the many window questions

 

triple-pane casement window opening in

triple-pane casement window opening in

When we were researching windows for our zero-energy house the reply to our questions about triple-pane windows was often “what do you want to do that for?” The common thinking is still that nobody really does it (not true, the Canadians and Europeans do it), and that it costs too much (although we actually make a choice between spending more on heating fuel versus insulation, windows and in turn less on oil or gas). Evaluating things strictly from that outdated ROI (return on investment) perspective is reductionist and simplistic in this day and age of climate change, need for sustainability, increasing energy costs and depletion of fossil fuels in the not so distant future.

this is how double-hung windows slide against each other

this is how double-hung windows slide against each other

Walls are of course by far the best insulators, but since we can’t live in the dark for the sake of our energy bill we need windows. Yet, there are windows and windows and windows. Typically, a house loses 20% of its heat through the windows, more if they are single-pane and old. That adds up to hundreds of dollars per year in utility costs that literally go out the window.

casement windows close like this

casement windows close like this

For over twenty years, while living in a 200-year-old house, we did just that, heat the outside. What kinds of windows you replace your old ones with, or buy for your new house, and where you place them (here in the northeast we lose the most heat in the north, and gain the most in the south) makes a big difference.

Besides the considerations of the frame material- aluminum (cold)/vinyl (better)/ wood (best insulator) -, frame type – casement or double-hung (casement closes much tighter and therefore prevents heat loss), frame hinging – swinging in or out (it is much easier to clean and doesn’t catch the wind on a breezy day), there is also the glazing consideration.

wooden European window frame with multiple closing points

wooden European window frame with multiple closing points

In colder climates, like here, where the heating season is longer than the cooling season, we profit from high heat gain glazing on the south side, which lets the heat from the winter sun penetrate the glass. In warm climates on the other hand, such as Florida, where the cooling season is longer than the heating season, a house profits from low heat gain glazing on the south side, because this glass deflects the sunlight.

Because of their colder climate, the Canadians have already jumped on the triple-pane bandwagon, albeit out-swinging windows with vinyl frames.  They are better than the ones found south of the border (we don’t believe in them yet). The Europeans, however, make by far the best windows with far superior wood frames. Roughly, a European double-pane window compares to a Canadian triple-pane window in energy efficiency. In the European Union triple-pane windows will be the standard for new commercial construction beginning in 2019, and for new residential construction as of 2021.

Cost is of course always a consideration in any renovation or construction project, as are priorities. If neither your roof nor your walls are (well) insulated, forget about the triple-pane windows. If, however, you are building new or have improved all other aspects of your home, triple-pane windows are worthwhile looking into.

tilting in

tilting in

We love our European triple-pane windows. No drafts whatsoever; a heat gain of up to four degrees on a freezing cold sunny winter day in the room with the big southern windows; the entire panel (not just half, as in the double-hung kind) opens wide to the inside for easy cleaning and quick effective airing out; the frames close very tightly and lock in several places, which prevents air leaks and also makes them very secure; and lastly, they optionally tilt open at an upward angle to let air in without taking up window sill space or letting rain in on a wet day. www.susannemeyerfitzsimmons.com

 

go solar, go

Our current target here in the US is to generate 20% of our power from renewable energy sources by 2020, while Germany’s goal is 80% by 2050.   Currently, about 13% of our electricity comes from renewable sources (mostly wind and solar), while 27% of Germany’s current electric needs are covered by renewable energy sources, Michelle Froese, editor of North American Clean Energy, reports. We have some work cut out to meet the climate challenges ahead of us.

It’s easy to go solar, and leasing your panels is easiest. So here are your options in a nutshell.

When you lease your panels you basically rent out your roof space in exchange for a lower electric rate.  Not bad, since you don’t have to pay upfront for your panels, you pay a lower electric rate, and you don’t have to maintain your panels either. But the real profits land in the lap of the panel owner, the lessor in this case.   When you own your own panels, on the other hand, all profits go back into your own pocket.  And with the current federal and state rebates the purchase price drops to 1/3 of the acquisition cost and guarantees payback within 5-7 years.

There are two basic options with solar:

photovoltaic panels

photovoltaic panels

  • Photovoltaic electric panels, or PVs, which produce electricity. PV panels can be grid-tied or off-grid. When they are grid-tied they tie into your electric carrier (O&R here in Warwick), and become what they call net-metered. This means that they provide for your direct electric needs, and even turn your meter backwards if you produce more than your consumption is. PV panel technology is still in its infancy and the panels are currently only 15%-19% efficient. Besides the technology, the output also depends on your site conditions (angle, shade, orientation).   Off-grid PVs store excess electricity in batteries.
  • Solar hot water panels look different from PVs and strictly produce your hot water. There are closed loop systems for cold climates, and open loop systems for warm climates. Solar hot water systems are quite a bit cheaper than PVs.

    hot water panels

    hot water panels

Of course you can have some of each. Like with any new technology prices will keep dropping and efficiency will go up (think PCs or cellphones), so frontrunners will pay more and set examples to followers.  As to the lease vs. owning option, my stance is that the leasing option puts more solar panels out there without any upfront investment.   More panels on rooftops increase public awareness of solar energy, spur sales and with it the improvement of technology and efficiency. Choose the best option for you.

net-meter

net-meter

where we go from here

WarwickReykjavik plans to be entirely off fossil fuels by 2050, imagine! Already now this mini capital “gets its energy for heat, hot water and electricity entirely from hydropower and geothermal resources – both of which are renewable and free of greenhouse gas emissions,” as Maria Trimarchi and Jacob Clifton report in science.howstuffworks.com. Of course, Reykjavik sits on hot springs, so geothermal is a no-brainer. Every place has to figure out its own best way.  When you’re in the desert solar makes sense, when you’re in the Windy City wind power is it, when you’re in Reykjavik it is geothermal, and hydrogen fuel cells will be the future in many other places. It’s all about working with local circumstances, and many solutions will be hybrids. There is no one-size-fits-all solution.

The scientific evidence on climate change is quite terrifying – what with the prospects of frying in the blistering sun, being continuously flooded by reoccurring torrential rains, running out of water (in the West and Southwest), running out of oil because we haven’t seen it coming (say what?), and other nasty thoughts?

We all really have to do our part, right now, right here in our backyard. So how sustainable can we make Warwick? What can we do as a community to prepare for climate change and all it entails?

Jeremy Rifkin, social scientist, economist, prolific bestselling author, brilliant global thinker and inspirational change agent, who I heard speak at last fall’s Omega Institute Conference on Sustainability, has been writing about our environmental predicament (sounds milder, but it really is closer to a catastrophe) as the cause of our cultural paradigm, since the mid 1980s. His books are easy to read (I really recommend them), totally eye-opening and perspective changing, and show the road to where we’re headed if things are not too late (Rifkin consults with the European Union because many over here are not yet ready to hear his message).  But his vision goes way beyond the mere replacement of oil with renewable energy sources, to predicting and envisioning a culture that no longer exploits for short-term gain, to a new cooperative, sustainable and compassionate culture whose goal is everyone’s  wellbeing for long-term gain – peace, stability, and a decent standard of living for all, not just a few.

A sustainable community provides for quality of life while continuously renewing the environment and its resources. This can only happen in a cooperative and cocreative culture. So how sustainable can Warwick become? Let’s work together on such a vision for our town.

  • Announcement