types. 
  • Know how windows are rated. Energy Star and the NFRC each use a different system, and you'll want to know what they both mean. Energy Star rates each window type across five criteria: annual energy cost, electric peak, winter comfort, summer comfort and condensation resistance. The agency provides tables of these ratings so that you can see which window types perform best against each criteria for your region of the country.

The NFRC rates window performance by the effect on energy usage (U-factor), solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC), visible light transmittance (VT), air leakage (AL) and condensation resistance (CR). All of these properties are clearly identified on the NFRC label on windows and doors. Both organizations have useful information on how to take into account such factors as the amount of glass area, the proximity of the sun and its trajectory through the different seasons, roof overhangs and other shadings, temperature ranges, rainfall and humidity. 

It sounds like a lot to keep track of but between Energy Star and the NFRC, the industry does a great job of simplifying it and narrowing your choices. Once you know the basics, it will be a lot easier to finalize your decision with the help of your supplier or contractor.

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