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Energy Performance Ratings for Windows, Doors, and Skylights

January 21, 2015 - 9:35am

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Before you shop for energy-efficient windows, doors, and skylights, learn about energy performance ratings. | Photo courtesy of iStockphoto.com/JamesBrey.

Before you shop for energy-efficient windows, doors, and skylights, learn about energy performance ratings. | Photo courtesy of iStockphoto.com/JamesBrey.

You can use the energy performance ratings of windows, doors, and skylights to tell you their potential for gaining and losing heat, as well as transmitting sunlight into your home.

Energy Performance Testing, Certification, and Labeling

The National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC) operates a voluntary program that tests, certifies, and labels windows, doors, and skylights based on their energy performance ratings. The NFRC label provides a reliable way to determine a window's energy properties and to compare products.

The NFRC label can be found on all ENERGY STAR® qualified window, door, and skylight products, but ENERGY STAR bases its qualification only on U-factor and solar heat gain coefficient ratings, which are described below.

Heat Gain and Loss

Windows, doors, skylights can gain and lose heat through:

  • Direct conduction through the glass or glazing, frame, and/or door
  • The radiation of heat into a house (typically from the sun) and out of a house from room-temperature objects, such as people, furniture, and interior walls
  • Air leakage through and around them.

These properties can be measured and rated according to the following energy performance characteristics:

  • U-factor is the rate at which a window, door, or skylight conducts non-solar heat flow. It's usually expressed in units of Btu/hr-ft2-oF. For windows, skylights, and glass doors, a U-factor may refer to just the glass or glazing alone. NFRC U-factor ratings, however, represent the entire window performance, including frame and spacer material. The lower the U-factor, the more energy-efficient the window, door, or skylight.
  • Solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC)
is the fraction of solar radiation admitted through a window, door, or skylight -- either transmitted directly and/or absorbed, and subsequently released as heat inside a home. The lower the SHGC, the less solar heat it transmits and the greater its shading ability. A product with a high SHGC rating is more effective at collecting solar heat during the winter. A product with a low SHGC rating is more effective at reducing cooling loads during the summer by blocking heat gain from the sun. Your home’s climate, orientation, and external shading will determine the optimal SHGC for a particular window, door, or skylight. For more information about SHGC and windows, see passive solar window design.
  • Air leakage
 is the rate of air movement around a window, door, or skylight in the presence of a specific pressure difference across it. It's expressed in units of cubic feet per minute per square foot of frame area (cfm/ft2). A product with a low air leakage rating is tighter than one with a high air leakage rating.

Sunlight Transmittance

The ability of glazing in a window, door, or skylight to transmit sunlight into a home can be measured and rated according to the following energy performance characteristics:

  • Visible transmittance (VT) is a fraction of the visible spectrum of sunlight (380 to 720 nanometers), weighted by the sensitivity of the human eye, that is transmitted through the glazing of a window, door, or skylight. A product with a higher VT transmits more visible light. VT is expressed as a number between 0 and 1. The VT you need for a window, door, or skylight should be determined by your home's daylighting requirements and/or whether you need to reduce interior glare in a space.
  • Light-to-solar gain (LSG)is the ratio between the SHGC and VT. It provides a gauge of the relative efficiency of different glass or glazing types in transmitting daylight while blocking heat gains. The higher the number, the more light transmitted without adding excessive amounts of heat. This energy performance rating isn't always provided.

Learn More

External Resources 
References 
Climate-Specific Window Details BuildingScience.com
Green Window Choices BuildingGreen.com

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