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Triple-Pane Windows: Are They Worth It?November 1st, 2017 by
If you’re plugged into the ongoing conversation about ways to increase energy efficiency at home (or if you’re building a green home), you’re probably familiar with the many products on the market designed to make your house friendlier to the environment:
- Tankless water heaters
- Low-flow plumbing fixtures
- Smart home systems
- Double-pane windows
- Insulation retrofits
And the list goes on!
But as with any product on the market, enough searching will eventually uncover a newer, better option. And that’s what happened when I was looking for information on energy-efficient windows as my husband and I house hunted about 18 months ago.
One of my main priorities was finding a home with energy-efficient windows. After many years of living in houses and apartments with old or drafty windows (or an unfortunate combination of the two), I was done paying to heat and cool the great outdoors.
I knew about double-pane windows, but when I came across information about triple-pane windows, I wondered whether we should spring for those instead. Luckily, we soon found a house we loved—and it had relatively new double-pane windows that tilt inward for cleaning.
While I have yet to take advantage of the tilt feature to clean them, I can attest to the energy efficiency of double-pane windows. The utility bills for our new house have been far lower than those for other, less efficient places we’ve lived. In the back of my mind, however, I have wondered about whether triple-pane windows are an investment we should make in the future.
If you’ve been in a similar situation and wondered about the difference between double- and triple-pane windows, you’re in the right place. Keep reading to find out more.
Double-Pane Windows vs. Triple-Pane Windows
If double-pane windows are good, wouldn’t triple-pane windows be better?
The complicated answer is: maybe.
Depending on where you live and the average summer and winter temperatures, triple-pane windows could be an excellent, energy-saving investment. But they could also be an unnecessary expense. Let’s take a look at the specifics of each option.
Double-pane windows are relatively simple in terms of construction. Instead of one pane of glass in the frame, there are two. The void between the panes of glass is filled with an insulating, inert gas—usually argon or krypton (or a combination of the two).
For the most energy efficiency, opt for windows made with low-E glass. This type of glass is coated with a glaze that reflects heat radiation from the sun but brings in sunlight. Low-E glass lessens the burden on your HVAC system—and your wallet—without compromising the amount of natural light in your home.
- Cost-effective in relation to energy savings
- Easy to find from most manufacturers, regardless of window size and style
- Available in a variety of frame materials
- Seals in low-quality windows can fail
- Cracked glass panes are difficult (and often costly) to replace
Generally speaking, triple-pane windows are considered a luxury product and are not standard in new construction in most parts of the US. The primary difference between double- and triple-pane windows is that triple-pane windows are fabricated with three panes of glass instead of two.
This design increases the amount of insulating space, so if you live in an area with very cold winters, consider opting for triple-pane windows to minimize heat loss through the windows during the chilly months of the year.
Triple-pane windows might also be a good option if you live in a noisy, urban area. The additional insulation makes them the best windows for sound reduction, but consider their cost carefully before you make a final decision.
The primary downsides of triple-pane windows are their cost and their weight. The two spaces between the three panes of glass are usually filled with krypton gas, which is more expensive than argon, and the additional pane of glass adds significant weight to the window.
- Provide better insulation than double-pane windows
- Noticeably reduce outside noise
- Energy savings may not be significant enough to justify added cost
- Additional weight may require modification to home’s structure
Do You Really Need to Replace Your Windows?
As with most home exterior upgrades, new windows are a great investment. Depending on the type of window and the material (most sources agree that vinyl is the best choice for replacement windows), you’ll see an average return of 70 to 85 percent of your initial investment.
But that investment only makes sense if your windows actually need to be replaced. Older windows are not necessarily in bad shape, and there may be other, more pressing updates that you should take care of first.
I fell into the trap of assuming that the 1970s-era windows in my first home would need to be replaced, but the contractor who came to the house to give me an estimate was, thankfully, completely honest with me. The windows were double-pane and in great shape despite their age, he said, and there was no need to replace them unless I just didn’t like the way they looked.
Would they be as efficient as brand-new windows? Probably not, but because none of the seals were failing, the savings I would see on my utility bills would be negligible. It would take me decades of living in that house to recoup the cost of replacing all the windows.
So how do you know if your windows need to be replaced? Here are some common signs to watch for:
1. Single-pane windows
Even if your home’s single-pane windows are in good shape, one pane of glass is no match for the insulating power of two (or three) panes. You will see a significant improvement in your utility bills following the installation of double- or triple-pane windows.
2. Difficulty keeping the home a consistent temperature
Old, drafty windows will force your HVAC system to work overtime to maintain the temperature you set at the thermostat. If you’ve noticed hot or cold areas in the house, inspect the windows both inside and outside (if they’re at ground level). If you can feel air escaping in either direction, call a reputable window replacement contractor.
3. Foggy glass
The seals in older and poor-quality double-pane windows will eventually fail. When this happens, outside air enters the void between the panes of glass and condenses, which causes cloudy patches.
In the case of a failed seal, your best bet is probably to replace the window altogether. Some companies can replace only the foggy section of the window, but a new window will likely prove more cost effective.
4. Broken windows
Not only are broken windows not energy efficient, they pose a serious safety hazard. Depending on the extent of the damage and the window’s design, a glass company may be able to replace the damaged pane. If it can’t be replaced, you’ll need to purchase a new window.
5. Damaged windows
For the most part, vinyl and other synthetic materials have won out over wood when it comes to windows, but wood-frame windows in older homes should be carefully inspected.
Just like anything else on the outside of your house, windows take a beating, and if they aren’t maintained, the wood will start to decay. If you notice soft or discolored areas on the frame, start looking at options for replacement.
Choosing High-Quality Windows
Choosing replacement windows can be a little overwhelming. A brief search will bring up several nationwide and regional window manufacturers as well as plenty of choices for different window styles and materials.
With all of the options available to you, how do you know if the window you choose is any good? Here’s what to look for:
1. An established manufacturer
If your windows require warranty service or replacement pieces in the future, you’ll have an easier time receiving assistance from a window company with a longstanding history than from a fly-by-night operation.
The style of your home may dictate, to an extent, the design of your windows. If you choose windows that clash with the house’s architectural style, you may not see the return on investment you were hoping for.
Regardless, be sure that you’re happy with the way the windows look—you’ll have a hard time avoiding them once they’re installed.
3. Ease of use
Display windows are in the store for a reason, so don’t be shy. Test out every window that catches your eye.
- Are they easy to open and close?
- Will you be able to clean them inside and out without a ladder?
- Do the latches feel solid?
- Do the screens fit tightly while still being simple to remove?
- Is the weatherstripping attached well?
If you answer no to any of the above questions, keep looking.
4. Energy efficiency
One of the most satisfying parts of having new windows installed is watching your utility bills decrease. Choose multi-pane windows that are filled with argon, krypton, or a blend of the two; these gases provide better insulation than plain air. To maximize your savings, opt for low-E glass.
The Bottom Line
If your home’s single-pane, drafty, or damaged windows are costing you money every month, you’ll breathe a sigh of relief once you have replacement windows installed.
In most cases, double-pane windows are sufficient, but if you brace yourself for a tough winter each year, consider triple-pane windows. Window technology keeps getting better and better, so to get the most for your money, work with a window company that knows the ins and outs of the newest energy-saving developments.