How much do windows matter in a new construction home? A lot.
- In a home’s physical design, windows are potentially the most significant source of heat loss and a threat to energy efficiency, so choosing the window type, material, and construction is essential.
- Introducing ambient light is vital to a good décor strategy, and windows offer the entry point and create the pathways by establishing sightlines. The presence of natural light (or absence) affects the experience of the chosen color palette in the décor scheme.
- Access to natural light in a built environment plays a role in mental health and well-being at home.
- High-quality windows generate a good return on investment, saving on homeowner operating costs with lower energy bills and on the home’s resale value. According to Anji’s List, upgrading to energy-efficient windows generates approximately 68% ROI, making it one of the most worthwhile home investments.
- And, of course, windows figure largely in curb appeal. Curb appeal is one of the most significant factors in determining a home’s perception of value. It is critical in transitioning future buyers from interest to desire to buy and pay top dollar.
Given all these factors, home buyers should consider their choices when upgrading windows in a new build.
Choosing windows for energy efficiency
Windows present a design problem. Technically speaking, the ultimate goal for a home is to be airtight, providing secure shelter from the elements. Windows literally poke holes in the building envelope.
While windows generally only account for 10% of a home’s surface area, they are responsible for about 30-40% of the heat loss generated. However, opting for fewer or smaller windows will hurt the design and the aesthetic.
The compromise is to compensate for the heat loss with windows engineered to effectively stall passive heat transfer through multi-pane construction and coatings.
New home construction windows are typically double-pane, but there are compelling reasons to upgrade to triple-pane windows.
“Triple-pane windows increase a home’s window energy performance by about 40%, providing year-round thermal performance or thermal comfort and a quieter home. This would result in roughly 10 to 20% energy savings,” says Katherine Cort, a senior research economist at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL). PNNL participates in the Partnership for Advanced Windows Solutions (PAWS) collaborative and receives research support from the U.S. Department of Energy to validate the performance of advanced energy-efficient window solutions.
PNNL did a study with a matched pair of homes on their research campus in Richland, Washington, where one home had double-pane windows and the other triple-pane. The study found that triple-pane windows offered significant energy savings, lowered peak demand in heating and cooling seasons, and reduced condensation. They also reported more even temperatures in the home and soundproofing benefits.
Triple-pane windows offer a simple design that is compact and efficient.
“Triple-pane windows have a gap between each pane that houses an insulating gas, typically argon. This increases the insulation with that third, middle pane. The extra pocket of air provides both energy efficiency and noise reduction,” says Cort.
Noise reduction qualities would be most appealing to new construction homeowners in urban infill settings or high-density communities.
“There is better insulating performance than what you would get with a double pane. And these windows also include low emissivity (Low-E) and solar control coatings that reflect solar heat and UV rays in a manner that enhances the insulating and solar control properties of the window. And these coatings then also can be tuned in a manner to fit the climate zone you’re in,” says Cort.
If homeowners opt to stick with double-pane windows, they should at least have energy-efficient coatings (Low-E) or tints beyond the basic clear glass. Several options reflect heat well.
Windows promote well-being with natural light
Armed with energy-efficient solutions, new construction homeowners shouldn’t shy away from having lots of windows.
It’s well known that access to light and air influences mental and physical health. Window design and placement play a direct role in accessing those benefits. People have become profoundly aware of the benefits of natural light at home and the impact on mood after lockdowns throughout the pandemic. In this context, there is a growing body of evidence to support scientifically what we as humans already know innately: natural light boosts mood and reduces anxiety.
In a recent study published in the International Journal of Building and Environment, researchers conducted virtual experiments in 3D home models, each with varying amounts of windows and opportunities for natural light.
The study revealed that more natural light equates to higher happiness levels and that the number of windows had a direct impact. Study participants reported a boost in mood in rooms where windows occupied 20% of the wall space, with a peak in positive mood affect reported in rooms with 40% of wall space dedicated to windows.
Furthermore, the study found that rooms oriented towards the equator (i.e., sun-facing) were where study participants were happiest, even when skies were overcast.
Windows contribute to curb appeal
One of the most important reasons to pay attention to windows in a new construction home is their role in all-important curb appeal.
In addition to landscaping (including hard and soft scapes) and a lovely front door, windows are a design feature that sets the tone for a home’s decor theme and hints at what lies inside.
When making a curb appeal statement with windows, shape, and size matter more than quantity. It’s about creating alluring focal points to draw the eye without overwhelming the field of vision.
In many communities, window placement and size may be prescribed to preserve continuity in the streetscape.
Accenting windows is a clever way to make windows stand out and boost appeal. Color matters and should complement the home’s exterior. Window trim is a subtle but effective way to create contrast in the exterior color scheme, front door, and roof color. Depending on the home’s style, adding window shutters or boxes are easy ways to add even more color and visual interest.
Considerations in window design
One common element in beautiful homes is ambient light unspooling through the rooms. Of course, the conduit for that natural light – the windows – is a significant design consideration, as placement, size, and style of windows will help or hinder that design objective.
