What Is Window U-Factor?
A window’s U-factor is one of many parameters that describe the thermal insulation properties of the window. It addresses the window’s rate of losing or gaining heat. A low value is thus more desirable as it signifies minimal heat transfer from the outside in or from the inside out.
It’s important what is a window U-factor if you’d like to optimize the energy consumption in your house. Conservative estimates claim that you can get a 7-15% reduction in your energy bills by installing a window with a good U-factor.
In this article, we explain the U-factor and discuss in detail how you can use this metric to select the right energy-efficient window for your home.
Understanding a Window’s U-factor
The U-factor measures a material’s ability to resist heat loss or heat transfer. It’s expressed in British thermal units (BTUs) per hour per square foot per degree Fahrenheit (Btu/h/ft2/°F). The range of the U-factor goes from 0.25 to 1.25, with the lower values considered much better insulators.
The U-factor was devised by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) in the early 1970s in response to the energy crisis. The National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC) further developed this rating and implemented it in a broad range of constructions and products.
Additionally, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) takes the U-factor into consideration while evaluating the energy-saving properties of various products.
The U-factor is often used together with other parameters to assess the energy efficiency of new or renovated sites. These parameters include the R-value, Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (SHGC), sunlight transmittance, and air leakage.
What Affects a Window’s U-Factor?
The U-factor sums up the combined effects of all the components that go into the construction of the window. Here’s how each part of the window contributes to this figure.
- The kind of glass used in the panes: Regular glass passes almost all of the heat that comes into contact with it. This goes from the outside hot environment to the cool indoors, as well as in the opposite direction from a warm room to the cold exterior.
Contrary to that, Low-E glass reflects the heat into its source, so a cool or warm room stays as such, as very little heat transfers through the glass.
- The number of glass panes: Single pane windows are a freeway for heat transfer. Double and triple-pane windows minimize heat losses by creating a gap between the internal and external environments. This gets better when the gap is gas-filled with argon.
- The frame material: Traditionally, windows had wooden frames, which were often leaky and did not fit snugly in place. Next, aluminum was used for frame windows, but the heat losses were still observable. Vinyl and fiberglass are much better options as they’re more efficient insulators.
- The spacer material: Spacers are mounting parts of the window that separate the glass panes. If they’re made from a metal, they become conduits for heat loss. Using plastic or foam is a much better option to block heat loss.
- The gas filling between the panes: Historically, the gap between the panes didn’t get special treatment, and there was air inside. Over time, manufacturers discovered that filling the gap with an inert gas like argon significantly decreased heat losses.
Other points affecting the U-factor include the orientation of the window, the window treatment, and whether or not drapes are covering the window.
The Benefits of Windows With a Good U-Factor?
Energy-efficient windows with a good U-factor have lots of benefits for homeowners. Here are some of them.
- Less energy costs: Getting lower energy bills tops the list of perks. That’s because you don’t have to keep the heater on for too long, or, set the air conditioner too low to keep the house cool. Some sources claim that you can get up to a 30% reduction in energy costs.
- More comfort: Reducing thermal losses keeps the house comfortable, as you wouldn’t get spots that are too hot, too drafty, or too cold.
- Increased home value: After installing energy-efficient windows, many homeowners report noticing that the market value of their homes increases by a sizable amount. Buyers often prefer getting a property with reasonable running costs and sustainable finishes.
- Protecting your furniture and floors: Sun exposure, particularly UV rays, often causes the furniture, furnishings, and wooden floors to fade. Extreme conditions can wear out these furnishings to the point that they look shabby and threadbare. A window with a low U-Factor often blocks that harsh heat, and thus, protects your home furnishings.
How to Choose the Right Window U-Factor Rating
Knowing all about the U-factor is great, but it’s just as important to apply that knowledge correctly. If you want to install energy-efficient windows, there are a few points worth considering.
Cold locations often require windows that let the heat in, but not out. This is typically a low U-factor, which minimizes heat transfer from inside the house to the outside through the window.
In warmer places, the opposite holds. It’s preferable to let the heat go out of the window and keep the inside spaces cool. A higher U-factor might be useful as it lowers heat gain.
In general, windows with a U-factor around 0.3 work best in cold climates, while in hot climates a 0.4 value is better. In moderate places, a 0.35 rating should be great.
A window facing north isn’t likely to get too much sunlight, so a moderate U-factor is the right choice. Contrary to that, south-facing windows get plenty of sun, so it’s best to select products with a low U-factor.
Windows with a low U-factor are often a bit more expensive than ones with higher values. Having said that, it’s best to view installing energy-efficient windows as an investment rather than an extra cost.
Tips for Improving the U-Factor of Your Windows
Reducing heat losses through your window is a great way to maintain a comfortable temperature around your house, and also to reduce the energy bills and overall consumption.
Here are some tips to improve your Windows’ U-factor.
- Install energy-efficient windows: Your old windows are probably leaky, not properly fitting, or don’t have a proper U-factor. The best thing to do is replace them with new windows that would minimize heat transfer and fit perfectly in place.
- Apply window film: Traditional windows can be less dissipative if you attach a window film on the inner surface. There are two basic types; the Low-E film and the solar control film. Both are pretty good at blocking the heat.
- Add weatherstripping where needed: Leaky frames are notorious for losing heat. You can seal these leaky spots by using weatherstripping and caulk. This instantly improves the rating of your window.
- Install awnings, shutters, or curtains: All these furnishings reduce the sunlight falling directly on the window, and hence, decrease the heat gain/loss through the glass.
- Plant trees or shrubs around the window: Trees provide natural shade and decrease the temperature around the window. This is far better than having concrete or asphalt surroundings, which magnify the heat and reflect it every which way.
The U-factor of a window is a quick and easy way to decide whether a window can limit heat loss or gain.
If you’re building a new house, or renovating an existing one, it’s best to understand this rating thoroughly. It’s customary to get energy usage audits at any point in the installation process. Compliance is better than making changes later on.
Additionally, you’d want to make sure that the new windows would give you energy savings proportional to the upfront costs. At Optimal Windows, you can get all the support you need to select the right windows.