Should You Step Up to Triple-Pane Windows?

If you're thinking about upgrading your home's windows, then chances are you're wondering if you can also improve its energy efficiency in the process. Stepping up from single- or double-pane windows to the latest triple-pane windows offers plenty of benefits, but there are also a few drawbacks you should be aware of prior to upgrading.

Better Efficiency and Comfort

Triple-pane windows usually excel in terms of energy-efficiency and overall comfort. Thanks to their dual air chambers, these windows are usually better at blocking out outdoor heat during the summer months and retaining indoor heat during the winter than their double-pane counterparts.

Triple-pane windows beat out their double-pane counterparts when it comes to U-factor ratings. While the best double-pane windows often feature U-factors of 0.30 or lower, a similar triple-pane window can have a U-factor of 0.15, according to InterNACHI. Keep in mind that a lower U-factor equals better performance when it comes to blocking heat transfer.

Condensation is a common problem with single-pane and even some double-pane windows. However, triple-pane windows are not as susceptible to condensation issues due to the insulating effect of the dual air chambers.

Higher Costs and Heavier Weight

The most noticeable drawback of triple-pane windows is their cost relative to similar double-pane windows. According to Angie's List, triple-pane windows cost 25 to 30 percent more than their double-pane counterparts.

If you're expecting your new triple-pane windows to pay for themselves, you could be in for a rather long wait. Energy-efficiency experts found that it could take anywhere from 23 to 55 years to effectively recoup the cost of buying and installing triple-pane windows, despite these windows providing a significant reduction in energy consumption.

Weight is another less noticeable drawback that triple-pane windows typically offer. Adding extra panes of glass adds extra weight to the frame, which in turn has to be designed to withstand the weight of the glass. This usually results in a wider and heavier frame, which can cause problems in certain applications (such as casement windows, where the weight of the frame could cause the hinged windows to sag over time). Choosing a strong yet lightweight framing material (such as fiberglass) can help mitigate this issue to a degree.

Negligible Noise Reduction

Noise reduction is a common selling point of triple-pane windows. While these windows are capable of reducing the amount of outdoor noise that's transmitted indoors, such performance is usually on par with existing double-pane windows. In fact, many experts note that laminated glass offers better noise control performance than most triple-pane windows.

Poor sound-transmission performance in many triple-pane windows can be traced back to its construction. Most windows not only use smaller air chambers than those found in double-pane windows but also are slightly thinner to keep weight down and maximize available space. These factors often explain why some homeowners might not get the sound-deadening benefits they expect from their new triple-pane windows.

Consider Low-E Glass as an Alternative

If you're interested in upgrading to a more energy-efficient window, you may want to consider using low-emissivity (low-e) glass instead of triple-pane windows. These windows rely on a unique ultra-thin metallic coating. Unlike ordinary window film, the low-e coating is capable of reflecting a large portion of the sun's heat energy.

Low-e glass coatings come in passive and solar-control forms. Passive coatings allow a small amount of shortwave infrared energy to pass through, making them ideal in situations where homeowners want some degree of passive solar heating during the winter months. Solar-control coatings have a lower U-value and actively block the majority of transmitted UV light and infrared heat, making them ideal for hotter climates. 

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