The pull and distribution of natural light is critical to amplifying the sense of space and supports the color palette, whether with dark or light tones. Windows also portend sightlines, which is another essential element in enhancing space. What’s more, is that windows frame the experience of the vistas beyond the home’s walls.
Homeowners should consider their budget and what function each window will serve if opting between styles and sizes. Some windows are meant to be utilitarian, while some are design features.
Criteria for window placement
When deciding where to put windows, consider the orientation of the home (for sunlight) and lifestyle. Are you an early riser, keen to watch the sun crest out your bedroom window? Or perhaps sunset from the kitchen is more in tune with the daily schedule. The idea is to maximize harnessing natural light based on the time of day, also being conscious of how heat transfer from direct sunlight will affect energy efficiency.
Privacy is also an issue, especially in high-density neighborhoods. If windows are placed in spots that might compromise privacy, have a subsequent plan for window coverings.
When picking the size and shapes of windows, be mindful of the objectives of the design. Remember, smaller windows are better for opening and offering ventilation, whereas bigger windows (i.e., a window wall or picture window) will permit better views of the outdoors.
Popular new construction window styles
Most common in new construction homes are single-hung and double-hung windows. With a single-hung window, the upper panel (or sash) is fixed in place, and the lower sash moves up and down. The upper and lower panels move up and down with a double-hung window.
Double-hung windows are generally preferred because they are easier to clean and promote better air circulation. Similarly, double-hung windows come in a variety of styles as well.
Also often installed in new construction homes are casement windows, which open with a crank, hinged either on the right or left. These allow for good airflow and are easy to clean. Casement windows are a good choice for harder-to-reach spots, like behind a kitchen sink.
Similar to casement windows are awning windows. They also open outwards with a crank and offer the same benefits in terms of ventilation and cleaning. They differ in that awning windows hinge at the top. One bonus with this style is that they can stay open while it is raining.
Bow windows play a more substantial role in the aesthetic and are often installed around shelving or a window seat. Bow windows often come in three sets, with two casement windows on either side and a picture window anchoring the design in the middle.
Bay windows use a similar design but tend to protrude from the house structure. For example, they are an excellent choice to enclose a nook of a dining area. These contribute to the inside and out design, and their shape out and around an interior space also allows for abundant light from various angles.
Picture windows are just as they sound; they frame the “picture” of the view outside. Ideally, they are large and would be the focal point in a wall. They don’t open, so they don’t offer ventilation, but as a trade-off tend to be more airtight. Because of their size and placement, picture windows provide an excellent pathway for natural light.
Transom windows were a staple in Victorian and Georgian architecture and have made a comeback in modern design as a stylish focal point. Typically, transom windows sit above a door or another bank of windows or function as sidelights.
Transoms are more about decor than ventilation, although their historical iterations were more functional for cross-breezes. They offered the opportunity to deliver airflow, even if a door was closed, which was beneficial in long, narrow home designs. Transom windows typically are rectangular or square, but there are several arched designs now, with various grill patterns.
Similar to transom windows are clerestory windows, which look similar but tend to be placed in a row high up on a wall. These allow for more light to flow into a room without impacting privacy. Another design benefit of clerestory windows is that they leave walls mostly intact, giving ample space for artwork or other functions.
Slider windows are a simple option that slide open and closed vertically. These are well-positioned, where a homeowner might need access points for safety or design. These are a good choice for long and narrow walls, as they can contribute to the sense of space.
Becoming more popular- usually in kitchens-are garden windows. They are like mini bay windows and feature a shelf (or shelving) for plants. It’s like having a small greenhouse right in your home.
What window frame materials are most common in new construction?
Window frame material influences the aesthetic and plays a crucial role in energy efficiency. It’s essential to pick a frame that complements décor and is appropriate for the region, as different materials fare better in different conditions like extreme heat or wind.
In new builds, vinyl window frames are the most common, likely because they are most cost-effective. They stand up well to the elements, and come in a wide variety of styles and color options. Vinyl is particularly resistant to UV rays and to moisture, making it a reliable window frame material.
Aluminum window frames are a low-cost option, but offer lower energy-efficient benefits, compared to other frame materials, as they are prone to heat loss and condensation. Aluminum frames can be made stronger by re-enforcing the interior structure with other materials, but they are still susceptible to damage, like corrosion from salt, if the home is located near the ocean, for example.
Fiberglass window frames are extremely sturdy and durable, enduring expansion and contraction well without compromising energy efficiency. They are usually more costly to purchase at the outset, but their longevity and energy-efficient benefits can help with ROI.
Wood window frames offer a rich, traditional look. Wood frames are durable and of good quality, but given that wood is organic and porous, ongoing maintenance needs to be done. If not, wood frames can rot and the frame will be compromised as it expands and contracts through different weather cycles. If frequent maintenance and cleaning isn’t viable, a synthetic option is likely better.
For example, a composite window frame that blends fiberglass and wood is a good alternative. This mixed-material frame has the character of wood, but with the durable qualities of fiberglass. Wood-cladded frames are a good option as well, with wood framing on the home’s interior with material that is more durable, like aluminum on the home’s exterior