How Much Can New Windows Really Save You?

Sun belt and frost belt homeowners find a way to save nearly half their home energy bills by turning to green technology.

Homeowners are dreading another season of sky-high winter heating or blistering summer air conditioning bills.  Even if further price hikes don't occur, hardly a likely scenario, homeowners are realizing that typical weather stripping and insulation may not be enough to curb soaring energy costs -- not when the windows themselves are bleeding precious winter heat, summer cooling, and hard-earned dollars.    

The government Energy Star website, which promotes energy efficiency among U.S. consumers and businesses, acknowledges the need for better alternatives.  “All energy efficient windows have at least two panes, but not all double-paned windows are energy efficient,” states the website.  “Twenty years ago, double-paned meant energy efficient; today, advanced technologies have enabled the development of windows that are much more efficient than traditional clear-glass double-paned windows.”  

While it’s a no-brainer to upgrade windows if you’re replacing them for maintenance or aesthetic reasons anyways, more homeowners are switching from traditional single and double-paned windows to state-of-the-art, triple-paned units for comfort, cost and energy savings up to 50% per year.  

No longer like living on the tundra
Against winters as cold as -15° F, John and Milly Simon’s whole-house, gas heater and fireplace could make little headway.  The family layered themselves in sweaters and blankets indoors, bracing themselves against the bone-chilling cold they felt coming through the double-paned windows in their 2,700-sq.-foot Grosspoint Park, Michigan home.  

“The cold penetrated even when we had our thermal drapes drawn, with the heater and fireplace going full blast,” says John Simon.  “We knew we’d always be cold during winter, even though the heating bill was going through the roof.”  The final straw was when ice crystals formed on the windows -- inside the house.  “It was like living on the tundra at home,” says Simon.  “We realized the cold transferred right through the double-paned windows, and we had to do something about it.”  

Simon went on a mission to bring comfort and manageable fuel bills to his family.  He checked all the window companies in his area.  He visited showrooms and other people’s homes.  He tested the thermal protection of energy-efficient, double-paned windows, but none fully satisfied him.  

“Most windows can keep out drafts, but that doesn’t mean they’re efficient in keeping out winter cold or locking in heat,” says Simon, who checked out as many actual installations as he could, feeling the panes for heat or cold transfer first-hand.  “Even the most energy-efficient, double-paned windows let cold penetrate or heat escape.”  

One window technology called Bristol Windows piqued his interest.  The triple-paned design with high-tech thermal spacers between each pane of glass helped prevent both cold and heat from radiating either inside or outside.    

Where competitors, double-paned windows typically put a common inert gas, argon, between the panes, the triple-paned replacement windows, offered by Saltsburg, Pennsylvania-based Winchester Industries, provides two air spaces filled with their own proprietary mix of gases as a dual thermal insulator.  Like a thermal shield, the double layer of thick gases does a much better job of slowing the transfer of cold in or heat out -- thus halting the flow of heating and cooling dollars out the windows.  

The Simons had the windows professionally installed in their home, and there’s been no need for layered clothing indoors since.    “Because the triple-paned windows are so thermally efficient, there’s no need to fiddle with the thermostat in winter or summer,” says Simon.  “Once I set the thermostat at a comfortable temperature, I don’t have to touch it all year long.  You can’t say that about other windows.”   

Since replacing the double-paned windows, according to Simon, the triple-paned windows have cut his family’s heating and cooling bills in half.  “With the Bristol Windows, we save on our heating and cooling costs and are protected from spikes in energy cost.  Best of all, we’re comfortable and can finally enjoy our home year-round.”  

Not sweating summer heat anymore
During Saundra King’s first summer in her Mesa, Arizona home it got up to 120° F outside.  She found no refuge from the heat inside her two-story 3,000-sq.-foot home overlooking a golf course.  Inside she had the air conditioning cranked all the way up, a ceiling fan going full blast, and two giant floor fans placed on either side of a picture window in her home office.  “The fans were so noisy I couldn’t hear the phone,” says King.  “Standing in front of a window, I’d break out in a sweat or burn my feet on the hardwood floor.”  

