Go Green With Energy-Saving Window Retrofits

We often think of building projects as new construction. However, the reality is that in any given year, owners typically undertake more building renovation and rehabilitation projects than new construction projects. Moreover, the vast majority of renovation and rehabilitation projects are not full-scale renovations, but are instead smaller projects -“ such as window retrofits -“ intended to improve appearance, functionality and energy efficiency of older buildings.

According to the US Department of Energy, up to 35 percent of energy used in buildings is wasted due to inefficient windows, which adds up to 10 percent of national carbon emissions annually. Windows conserve energy in two ways: first, they block the transfer of heat. They keep warm air inside in the winter and keep warm air outside in the summer. Second, they reduce solar radiation caused when the window heats up. Older, worn-out or improperly installed windows are often leaky, resulting in significant energy loss and high energy bills.

In a window retrofit, the old frame is left in place, making installation easier, faster and less expensive than a new construction window. Retrofitting is a good option for owners of older buildings who wish to preserve historic architectural features. In fact, the New York Stock Exchange, a 104-year-old building and designated National Historic Landmark, recently partnered with Skyline Windows on the installation of an extensive window retrofit project aimed at increasing thermal performance by up to 60 percent while preserving the iconic features that make the building so renowned.

Other building owners are following suit. According to the National Association of Realtors’ July 2011 Commercial Real Estate Market Survey, economic uncertainty is impeding new development, leading many owners to opt for incremental improvements, such as window retrofits, that modernize, improve energy efficiency and provide increased value for tenants. Green retrofits are projected to represent 20-30 percent of all green building activity in just five years, according to the Green Building Retrofit & Renovation SmartMarket report from McGraw-Hill Construction.

The following tips are helpful for building owners who are considering a green window retrofit:

Assess your existing windows. How many panes do they currently contain? Do they have special coatings or safety glass? Check for moisture or signs of rotting wood underneath the sills. Consider also the orientation and shading of the windows as this could determine the need for special coatings or storm windows.

Consider long-term performance when choosing replacement windows. Obviously, this choice requires a balance of performance and price, but better-quality windows will yield significant energy savings by reducing window heat losses and air leaks. Also, don’t assume that you must select the same window type as the original windows. Adding multiple panes, or choosing windows that compress a gasket rather than a sliding seal, typically offer greater energy conservation.

Hire a reputable, experienced company to install your windows. This advice seems obvious, but so many customers fail to do their homework, and then have to invest more money and time hiring the right professionals to correct someone else’s work. Get it right the first time. Don’t be seduced by an unusually low bid; this more often than not reflects the use of lesser products and inexperienced workers. Choose a company with a proven reputation for quality work.

Modernizing an older building requires a delicate balance of contemporary energy concerns and protection of historic features. Window retrofits are a minimally invasive way to increase energy efficiency, improve comfort and preserve original architectural details, and it is a trend that is here to stay.

Steven Kraus is CEO of Skyline Windows. Skyline Windows is a leading custom window design, manufacturing and installation company that established the market for landmark windows. Founded in 1921, Skyline Windows has been on the forefront of cutting-edge technology for more than 80 years. He can be reached at [email protected].