Our Love/Hate Relationship with Our Windows

Clerestory, Casement, Fixed, Slider, Single- or Double-hung. Historic homes have amazing windows. Yet, they also come with their share of challenges. As we become more and more aware of the importance of energy efficiency, our old windows can sometimes make us feel guilty about loving these less than LEED openings in our homes. Our readers’ interest in windows and energy efficiency was made clear when in the July issue of the Preservation Press, our cautionary tale on windows became our second most read piece ever!

Well! The Nevada Preservation Foundation is hoping to ease your feelings of guilt a little bit this month. We will be hosting what will be the first in a series of energy efficiency programs: Working with Historic Windows, A Resource Fair. This fair is sponsored by NV Energy and will bring folks together with vendors who work to make windows more energy efficient. This event is FREE to NPF members and only $10 for individuals and $15 for pairs. Please register to attend on the Event page.

Attend this event for free by becoming a member today!

We all also know that there is a balance to strike between energy efficiency and historic integrity. To this end, our resource fair will only feature products that meet the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Historic Preservation. (This does mean no vinyl or fiberglass windows.) But don’t think that means you won’t come away having learned how to save some dollars! We promise you will! Last month we had a piece that delved into window parts and vocabulary. This article is going to talk about the relative benefits of the different energy efficiency treatments that also help you maintain your home’s historic integrity. We have arranged for vendors who specialize in the areas below to be there to answer your questions:

  • Weather stripping
  • Caulking
  • Interior surface film
  • Interior window inserts
  • Insulating cellular shades
  • Replacement windows

As you can imagine, these options represent a wide range of costs to the homeowner as well as an equally wide scope of savings. Too often, homeowners assume that the only way to make their windows energy efficient is to replace them. It is true that there are cases where windows do need to be replaced, but there are also many instances where other less expensive approaches will work just as well. I came across an excellent little piece on window efficiency on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s website that is entitled “Saving Windows, Saving Money.” In it they look at effect of the strategies listed above in various cities, from Portland to Chicago to Phoenix. Since Phoenix is the best match for our climate, I will focus on this information. As you can see in the graph below, replacement windows do give the highest annual percent of energy savings:

Chart #1: Efficiency upgrade comparison

The energy saving brought through replacement windows is closely followed by exterior storm windows. Surprisingly, though, our staff was unable to locate a single vendor of exterior storm windows not only in the valley, but also the Southwest region. This is clearly a need in the Las Vegas Valley that is not currently being met. While replacement windows do bring about the greatest energy efficiency gains, they are also among the most expensive window upgrade options. In the table below, you can see the relative cost of each of these options. When you look at the table, it is important to keep in mind that even though replacement windows do not bring the best return on investment, there are situations (e.g. windows are no longer functional, wood is rotted) that call for window replacement.

Chart #2: Efficiency upgrade ROI

What we can take away from this table is the surface film gives you the best energy savings dollar for dollar. However, surface film may not be the best solution for every situation. It might be that a simple caulking or the installation of cellular shades will meet both your budgetary and energy efficiency goals. This is why Nevada Preservation Foundation is putting on this resource fair. It will give you the chance to talk with various vendors about your specific needs and issues. In addition, we will be doing a window caulking demonstration. Making sure that your windows are well caulked is probably one of the first upgrades you should make to your windows. Windows often can make the difference between an average home and an amazing home. But windows also come with challenges. As we look for ways to make our homes more energy efficient, we hope that learning more about the wide array of options you have for your windows will not only save you money but make our planet a little greener. We look forward to seeing you at Working with Historic Windows, A Resource Fair on February 21. And we thank NV Energy for their sponsorship of this first of many energy efficiency fairs.

Visit the Event page to register!

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