3 Good Reasons to Invest in Better Doors and Windows Now
From spiking fuel costs to the rise in telework to a surge in subsidies, there’s never been a better time to upgrade to high-performance products.
The case for putting high-performance, ENERGY STAR-rated windows and doors in every new home is a fairly easy upsell. Estimates of potential energy savings over older single-pane windows and uninsulated doors range as high as 30 percent, while upgrading modern dual-pane products may deliver a less dramatic, but still important 6 to 10 percent bump.
These efficiency gains may be understated, however, in the context of the various megatrends facing us: fuel price volatility, a post-pandemic surge in telework, extreme weather, and, on the positive side, new political support for home efficiency.
Photo credit: ProVia
The old rules no longer apply. Building science writers, for example, sometimes challenge the return on investment (ROI) of replacing old windows with new ones. They assert that you will need to live in a home for decades before you fully “regain” those dollars in heating and cooling savings.
But this conservative ROI calculation depends on conditions that no longer exist—such as predictable fuel prices that rise gradually over time. Geopolitical forces, the climate emergency and the transition from fossil fuels to renewables have created a “trifecta” of risk that can send energy costs overnight to record levels.
This has resulted in replacement windows outperforming expectations.
“I used free solar mapping services to determine the most efficient type of window for my property's orientation and sun exposure,” notes Adam Smith of Eco Energy Geek, based in central Colorado. “I also opted for tinted or double-glazed windows instead of standard single-pane glass units for more energy efficiency.
“By installing high-performance windows,” he adds, “which allow more sunshine and ventilation into the home – while keeping out heat and cold weather elements – I’ve saved about 30 percent on my heating and cooling annually.”
Replacement windows have a solid ROI when a home is sold, typically recovering about 85% of their original installed cost. That means if a homeowner decides to move before windows and doors pay for themselves in efficiency gains, little or none of that upgrade investment is really lost.
Better-than-expected outcomes from efficiency upgrades (especially windows and doors) have become common, due to the following key global, societal and governmental shifts:
1. The Fossil Fuel Roller Coaster
We’ve entered a turbulent period in energy production, as we transition to renewable energy sources. The next two decades will likely be a wild ride.
Nationally, about 4.4% of US homes still heat with oil; closer to 15% in the Northeast. Let’s say a homeowner had upgraded her windows back in 2002 or so, when fuel was about $1.25 a gallon. Say she was spending $1,500 a year prior to the upgrade on heating fuel.
If the new windows and doors cut her bill by 20%, that’s $300 per year in savings, applied to the overall cost of the install (let’s say $400 a window at 2002 prices, x 10 windows, or $4,000 total). That would put her payback period close to 13 years if fuel prices remain stable.
In reality, however, fuel prices have increased by more than 100% since she installed the windows. So she’s now saving $600 per year over her original heating cost, cutting the ROI payback period for the windows in half. That means she has gained a lot more years of “free” energy savings out of those windows during their useful life span. In other words, they have more than paid for themselves in energy savings.
Fuel oil prices. As of Nov. 22, 2022, oil prices averaged $2.97 per gallon. On average, fossil fuel prices are rising across the board, increasing the ROI for energy saving technology such as ENERGY STAR windows and doors.
The same case can be made for other fossil fuels. Almost half the country depends on natural gas for home heating. Prices rise and fall dramatically on a regular basis, but ultimately they’re headed higher for the long haul. The current price as of December was at $5.723/MMBTU, up from less than $3.00/MMBTU in 2021. Also, gas production in the US does not include the destruction caused by the process of shale fracking.
2. Working from Home: The Comfort Factor
Research on worker productivity has found that people in offices work best when temperatures are slightly above 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Keeping a home office near this ideal temperature can incur lots of additional BTU costs, whether heating or cooling.
Some estimates suggest that when people work at home, as opposed to going into the office, their fuel bills can rise by 25 percent, at the same time their electric bills rise by 17 percent. Others put the increased cost at about half that, but they still find an increase of $40 to $50 per month in utility bills.
Windows, naturally, play a major role in a home’s comfort level (or lack thereof). Unpleasant drafts, noise or odors can disrupt a home worker’s “flow.” Add to this equation new requirements from ASHRAE about the amount of uncontrolled air leakage allowed in new homes, and windows play a major role in the transition from office to home office employment.
High-performance windows from companies such as ProVia offer ENERGY STAR certified products that must meet strict air infiltration limits, typically between .1 and .5. cubic feet per minute (cfm). Lower is better. When set in a tight wall assembly that is properly sealed and flashed, they can make a big difference in HVAC demand, even reducing the necessary BTU output of the equipment.
I should note, however, that this shift of energy use from office to home is not without its sustainability challenges. Most existing homes in the U.S. have not yet been upgraded for efficient heating/cooling. They need more than just new windows. The North American Insulation Manufacturers Association estimates that 90 percent are underinsulated. On the other hand, commuters leave a multi-point carbon footprint. Add up transportation costs, clothing, lunches and so on, and both options have their hidden costs.
3. Subsidies and Credits: Easing the Transition
Home retrofitting is costly, and becoming more so, as inflation bites into consumer budgets. The same is true of new construction.
Fortunately, existing and upcoming programs encourage home energy conservation. On the near horizon, in 2023, changes to residential energy efficiency tax credits will go into effect, thanks to the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act.
The 2022 credits are about to get a big boost in 2023. For example, ENERGY STAR certified windows currently qualify for a tax credit for 10% of the product cost or a maximum amount of $200 for qualifying windows, and 10% of the product costs, or a maximum amount of $500 for qualifying doors.
As of 2023, under the new Energy Efficient Home Improvement Credit, however, you can write off 30% of the total cost of certain qualified projects, up to $600 for exterior windows and skylights, $250 for a single exterior door, and $500 for all exterior doors.
Many states also offer incentives, rebates and subsidies of their own that should stack with the federal tax credits. To find out which ones your region has, visit the Database for State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency.
Larger tax credits; faster ROI; a quieter, more comfortable home office, with lower energy bills. Now is the right moment to opt for high-performance, ENERGY STAR windows and doors, whether for new construction or long overdue replacement.
Learn more about ENERGY STAR windows and doors from ProVia, a leader in residential sustainability.
How High Will Fuel Prices Go?
According to the World Economic Forum, US homeowners will feel the energy bite this winter, although less than their European counterparts: “We forecast that households that heat with oil or gas will experience an increase in cost of 27 percent and 28 percent, respectively, compared to 2021-22. Those that heat with electricity–still the less cost-efficient option compared with gas – will experience prices rising by 10 percent, as electricity is generated from several sources, including but not limited to oil and gas.”