Upgrading windows leads to savings and more

Blaine Kyllo

My family has just moved into our first house. It's a modest one-storey, small but cute. The previous owner conducted a number of renovations, but the upgrade that is most noticeable to us are the windows.

Our house is on a corner, and on a bus route, so we expected that we'd have to learn to cope with traffic noise. But when we're inside our home, we don't notice the drone of cars, trucks and buses.

We have the windows to thank for the peace and quiet. Dan Angius, with Modern Windows in Powell River, says that noise reduction is only one of the benefits that double-pane windows can bring to a home.

Gary Hamer, a specialist engineer with BC Hydro Power Smart, emphasizes that it's a combination of benefits, including comfort, aesthetics and savings, that make windows upgrades so attractive.

Win up to $10,000

Windows with an Energy Star rating are currently exempt from provincial sales tax, and through May 31, 2010, some retailers and suppliers are also offering you a chance to save the GST.

And here's the kicker. Buy new windows from a list of participating partners by May 31 and you could win up to $10,000 towards that windows purchase.

Windows efficiencies pay off

How much can you save by upgrading your windows to Energy Star?  Power Smart's Hamer says that installing high-performance windows in a 40-year-old home with single-glazed panes can nearly quadruple the insulation value. Whether you heat with electricity or gas, your heating bills will decline.

Mark Brandow, who works with Centra Windows at the Langley branch, says that people who upgrade to energy-efficient windows can see up to a 20 to 30% reduction in heating costs, plus a decline in the cost of cooling during the summer.

But because the cost of upgrading windows can be daunting, Hamer underlines the importance of taking into account the other benefits that new windows can bring. Things like comfort, plus that peace and quiet my family so enjoys.

Don't discount the comfort factor

Modern Windows' Anguis, who has been manufacturing and selling windows for more than 20 years, says that when he's talking with prospective customers about new windows, he focuses on comfort. "No drafts, no cold coming through windows."

Which is why I can sit next to our north-facing picture windows without feeling a chill.

New windows will also have improved functionality. They are better balanced and will open more smoothly.

A room with a view

The aesthetic value of new windows can also be a good reason to upgrade.

Last year, a Victoria couple enhanced their 1913 craftsman-style home with new vinyl windows.

Some houses were built without windows on some walls to prevent drafts from cold winds. New windows enable homeowners to take advantage of ocean, mountain or park views.

No construction necessary

Replacing old windows with new, efficient models is usually quick and simple. "People think it's a major project that will require carpenters and drywallers," says Anguis, "but in most cases we can be in and out in one or two days."

Brandow says that the biggest misconception he finds in potential customers is that they can just purchase windows without learning about the technology that goes into them. "There are three keys to windows," he says, "the frame, the glass, and the installation."

Brandow emphasizes that while "a frame looks like a frame", you learn a lot more from looking at a cutaway of a frame. It's there that you'll be able to determine the structural integrity and efficiency of the frame.

And the space between the two panes of glass on double-pane windows is critical. "The spacer is like the motor of the car," says Mark, "and gives performance to the glass."

You get what you pay for

While installing new windows can be expensive, Power Smart's Hamer says that the difference in price between a good window and a high-performance window is worth it.

Hamer recommends you ask for Energy Star windows that have a low-e coating (the "e" stands for emissivity, and refers to the amount of heat that passes through the window) and use argon or krypton in the space between the two panes of glass. And vinyl or fibreglass conduct less heat, so make for better frames.

Choosing a supplier for those windows can be as much of a challenge as deciding which windows to purchase. "It's a bit of an art," says Hamer when asked how to choose the right window for that sunny room. "You want the solar heat in the winter, but want to keep it out in the summer, and a reputable installer will know what window is best suited."

Hamer's advice? Select an installer on the basis of recommendations from family and friends.

And remember that cheapest isn't always best. "Buy as high a performance window as you can," he recommends.

About the Power Smart windows program

BC Hydro first promoted high-performance windows as a way to save energy when the Power Smart program began in 1989.  A modest incentive was offered by BC Hydro to customers who purchased and installed windows that met particular criteria.

Over the years, windows manufacturers agreed to the criteria, and when a national windows program was started, BC Hydro's Power Smart criteria were adopted.

Now, of course, the province of B.C. has mandated that when windows are purchased, they have to meet minimum standards, such as having a low-e coating to regulate heat transfer.

Hamer says it's a great example of how BC Hydro can encourage a change in a marketplace.

"Now that the regulation is in place," he says, manufacturers and retailers are offering savings directly to consumers. "We don't need to provide incentives because the market transformation has occurred."

Blaine Kyllo is a Vancouver-based freelance writer and regular contributor to