Home Window Upgrades for Greater Efficiency

Air conditioning is more than just the air conditioner. And heating is more than just the heater. Controlling the air within your home is an involved process that is influenced by and affected by almost every part of the home. As such, improving this process requires looking at the home holistically and focusing on each individual element of the home that affects the air within it and how they relate to one another.

That’s how to think about energy efficiency, which is just a measure of how much energy put into conditioning the air results in actual comfortable air. It’s a measure of how energy is used and more effective use is more efficient. One relationship in the home that has perhaps the biggest impact on efficiency is that between the insulation of the house and the air conditioner and heater. The air conditioner puts out cool air but that will go to waste if the home isn’t properly insulated. Insulation refers to how well the borders of the home prevent outside air from coming in and vice versa. The windows are one of the most important parts of insulating efforts as they are an easy place for air to escape and enter. In this tip of the day, we’ll look at some of the ways you can make your windows better at insulating your home and therefore improve the energy efficiency of your house.

Sealing Air Leaks

As far as insulation improvements go, one of the most important ones you can achieve without many resources or much time is sealing air leaks. Throughout the house there are going to be imperfections in the shell that is the borders of the house. We typically refer to these imperfections as drafts or air leaks. It’s anywhere in the house where air continuously leaks in through small gaps.

Because windows are designed in order to be able to let in air from the outside, they naturally are going to be more likely to have smalls gaps in their construction that cause air to leak in even when they are closed. Even if the windows were designed and installed well in the first place, they may become drafty overtime. There are several ways this can happen in fact. With old windows, the glazing putty may have grown brittle and fallen away, leaving the glass rattling in place. Double-hung sashes of wood windows can shrink with age and wear, letting in cold air. Even newer vinyl or aluminum windows may have worn-out gaskets and weather stripping.

You have options when it comes to solving a drafty window problem. One of the most common ones is weather stripping, specifically a type called V-seal weather stripping. Add plastic weather stripping along the sides of the sashes. Windows can open and shut even with the V-seal in place. Then there is caulk. This soft, sticky stuff can be molded to suit the gap and removes easily at the end of the season.

Certain solutions are designed for certain kinds of air leaks on windows. If the bottom of your window leaks cold air, buy a foam-and-fabric draft snake kit. Cut the 36-inch foam tube provided to length and slip the washable cover over it. Then place the snake on the sill and shut the window on it to seal the deal. You can also try shrink film. Applied with double-sided tape, this clear plastic sheeting shrinks drum-tight when heated with a hairdryer. The film seals off drafts and captures an insulating buffer of air. Use rubbing alcohol to help release the tape in the spring to avoid pulling off paint.

And if you’re looking for a really cheap and easy fix that you don’t even need to go out to the store to accomplish, you can try nail polish. If carefully applied, clear polish fills the crack almost invisibly. Once hardened, the polish will stabilize the glass until you can replace it in the spring. Or, apply clear weather-seal tape to the crack.

If you want a more long-term solution then you can try replacing the loose glazing on the window. The glazing putty that seals window panes can crack and fall out with time. Doing a great job of glazing takes practice, but even a mediocre job will do a lot to eliminate leaks.

Replacing Windows

On the other end of the spectrum from simply tightening up the air envelope of your windows is complete replacement. This isn’t a great option for everyone but for some it can be a worthwhile home improvement project. If your home has very old and/or inefficient windows, it might be more cost-effective to replace them than to try to improve their energy efficiency. New, energy-efficient windows eventually pay for themselves through lower heating and cooling costs, and sometimes even lighting costs.

When properly selected and installed, energy-efficient windows can help minimize your heating, cooling, and lighting costs. Improving window performance in your home involves the design, selection, and installation.

If you decide to replace your windows make sure you do your research into what windows in the market are the most energy-efficient and worth the money. For labeling energy-efficient windows, ENERGY STAR has established minimum energy performance rating criteria by climate. However, these criteria don't account for a home's design, such as window orientation.

