Replace Old Windows with Energy-Efficient Models

Adding new energy-efficient windows can pay off at resale, as well as boost your energy savings — $126-$465 annually — if you choose the right ones.

Windows recoup much of their cost

The range for energy-efficient window pricing is wide, but Energy Star-qualified windows start around $120 for a 36″ x 72″ single-hung window and can go up 10 times that. With labor, you’re looking at about $270 to $800+ per window. Typically, windows at the low end of the price spectrum are less energy efficient.

But that doesn’t mean the numbers can’t make sense for you. For starters, window replacement is one of the best home remodeling projects in terms of investment return: For vinyl windows, you can recoup 71.2% of the project cost in added home value, according toRemodeling magazine’s annual Cost vs. Value Report.

Based on the replacement projects outlined in Cost vs. Value that use vinyl windows, that’s a value add of about $7,000 to $9,300. Plus, if you choose windows that qualify for the federal tax credit (U-factor and solar heat gain coefficient ratings must be 0.3 or less), you can effectively lop $200 off the purchase price for windows put into service in 2011.

You’re also likely to see modest savings on your energy bill. In general, you’ll save $126 to $465 a year if single-pane windows in a 2,000-square-foot house are replaced with tax-credit-eligible windows, according to the Efficient Windows Collaborative, a coalition of government agencies, research organizations, and manufacturers that promotes efficient window technology.

Keep in mind, though, that the savings can vary widely by climate, local energy costs, and the energy efficiency of both the windows purchased and the windows being replaced. Finally, you may qualify for low-interest loans or other incentives offered by your local utility that can sweeten the deal.

Sample costs, incentives

Here’s a hypothetical situation to help frame your purchase decision:

Location: Minneapolis, Minn.

Old windows: Double-pane, non-Energy Star windows

New windows: Energy Star-qualified, tax credit-qualified vinyl windows

Purchase price plus installation: $10,500

Subtract tax credit: -$200

Subtract local utility rebate for installing Energy Star replacement windows (12 windows, $25 each): -$300

Net price: $10,000

The Minneapolis home owner could recoup about 69% of the project cost at resale, according to estimates in Cost vs. Value, so the out-of-pocket expenses are minimal.

And his annual energy savings will be $91. Had the original windows been single-paned non-Energy Star, his annual savings would be $385. Double-paned windows are more common.

Evaluate price vs. energy efficiency

The range for energy-efficient window pricing is wide, but you can expect to pay about $500-$1,000, including installation per window. The most efficient windows on the market are usually the most expensive, but it’s not necessary to buy the highest-end products to realize utility bill savings or improve comfort and aesthetics. So how do you choose the most energy-efficient models for the price?

Thanks to Energy Star, you really don’t have to, according to Nils Petermann, project manager for the Efficient Windows Collaborative. Energy Star labels will tell you whether a window performs well in your climate based on ratings from the National Fenestration Rating Council.

However, if you’re looking for windows that qualify for the $200 federal tax credit, make sure the U-factor and SHGC are both less than or equal to 0.3 regardless of climate zone. Not all Energy Star windows qualify.

Know the language of windows

It’s also helpful to familiarize yourself with terms that appear on many window labels:

Glazing is simply the glass used in the window. The number of layers of glazing (single, double, or triple) don’t necessarily equal greater efficiency; the presence or absence of the other items in this list affects a window’s total energy performance, says Petermann. Glazing coatings can substantially affect a window’s U-factor, or degree of insulation against the outdoors.

Low-E stands for low emissivity, the window’s ability to reflect rather than absorb heat when coated with a thin metallic substance. Low-E coatings add up to 10% to the price of a window.

If your windows are in relatively good shape but you’d like better insulation, you can buy and apply Low-E films to your windows. They’re effective, but not as much as those put between glazing layers during manufacture. Look for the NFRC rating on these films, Petermann says. Low-E films start at about 50 cents per square foot, but you may want to check into the cost of having them professionally installed for large or complicated applications.

Gas fills typically consist of argon or krypton gas sandwiched between glazing layers to improve insulation and slow heat transfer. They often won’t work at high altitudes because differences in air pressure cause them to leak out.

Spacers separate sheets of glass in a window to improve insulating quality; the design and material are important to prevent condensation and heat loss.

Frame materials include vinyl, wood, aluminum, fiberglass, and combinations of. They each have different strengths: Vinyl windows are good insulators and are easy to maintain, but contract and expand with temperature changes, affecting the window’s air leakage; wood offers a classic look but is similarly affected by moisture changes and needs regular maintenance; fiberglass is very stable and low-maintenance but can be expensive; and aluminum is lightweight, stable, and a good sound proofer but is a rapid conductor of heat, making it a drain on energy efficiency.

By: Karin Beuerlein