windows, heating, cooling, energy use, energy loss, thermal performance,
U-factor, emissivity, low-e coatings, insulation, solar heating,
solar heat gain, SHGC, electrochromic film
. . .
Passive Solar Heating and Cooling
is a simple, inexpensive energy source, but that energy won't help much if
it is lost through poorly insulated, single-pane windows.
Old fashioned single-pane windows are the biggest source of energy
loss in buildings.
According to the US Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National
Laboratory, windows account for 2/3 of energy used in the US
to heat and cool buildings,
totaling 4 quadrillion BTUs (or "quads") of energy,
over 4% of the
total US energy use!
This energy use is due to both heat loss from the inside in the winter,
which has to be replaced by heating systems, and heat gain from the
outside in the summer, which has to be removed by cooling systems.
Fortunately, new window design and technology can practically eliminate
that use with better thermal performance.
High performance windows are energy efficient because their thermal
loss, or U-factor, is low.
Some high performance windows are called "low emissivity windows"
or "low-e windows",
referring to the low emission of infrared radiation (heat) due to
low-e coatings on the glass.
Advanced high performance windows can reduce energy losses to nearly zero,
achieving energy savings that rival those of the best insulated
Glass has a fairly unique property in that it is quite transparent to
visible light but relatively opaque to infrared radiation, i.e., heat.
Solar energy passing through glass windows is absorbed by other materials
inside which reradiate it as heat energy.
Since windows don't transmit this heat out as well as they transmit light
in, the heat is trapped.
This is precisely why passive solar buildings, solar collectors and
greenhouses work so well to heat spaces.
Emissivity is a measure of the ability of a material to absorb and
radiate or emit energy.
Dark dull materials have high emissivity.
Reflective materials like glass and polished metals have low emissivity,
i.e., they are poor absorbers and emitters of thermal energy.
(Specially formulated glasses, like borosilicate or "pyrex", have lower
emissivity than normal glass.)
This is why they feel cool to the touch compared to other materials in
the same environment.
However, even though glass has low emissivity, a single-pane glass window
will not insulate as well as the same area of a well-insulated wall
(that is, it's R-value is lower).
As a result, there is considerable heat loss through the typical window.
High Performance Windows
One way to improve a window's energy efficiency is to increase its
insulation ability - to lower its U-factor - by making it from two or
more panes of glass, separated by either a vacuum (as in a thermos
bottle) or an inert gas that conducts less heat than air does, like
argon or krypton.
Another way to improve a window's energy efficiency is to surface the glass
with a low-emissivity (low-e) coating, an ultra-thin, practically invisible
layer of metal or metallic oxide.
These coatings help reflect radiant infrared energy, which helps keep it
inside during the winter, and outside during the summer, adding to the
low-emissivity of the glass itself.
The solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC) of low-e coated windows varies.
Windows with a lower SHGC reflect and keep more of the sun's heat out,
which is more suitable for areas where cooling is the greater concern;
windows with a higher SHGC allow more of the sun's heat in,
which is more suitable for areas where heating is the greater concern.
High performance windows utilize one or both of these methods to reduce
Low-e coatings of tungsten oxide, often called electrochromic films, can
even be switched from clear to tinted electronically, thereby varying
New window prototypes using these coatings can enable windows to have
dynamic solar control, providing an all-climate, all-year, solution
to energy loss.
Effects on Passive Solar Heating
Keep in mind that passive solar heating is not so much the direct passing of
infrared energy from the sun through the glass into the building.
Rather it is a function of passing light through the glass which is
absorbed by high-emissivity materials and reradiated as heat inside.
While low-e coatings further reduce the direct transmission of infrared
through the window, as long as sunshine pours through the glass it will
still act as a source of solar heat.
Hence, low-e windows can still be used for passive solar heat while
dramatically increasing their ability to hold heat inside, and in the
summer they will keep more heat out than normal glass windows do under
the same conditions of being shaded or not.
Replace single-pane windows with high performance windows.
In order of increasing efficiency (but also expense) these include:
double-pane windows insulated with a low-conductive gas
double-pane gas-filled windows with low-e coatings
double-pane gas-filled, low-e coated windows with a third
non-structural pane of thin glass or plastic in the middle
triple-pane (middle one thin) gas-filled, low-e coated windows
where one low-e coating is an electrochromic film