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Debunking the window myth

12 July 2013

I often hear people say that the big thing they have done to improve their home’s efficiency is replace the windows. Unfortunately, this is not the best thing you can do to make your home energy efficient. Windows are one of the most common home energy misunderstandings – so if you just bought new windows you aren’t alone! Windows are often the first thing homeowners blame for a cold drafty home. This is understandable considering windows are something we can all see and feel. However, windows are actually one of the smaller energy leaks in your home. About 50% of your home’s heat escape through the ceiling and walls, while only 15%- 22% escapes through windows.

“Most existing buildings have hidden air leaks in the floor, ceiling and wall cavities that overshadow the leaks around windows and doors.” – Residential Energy 4th ed.

Though windows do attribute to the energy loss in your home and replacing them can increase your home’s efficiency, they are very expensive and have a longer payback compared to insulation and air sealing. Windows can have a 20+ year payback, while the payback for attic and wall insulation varies from 2-10 years, depending on your home. Below is a table from Energy Smart Ohio that illustrates the payback on various home energy improvements.

Approximate Percentage Drop and Years To Payback For Various Improvements*




Attic Insulation
and Air Sealing
10–40 3–7
Wall Insulation 20–40 6–12
Air Sealing
5–15 7–10
Other Air Sealing 5–10 8–12
More Efficient Furnace/
Air Conditioner
10–30 8–12
Replacement Windows 1–10 20–100

*based on Energy Smart Insulation’s experience and research. These figures do not represent any kind of guarantee and are approximations to be used as a reference.

As you can see, in terms of energy efficiency in your home, windows are often a bad energy investment. Insulation isn’t a glamorous home improvement project, but it will payback quicker and leave you and your family more comfortable.

You can find more information on insulating your walls and attic on the Energy Challenge website.

You can also estimate your insulation payback period.

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