There are certain principles that should be considered when installing new windows. In cooling climates, places, where there’s a greater need throughout the year for air conditioning than heating, like our climate here in Austin, particularly effective strategies, include preferential use of north-facing windows and generously shaded south-facing windows. Windows with low SHGCs are more effective at reducing cooling loads.

Some types of glazing help reduce solar heat gain, lowering a window's SHGC. Low-e coatings, microscopically thin, virtually invisible metal or metallic oxide layers deposited directly on the surface of the glass, control heat transfer through windows with insulated glazing. Tinted glass absorbs a large fraction of incoming solar radiation through a window, reflective coatings reduce the transmission of solar radiation, and spectrally selective coatings filter out 40% to 70% of the heat normally transmitted through insulated window glass or glazing while allowing the full amount of light to be transmitted.

Window's energy efficiency is dependent upon all of its components. Window frames conduct heat, contributing to a window's overall energy efficiency, particularly its U-factor. Glazing or glass technologies have become very sophisticated, and designers often specify different types of glazing or glass for different windows, based on orientation, climate, building design, etc. Another important consideration is how the windows operate because some operating types have lower air leakage rates than others, which will improve your home's energy efficiency.

The potential benefits of replacing your old windows with newer and more energy-efficient ones are plentiful. The primary benefit is of course the energy savings. If your windows are more than 15 years old, you may be putting up with draftiness, windows that stick in their frames, and skyrocketing energy bills. The longer you plan to be living in your current house the more it makes sense to replace the windows because the more time there will be for the incremental savings to add up to recouping the cost of the windows themselves.

Another benefit is that new windows add value to your home. window replacement is one of the best home remodeling projects in terms of investment return: For average-quality vinyl windows, you can recoup 80% of the project cost in added home value, according to one report.

Window Add-Ons

Maybe complete window replacement isn’t the right move for you. It is a rather expensive endeavor and just doesn’t financially add up for people in many circumstances. This doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do to improve the energy efficiency of your current windows however. Certain additions to your windows can reap significant benefits in the form of higher energy efficiency and they are all significantly less expensive than replacing the whole thing.

One such add-on is an awning. Window awnings can reduce solar heat gain in the summer by up to 65% on south-facing windows and 77% on west-facing windows. You can use an awning to shade one window or have an awning custom-made to shade the entire side of your house.

In the past, most awnings were made of metal or canvas, which need to be re-covered every five to seven years. Today, awnings are made from synthetic fabrics such as acrylic and polyvinyl laminates that are water-repellent and treated to resist mildew and fading. Whatever the fabric, you should choose one that is opaque and tightly woven. A light-colored awning will reflect more sunlight.

Another option that many people don’t know about is high-efficiency film. High-reflectivity window films help block summer heat gain. They are best used in climates with long cooling seasons, like ours in Austin. Air conditioning is a priority and heating not as much. Window film makes sense in a climate like ours because they also block the sun's heat in the winter.

Silver, mirror-like films typically are more effective than the colored, more transparent ones. East- and west-facing windows, because of their greater potential for heat gain, can benefit more from these films. North-facing windows won't benefit from them, and south-facing windows may benefit somewhat, but the benefit could be offset by the reduction of heat from the winter sun.

Window Upgrades and Air Conditioning Repair in Austin

Windows are one of the most essential parts of the house’s envelope. They exist to both prevent and facilitate the circulation of air between outside and in and as such there is a lot of room for potential energy inefficiency. There are many ways to improve your windows. It can be anything as simple as adding some caulk or as grand as complete replacement. All of the upgrades described above have the potential to pay off in different circumstances, so consider how you might best improve your windows and therefore improve your house’s efficiency.

If you ever need AC repair in Austin, consider calling AC Express. AC Express is an Austin AC repair company that has been operating in the Austin area, everywhere from Kyle and Round Rock to Cedar Park and Lakeway, for many years. For same day AC repair in Austin, call today!