Weatherization and home performance practitioners should reconsider the value of window treatments, especially storm windows. Early energy conservation programs overused storm windows and storms were subsequently banned from some weatherization programs because weatherization agencies selected storms through personal preference. Storms are thought of as a measure that will be overused because they are easy to install and the installers stay clean. Today storm windows may suffer some unfair prejudice in energy-program policy.
Study of Window Treatments
I read a 2011 report today on extreme cold-weather qualitative testing for window treatments by the Cold Climate Research Center (CCRC) in Fairbanks Alaska. The experimenters compared the performance of shutters, blinds, storm windows, and curtains installed on double-pane insulated glass windows (which, experimenters assume, has inadequate thermal resistance for the Alaska climate).
The experimenters rated the window treatments for the following characteristics:
• Condensation Resistance
• Insulation Value
• Ease of Installation
Results of Study
Interior curtains, blinds, and shutters failed the qualitative testing because they increased window condensation compared to double-pane insulated glass. Condensation increased because these interior window treatments reduce the temperature of the window glass without stopping moist indoor air from moving in next to the glass and depositing condensation and ice on the window. No surprise here.
Exterior rolling shutters and sliding foam shutters got fairly high marks from the CCRC for condensation resistance and insulation value. However the affordability and ease of installation prevent the widespread use of these exterior window treatments.
The best performers, in my reading of the CCRC report, are the interior and exterior storm windows. Both interior and exterior storm windows reduced condensation compared to the double-pane insulated glass by itself. Affordability, insulation value, durability, and ease of installation for the storm windows were all rated good.
Tips for your Storm Windows
Here are some ways I’ve used to make storm windows cost-effective and valuable to the occupants.
- Decide which primary windows need to open for egress and ventilation and which don’t. Seal the primary windows that aren’t required for egress or ventilation and install a fixed interior or exterior storm window, which is less expensive than an opening storm window.
- Any fixed-glass section of a primary window is a good candidate for a fixed interior or exterior storm window panel.
- Use low-e glass in storm windows unless dust and dirt are major problems in between the primary and storm windows. Install the low-e surface toward the window’s interior rather than facing the indoors or outdoors to keep it clean for as long as possible.
- Specify exterior storm windows when the durability of the primary windows needs protected.
- Specify interior storm windows that are airtight enough to provide good condensation resistance.
- Use a sun-blocking low-e glass on windows that are a solar heating problem in summer.
- In cold climates, consider using an inexpensive low-e primary window installed inside the existing primary window for superior energy performance. This is sometimes called a double window.
I cut some pieces of R-11 poly iso board to friction fit into my window sash and door jambs. During periods of really cold weather, I just pop them into the openings on the outside. I painted them to match the house and I ran wire loops for removal handles. They work great! I just need a better storage system. I stacked them out by the shed when not in use.
I was really hoping the conclusion would be that storm windows don’t work. I know they’re the most cost-effective retrofit, but as a former owner of a winder cleaning business and now the owner of an old condo with storm windows, I really dislike them.
But if something works, we should keep it as an option where it makes sense. Thanks for the update, John.
Storm windows are very important year round. While they do protect the inner window from damage from violent weather, they also help insulate from heat loss in the winter and heat gain in the summer. This is even more important on a daily basis in my opinion.