Easier Shopping for Energy-Efficient Windows

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The other day I talked to some friends who were planning to buy new windows for their home. They knew I'd been reading about energy-efficient windows for work and that I was curious about what they were planning to buy, so we sat down together and looked through some of the product brochures they'd picked up when they went — for lack of a better term — window shopping.

Windows are such an expensive purchase, it's definitely a good idea to explore your options before you buy, especially because buying better windows can pay off by saving you money on your energy bills. Not surprisingly, all the brochures we looked at were slickly put together and talked about every single window in glowing terms. At first the number of choices seemed overwhelming, but pretty quickly we were able to start zeroing in on the relevant information. No word on what brand or style of windows my friends have picked yet, but they're starting to narrow down the options.

Here are a few tactics that we found helpful for identifying the best windows:

1. Start by looking for the Energy Star label. Not only is this label solid evidence that the windows meet a high standard for energy-efficiency, the logo is easy to spot, and any retailer is likely to display it prominently if their products qualify. You can read more about Energy Star labeled windows and find companies that manufacture them here. Another definite plus is that Energy Star labeled windows may help you get an energy tax credit. (More about that here.)

  2. Next, look for the U-Value and Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (SHGC). These values are numerical measures of a window's energy performance. The lower the U-Value, the better it insulates. The lower the SHGC, the more heat it keeps out. Recommended U-Values and SHGCs vary depending on what climate you live in. And unlike the Energy Star label, which a window either does or doesn't have, you can use the U-Value and SHGC to compare different windows that you know are energy efficient to see which is better. We found it in some, but not all of the brochures we looked at. But every window has these energy performance ratings. You can find them all listed online with the National Fenestration Rating Council's Certified Products Directory. 

3. Then look into other features and options. There are other options you might want for your new windows, such as tinted glass to reduce the glare, or any other slick new features you might see advertised. Whatever additional options you consider, be sure to go back and look for the Energy Star label, and the U-Value and SHGC measurements so you can get an idea of how they affect window performance.

These are a few other places where you can learn more about energy-efficient windows:

Better yet, be sure to check out your other options for saving energy at home. There are a variety of steps you can take at home to save energy and money, and some cost little or nothing to do. Here's a good place to start:

Happy window shopping! If you have stories about buying or shopping for energy-efficient windows please put them in below.