Business Articles - Specialty and Trade

Choosing Green for your Windows

Few home improvements do more for your home from a green perspective than installing new windows. Poor windows can heat up your home like an oven in the summertime, and they can account for as much as 25 percent of your home's heat loss in the winter. On the other hand, energy-efficient windows and designs can drastically improve your home's energy efficiency in all seasons, as well as improve your home's looks, resale value, and overall comfort. If you're looking to green an aspect of your home, windows are a great place to start.

David Johnston on Windows
ServiceMagic understands that it can be tough for homeowners to wade through all the "green" remodeling information out there, which is why we've teamed up with green remodeling expert David Johnston to provide you with the best, most accurate, green remodeling advice in the business. Johnston is the founder of the green consulting firm What's Working, Inc., the author of multiple books on green remodeling (including the Nautilus Award Winner Green Remodeling: Changing the World One Room at a Time), and he knows plenty about how to turn your new window installation into a green prospect.

Cost, Value, and Green Windows
The first question most homeowners have when talk turns green is how much it's going to cost. The truth of the matter is that it's tough to put a hard and fast estimate on what green windows run. First of all, the level of green each homeowner is willing to commit to varies, and can range from purchasing energy-efficient windows to redesigning a home architecturally to make the most of passive solar heat and natural lighting. On top of that, each home has a unique set of requirements, different from any other. That said, there are a few things you should keep in mind as you decide whether green is right for you and your budget.

  • Energy Savings—Energy savings can be substantial if you go green with windows. By simply replacing old, inefficient models with new ones, you can increase energy efficiency in your home by 30 percent or more. And if you embrace green remodeling and design to make the most of things like passive solar heating, natural lighting, and thermal mass, the benefits will be even greater.

  • Installation Costs Remain the Same— Johnston notes that installation costs are the same whether you choose energy-efficient windows or not. In other words, if you're going to install new windows anyway, the only extra cost you'll incur by going green will be for the windows themselves.

  • The True Value of Going Green—The benefits of going green aren't always best measured in dollars and cents.

This last point is maybe the most important one. Johnston is quick to warn homeowners against getting caught up in "the payback trap," or investing in green solely because of the prospect of reduced energy bills. While green homes are more energy-efficient, they are also healthier, require less maintenance, and place a premium on comfort and quality. Add to that the environmental benefits and the value of investing in a better world for your kids and grandkids, and it's easy to see what Johnston means when he says that the true value of going green is far greater than any bottom line.

Energy Efficiency, the Environment, and Going Green with Windows
The single biggest reason that windows are so popular in green remodeling circles is their potential to significantly increase the energy efficiency and comfort of your home. The result is a more environmentally friendly home, as well as the welcome prospect of reduced energy bills in a time when heating and cooling costs are constantly on the rise. Here are some of Johnston's thoughts on what you can do to make sure your new windows are as green as they come from an energy-efficiency standpoint.

  • Multiple Panes—Upgrading from a single pane to a double pane window can reduce your heating costs by 15 percent. That alone can add savings of as much as $2,000 over the life of a window. Triple panes and superwindows can improve overall energy efficiency even more.

  • Low E Windows—Low e coatings can prevent heat loss in winter and reduce heat from entering your home during the summer. Most importantly, low e makes windows much more comfortable all the time. In fact, the right low e coating (it will differ from climate to climate) can make such a significant difference when it comes to improving overall energy efficiency that adding a low e coating to your windows generally pays for itself in a few short years.

  • Low Conductivity Frames—Aluminum and steel window frames contribute to poor energy efficiency. Purchase wood, vinyl, or fiberglass window frames and opt for insulated frames where applicable.

  • Orientation Tuned Glazings—Climate isn't the only concern when choosing the right window. East and west facing windows with lowsolar heat gain coefficients (SHGC) will help reduce solar heat gain (and home cooling costs) during summer. South facing windows, on the other hand, should have high SHGC to maximize solar heat gain and reduce heating costs during the winter.

  • Window Coverings and Landscaping—Exterior blinds, window awnings, and deciduous trees are all effective ways to reduce solar heat gain during the summer months. Tight fitting, insulated window shades will help trap heat inside during colder times of the year.

  • Reduce the Need for Artificial Lighting—The more natural light you can let in through windows, skylights, and design features like clerestory windows and light shelves, the less you'll have to rely on expensive artificial light.

Going Green for Quality, Comfort, and Health
As we said before, the benefits of green remodeling go beyond energy efficiency and energy savings. As Johnston puts it, he's not in the building business, he's in the comfort business, and that means creating homes that are more comfortable, are of a higher quality, and are healthier than traditional alternatives. Here's a list of the benefits of installing "green" windows, beyond the financial side of things.

  • Looks—The most attractive windows and frames on the market (i.e. wood) are also the greenest. In other words, new windows aren't only an investment in higher efficiency, but they're also an investment in a more beautiful home.

  • UV Rays—Ultraviolet rays are a major cause of fading in upholstery, carpeting, wall hangings, and wall coverings. Many energy-efficient window glazings also reduce the level of ultraviolet rays that get through the glass, protecting everything inside your home from sun damage.

  • Comfort—Reduced energy bills aren't the only benefit of high energy efficiency. More consistent, more comfortable, and more stable indoor temperatures make for a more comfortable environment for you and yours.

  • Quiet—Windows with higher levels of insulation (i.e. double panes, superwindows, gas filled, etc.) also insulate better against noise pollution.

  • Natural Lighting—Natural lighting does more than lower the electric bill. It makes for healthier, happier families and more enjoyable living spaces.

  • Ventilation & Health—Poor indoor air quality is a major contributor to a wide array of health issues. The best way to combat it is to provide as much ventilation as possible.

Different Shades of Green
Going green with your windows is a smart choice for any homeowner, though the scope of green remodeling can be overwhelming for some. If you feel like you're in over your head, you're not alone. Finding a contractor who understands the ins and outs of going green with windows is a great place to start, since they will provide you with the best advice possible for you and your home. And you should always keep in mind that going green isn't an all-or-nothing proposition. Any step you take in a green direction is a smart one, whether you opt for double paned windows over single paned ones, or completely redesign your home to make the most of your new windows and the sunlight they let in.

If you think green is the right choice for you, talk to your contractor about adopting a green building philosophy, find a contractor who specializes in green building and remodeling, or seek out the services of a green consulting firm that offers advice on what you can do to make sure your windows are as green as they can be.

David Johnston
We are proud to partner with David Johnston, internationally recognized green building expert, to provide our homeowners and service professionals with the information necessary to "green" their projects.
• To learn more about David Johnston, click here.
• To learn more about Green Certification training, click here.

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