Pane Relievers | Development | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

News + Opinion » Development

Pane Relievers

Treating windows for energy loss


Published May 13, 2009 at 10:12 a.m.

If the eyes are the windows of the soul, then the windows of your house are your eyes on the world. So the least you can do is keep them clean. But, given Vermont winters — and the planetary carbon-emissions crisis — it’s even more important to keep them “green.” How? There are two essential components to consider: window treatments on the inside, and the window itself.

Seven Days spoke with two local experts who maintain that aesthetic concerns don’t have to be sacrificed to environmental ones. And, while neither offers suggestions as cheap as stapling plastic over your windows in the winter, both have more lasting solutions that can earn you tax credits from the federal government. Besides, as every home rehabber knows, if you spend some money on efficiency up front, you’ll get it back eventually in the form of savings on heating and cooling costs.

The problem with windows, in a word: leakage. When the temperature drops, the heat you’re paying for escapes around the edges of the pane and through it. Conversely, in the summer the combination of leaks and solar gain makes your air conditioner work harder.

Marty Deem is the owner of Window World, based in Colchester for the past three years. The nationwide company operates through regional licensees; Deem’s territory covers the entire state of Vermont and three counties in upstate New York, he says. His main brand is called Comfortworld, and lately he’s been advertising the windows with an alluring imperative: “Ask about the 30% tax credit!”

That’s a reference to the federal tax credit for energy efficiency: When you buy windows in 2009 or 2010 that meet the government-established standards, Deem explains, you’re eligible for tax credits equal to 30 percent of your cost (installation not included), with a credit cap at $1500.

Deem notes that the federal Energy Star program, which designates energy-efficient products and sets their official standards, tightened its rating this year — under the so-called Stimulus Act — from 0.35 to 0.30. That number is the “U-factor,” a measure of the window’s capacity to inhibit the flow of heat, measured from the center of the glass. The lower the factor, the less heat seeps through. The tightening of federal standards, Deem admits, “caught a lot of manufacturers off guard.” While Comfortworld “has adjusted to the change,” he says — the company offers windows with a U-factor as low as 0.23 — other manufacturers pressured the IRS for a little leeway. In response, the feds have “grandfathered in” the previous rating for installations through June 1 of this year. But that’s “a little gray,” Deem cautions. “One customer told me [the IRS] wasn’t sure about giving him a credit.”

Numbers aside, the idea is to replace leaky old windows with energy-efficient ones. Better insulation is achieved with a combination of good fit and double- or triple-pane glass. Costs vary, of course, depending on style, size and manufacturer. Window World offers an “economy window” that starts at $189; its deluxe “Series 6000” triple-pane model, with a U-factor of 0.23, goes for $379. Both prices include installation.

For most Vermont homeowners in the current economy, replacing all their old windows with ultra-efficient models is a financial stretch, if not an impossibility. What if you can only afford to do one floor at a time? Deem recommends starting at the top — after all, heat rises. “But you really need to do them all,” he urges.

If that’s not in the cards, there’s no reason not to start with just one room, or even just one window. Take advantage of a free home audit from energy suppliers such as Vermont Gas Systems — which, by the way, offers rebates for certain energy improvements — to find out which windows and doors leak the most. “Usually the largest piece of glass,” Deem advises.

When it comes to interior window treatments, few people are likely to know the biz better than Joan Sheeran at Gordon’s Window Decor in Essex Junction. The showroom designer has been on the job for 16 years; she can speak energy efficiency like a scientist and “soft goods” like a decorator. Indeed, most of the store’s products are both beauty- and eco-conscious.

The most energy-efficient choice is the EcoSmart Insulating Shade, which features double-cell construction, sealed, stain-resistant fabric, and the option to open from both top and bottom. The idea is to block heat flow by trapping air between the shade and the window. The Double Cell BlackOut version has “sidetracks” that block cold (or hot) air around the edges of the shade — not to mention light that can glare on television and computer screens. This model is eligible for the federal tax credit, Sheeran notes.

For a standard 30-by-54-inch window, the BlackOut shade runs about $250; add $66 for the top-down/bottom-up feature. “You can install them yourself, or we can do it for a service charge,” says Sheeran. When it gets dingy, the EcoSmart can be removed and washed in the bathtub — if only washing windows were so easy!

Named for founder Gordon Clements, Gordon’s opened 23 years ago and has been manufacturing “some form” of the EcoSmart shade for the past 18 or so. “And everything is custom-made,” Sheeran points out. Supporters of Vermont businesses will appreciate that the company’s products are crafted on the premises, at the east entrance to Fort Ethan Allen. What’s more, according to Gordon’s fact sheet, “virtually all of our components are made in the USA.”

Sheeran notes that there’s “a lot of business for the energy-efficient shades — more since the [economic] downturn.” Even the soft goods — curtains, valances, etc. — are selling briskly, she says. Her theory: “People are staying home more, and paying more attention to their windows.” Eyes on the world, indeed.