If you’re undergoing a major kitchen renovation, you may choose to relocate or replace your kitchen windows. Such a major construction job will most likely set you back thousands of dollars, so you’ll definitely appreciate the money you can save from creating a thoroughly energy efficient kitchen space. Not to mention the satisfaction that comes from knowing that you’ll be doing your part to lessen your carbon footprint. So how can you be sure that your window purchase is as energy efficient as possible?
First, it’s good to figure out whether or not you even need to replace your kitchen windows. Newer homes are more likely to already have efficient, tight-fitting windows. Older homes, however, tend to be more inefficient. The frame might be loose-fitting and some component parts may have worn down over time, making it easier for air to pass through. If the latter is true, then replacing these windows might be your best bet. However, if you’re concerned with staying within your budget and would rather not replace your current window, you do have the option to tighten these windows with caulking or weatherstripping. If you’re unsure of whether your old windows need to be replaced, consult with a licensed contractor before taking any measures on your own.
Considering that old, loose-fitting, inefficient windows may end up costing you more money in the long run, it’s probably best to invest in newer, Energy Star-certified windows. Windows that are energy efficient will have the following features:
- two or more layers of glass (also referred to as glazing)
- protective coating to prevent unwanted heat loss or gain
- a durable, insulating frame
- all components are tightly-fitting
Of course, all the footwork required to identify an energy efficient window has already been done. Locating an Energy Star label on the window you’re about to purchase is the quickest and easiest way to know that you’re choosing a product that will be energy efficient. You may also come across a label reading “NFRC Certified”. The National Fenestration Rating Council, or NFRC for short, has developed a rating system that allows consumers to compare windows based on energy performance, air leakage, and other performance factors. The label itself contains terminology and ratings that can be quite confusing for the everyday consumer, so here’s a quick overview on how to decipher it:
- U-Factor – measures how much the window conducts or transfers heat. The lower the U-factor, the more energy efficient the window.
- Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (SHGC) – measures the amount of solar radiation that passes through the glass. The lower the SHGC rating, the less solar heat is transmitted by the window.
- Visible Transmittance (VT) – measures how much visible light passes through the glass. On a scale of 0 to 1, the higher the VT rating, the more light is transmitted. If you’re relying on your windows to produce a significant amount of the lighting for your kitchen, you’ll want to pay special attention to this number.
- Air Leakage – measures how much heat is lost or gained through cracks and crevices in the window’s construction. The lower the rating, the less air that will make its way through. Keep in mind that this measurement is of the window itself, before it has been installed, so it won’t account for any cracks that may exist due to poor installation.
- Condensation Resistance (CR) – measures the window’s ability to resist condensation on the inside of the glass. Rated from 1 to 100, the higher the CR rating, the better the window is able to resist the formation of condensation. This measure is optional and does not appear on all NFRC labels.
You’ll also want to make sure that you choose a window framing material that will maximize your energy efficiency. Again, Energy Star is a great place to start when trying to figure out which products are energy efficient. There are a wide variety of energy efficient materials on the market, so you do have options. Wood frames tend to be a strong insulation material, and is often covered with aluminum or vinyl. Aluminum and vinyl are also great low maintenance insulating materials in and of themselves. Aluminum frames tend to contain recycled materials, so not only will they provide energy efficiency, but they’re also environmentally friendly. Vinyl frames can be either hollow or contain foam insulation, and they may be reinforced with metal or wood. Another great option is fiberglass, which is durable, low maintenance, and available as either a hollow material, or foam-filled.
With mounting environmental concerns and the often expensive cost of living in an energy inefficient home, organizations like Energy Star and the NFRC have made it simpler for homeowners to take matters into their own hands and choose the best windows. Be sure to do your research and buy windows that will provide you with ample sunlight and ventilation – but only when you need it.