Window shopping for draft dodgers

Be a draft dodger. Energy-saving options for replacing or winterizing windows.

Mary Davis, owner of J&L WIndows, stands in front of a vinyl-frame, casement window with Low-E glazing—an energy-efficient combination.

Mary Davis, owner of J&L WIndows, stands in front of a vinyl-frame, casement window with Low-E glazing—an energy-efficient combination.

Photo By Kat Kerlin

You’re curled up in a chair near the window. The thermostat says it’s 68 degrees in the house. And yet, you feel cold. Put your hand up to the window. Feel a draft? Rather than crank up the heat to feel warm, it’s likely time to either replace your windows with more insulated, energy-efficient ones, or—as a cheaper option—winterize your existing ones.

“If you have single-pane glass, you definitely want to do something,” says Neil Adams of Neil Adams Construction in Reno. He adds that metal frames are also horrible insulators. “Without replacing the window, one of the least expensive things to do would be to install a storm window.”

Storm windows can reduce heat loss by 25 to 50 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). They can be installed on the outside or inside of an existing window, and the double- or triple-track kind don’t have to be removed each season. An even less expensive and simple-to-install option is to seal windows with a clear, heat-shrink plastic film, a variety of which can be found at a hardware store.

Other ideas for existing windows are to caulk and seal around the window’s perimeter, and check to see if your weatherstripping needs replacement. Also, consider having an energy audit, specifically including a blower door test, to find all the air leaks in your home.

If you decide to replace a window, Adams says you not only reduce your heating bill, but you also create a more comfortable house by eliminating drafty cold spots.

When it comes to the window frame, wood is a popular option for aesthetic reasons, but vinyl makes more sense, according to Mary Davis, who opened J&L Windows 26 years ago. “Vinyl is more affordable than wood, and it’s actually better on energy. Wood is for looks.”

Also look for a window with Low-E glazing. These virtually invisible low emissivity glazings can help control heat gain and loss. The glazings are applied during the manufacturing process. Low-E windows typically cost about 10 to 15 percent more than regular windows but reduce energy loss by as much as 30 to 50 percent, according to the DOE.

Also look for Energy Star windows, which can reduce energy bills up to $425 a year in Reno compared to single pane windows, and up to $45 compared to doublepane replacement windows, according to Energy Star.

And research the window’s U-value. The lower it is, the better the insulation. The DOE recommends a U-value of 0.35 or below for cold climates.

“If you’re replacing your window, the type of operation of the window comes into play quite a bit,” says Adams. Windows that open and close in an up-and-down motion or that slide create more heat loss. The most energy-efficient design is the casement window that cranks out and in, creating pressure against the seal.

Your best bet for a decent, energy-efficient window, according to both Davis and Adams, is a double-pane, Low-E, vinyl-framed, casement variety.

“It is not necessary to spend $20,000 to get your windows replaced,” says Davis. “The average home with 15 to 20 windows should be no more than $5,000.”