Older Windows May as Well Be “Heating the Great Outdoors”

From on July 28, 2011 in Window Replacement


To Washington state’s Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, there’s a fine line between maintaining the character of the state’s historic homes and adhering to energy efficiency guidelines. Should the owners of the stately Victorian homes who wish to do something about drafty old windows repair them or replace them?

To find out, they referred to a scientific paper, “Thermal Performance of Traditional Windows and Low-Cost Energy-Saving Retrofits.” The paper’s conclusion was succinct: “In many cases, traditional windows are targeted for replacement due to their poor thermal performance.”

That pronouncement is somewhat of an understatement. Heat loss from windows is responsible for about 25% of heating bills, according to Howard Geller, executive director of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. The council is a Washington-based public-interest organization.

The Greatest Home Energy Drain

“It could even be more,” Geller said in an interview. Old, leaky windows can cost as much as $200 to $300 more per year in heating bills, adding that for homeowners, that’s like “basically heating the great outdoors.” Other experts put the percentage of heat loss even higher. Consumer Reports suggests as much as 30% savings can be achieved by eliminating draft from windows. Bill Beckman, a professor in mechanical engineering at the University of Wisconsin concurs. Upgrading with double-pane windows with a low-emissivity coating can cut heating bills by as much as 30% in cold climates, he said in an interview.

The crew at the PBS show, “This Old House,” routinely install new windows in their televised renovations, reporting that aluminum-clad windows with a low-E coating and double panes reduce heat loss by as much as 25%.

The consensus seems to be in. America is on a quest to achieve energy efficiency, and old windows are holding us back.

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For many homeowners, window replacement isn’t just about lowering heating costs. “Much of the wintertime discomfort experienced in older houses is caused by drafts,” Geller said. “Exposure to such drafts can make even a well-heated house feel chilly.’‘

Homeowners who install new windows will immediately notice a difference in their comfort level, not to mention the savings. Replacing windows can seal the envelope of insulation that surrounds a home, drastically cutting costs.

How can you tell if your windows are drafty? While there are products like a “laser thermal leak detector” that show leaks by identifying cold spots, there are a couple easy do-it-yourself methods that homeowners can use to check for drafts. Holding a lighted candle around the window frames should do the trick. A stick of incense can also identify trouble areas.

New windows are also one of the least expensive ways for homeowners to raise the value of their homes. Whether your home is an old Victorian treasure, or a treasure of a more modern vein, window replacement ensures your home will be cost-efficient and comfortable for years to come.

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Photo via Preservation Nation