A thermal reading of the single-paned, aluminum windows in her home read 115° F, while the home’s interior topped 90° F.  At a contractor’s recommendation, she installed energy-efficient, double-paned windows in a new addition to her home, but was sorely disappointed at the amount of heat they still let through.  

King took action, asking eight window companies to visit her home.  She carefully compared their offerings and paid particular attention to the heat lamp demonstrations, which were designed to show how their windows would repel heat.  While the energy-efficient, double-paned windows reduced heat transmission better than single-paned windows, each allowed a significant amount of heat to pass.  None, she felt, would cut heat from the summer sun to a comfortable level.  When King investigated the triple-paned windows, however, she immediately noticed a difference.  “Under a heat lamp so hot it felt like lava, the Bristol Windows passed absolutely no heat,” she says.   

Besides the triple-paned windows’ high-tech spacer system and insulating mixed gases between each pane, King credits the windows’ multiple Low-E layers on two panes; these reflect more heat than the single Low-E layer on energy-efficient, double-paned windows.  The triple-paned windows’ multiple, soft-coat Low-E layers not only provide better heat reflective performance than the single hard-coat, Low-E layer of typical double-paned windows, but also greatly reduces harmful ultraviolet rays.  

King decided to replace her single-paned windows with triple-paned ones, and relates the moment her hot house became a home for her.    “The day they came to install my new windows, I was sweating in my home office as usual,” says King.  “When they removed the picture window, the heat was so intense I thought I’d die.  But the instant they lifted these windows into place, the heat disappeared.  I nearly got whiplash turning my ahead around, trying to figure out what happened to the heat.”  

Because of the greatly reduced cooling and heating costs since installing the Bristol triple-paned Windows she’s planning to replace her year-old, double-paned windows with them as well.  “The first day the triple-paned windows blocked the heat and made me comfortable, that was it -- I got my ROI,” says King.  “I’m more productive and like being home now.”  

Battling extremes and dependence on foreign oil
Debra Baggett’s family had battled weather extremes in their 2,000 sq.-foot, Lakewood, Colorado home for too long.  With winter temperatures reaching well below 0° F and summer temperatures topping 100° F, they found themselves struggling to stay comfortable and minimize energy costs.  

The Baggetts replaced their single-paned windows with triple-paned windows, and are greatfully enjoying their energy and money savings.  

“Our biggest heating bill last winter was $120 one month, when comparable heating bills for neighbors ran about $250 a month,” says Debra Baggett.  “At first I thought there was a mistake in our bill because it was so much less than our neighbors.  By switching to the energy-efficient, triple-paned windows, we’re comfortable whether energy prices rise or not.  We made a good decision for our family, finances, and the resale value of our home.”   

Baggett points out another plus in switching to the triple-paned windows -- by doing good for her family, she’s also doing good for her community and the world by cutting the need for polluting fossil fuels at the source.    “Generations ago, Americans were asked to conserve resources and ‘buy bonds’ in service of their country,” concludes Baggett. “Today, to cut pollution, global warming, and our dependence on foreign oil, the call could be to ‘buy Bristol Windows.’  They not only make energy conservation painless but also are a boon to your pocket book and the environment.”  

Energy-efficient triple-paned, replacement windows by Winchester Industries are sold under the names of Bristol, Oxford, and Barricade.  For maximum energy savings and comfort, these windows must be professionally installed.  The company is looking for new dealers in certain U.S. regions to round out their national presence.  

For more info, visit the website: www.winchesterwindows.net; call 724-639-3551; email inquiry@winchesterwindows.net; or write to Winchester Industries at PO Box 160, 500 Leech Ave, Saltsburg, PA 15681.
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By Del Williams, technical writer based in Torrance, California.
         

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