The mercury is dropping and families are gearing up for another long winter. While it’s uncertain whether this year's winter will be as brutal as the polar vortex-fueled conditions that much of the country faced last year, people in colder parts of the country can still look forward to snow, ice, sub-zero temperatures and high heating bills.
One way to prepare for the frosty onslaught is to make sure your windows are up to the task of keeping the warm air in and the frigid outside air out, where it belongs. If you have old, drafty windows, you can save as much as 7 to 15 percent on your energy bills by upgrading to newer models.
How Are Windows Rated?
The federal Energy Star efficiency program rates windows based on how well they keep the heat in (or, for people in southern climates, how well they keep the house cool). Windows are given ratings based on their aptitude for conducting or blocking heat from entering and leaving the house, in measurements known as U-value and Solar Heat Gain Coefficient. The lower the numbers, the better.
The National Fenestration Rating Council also provides performance ratings that go beyond those measured by Energy Star, allowing you to further fine-tune your choices. The exact specifications that are best for your house depend on a number of factors, including where you live and the orientation of your windows in regard to the sun.
What Should I Buy?
If you know you will never need to open a particular window, even in summertime, you can buy a non-operating unit -- a fool-proof way to keep any leaks out.
Regardless of whether your window opens or not, you will probably want models with at least two panes. For extra warmth you can get low-e/argon-filled pane glass, both of which put an extra layer of clear insulation between multi-paned windows. People living in especially cold climates might consider triple pane windows, which will keep even more heat inside but may reduce visibility.
New windows have other variables that can affect efficiency as well. The frames, for example, can be made of various natural and synthetic materials that each have their pros and cons. Simple wood frames insulate well, for example, but they also require more maintenance over time. Check the manufacturer specifications to decide whether wood, aluminum, vinyl or other options like fiberglass or composites are right for you.
The installation process makes a big difference, too. Unless you are an expert at home repair, it's worth your money to hire a professional to make sure the window is fitted perfectly into your wall.
What Else Can I Do To Keep the Cold Away?
If you have a drafty house but can't afford to upgrade your windows yet, make sure you seal any leaks with caulk or weather stripping and consider covering them in plastic for the winter. You also might be able to add storm windows for less than the cost of replacing the whole thing. Heavy curtains also help create a buffer against the cold.
A simple way you can make your windows work for you and heighten efficiency is by opening the curtains while the sun is shining, then closing them again in the evening to trap the heat inside.
Your local One Hour Air Conditioning and Heating® can provide more tips on making the most of your heating budget.