As the weather starts turning colder many start wondering – should I replace my windows, get a storm door, install storm windows, or??? Shoot I live in an area governed by an HOA and they won’t allow them, are there other options? For others, I replaced my windows last year & I still have condensation issues and they still feel drafty – what gives? Well lets slice through most of the marketing ploys & see if we can help clear up much of the confusion.
One of the first things is to ask; why do you think you need or want one?
- I like to be able to open my door in & let light in / watch kids play outside
- I want to allow air to circulate in my house
- We get lots of rain or snow that blows against the door
- I want it to help cut down on traffic or other noises
- My door faces south & gets real warm, so a Low E storm door will help prevent that
- It will save lots of energy
- It will cut down on drafts
If you answered yes to the first four – congratulations a storm door might be a good option for you if you choose wisely. As for the rest… well, I hate to say it but that is quite simply marketing speak and in most cases won’t do a bit of good. Want a bonus reason – many crooks will actually bypass doors with a storm door installed as it is harder to kick in the regular door.
Full panel or retractable:
For those that only answer yes to #1, 3 or 4 the next question becomes; do you think you will ever want to use a screen to allow air to circulate, be able to hear kids outside play, or lord forbid, allow smoke from a burnt dinner to be evacuated? If no then a full panel style or security style storm door might be best with a few caveats.
- Does the door get full sun – if it does a retractable screen version is a better option especially during the warmer months as the glass panel will help trap that heat. Being able to vent that heat out (much like your attic) will help keep the door cooler
- One of the big disadvantages to full panels is that you need to be able to store the screen or panel not in use and swap it out. If you live in a climate where once the weather changes it stays that way, that might be great – for those of us where it can be 40 one day, 70 the next & then back again…
If you answered yes to #2 or the questions above, a retractable storm is probably your best option. With that there are a few downsides – the first is there is always that bar in the center which many people just can’t live with the look. The second is being able to replace that screen if it is damaged – while a company rep might be able to easily do it in 20 minutes, for the rest of us it can seem / be a little intimidating.
Low E or regular glass?
While Low E glass does help reflect some of the radiant heat back the way it came… when it comes to storm doors the only real benefit comes from it blocking UV rays that can fade your carpets & floors. If your storm door is under a covered patio or always shaded, it won’t do you any good. If you answered yes to #5 I have bad news for you – it isn’t going to help and in fact will allow the heat to stay there longer. What happens though if you have an HOA that mandates them & won’t allow for a retractable? Well the first thing is to not assume & ask – if that fails you can always go with a Low E door and adjust your sweep up allowing for air to move.
Speaking of sweeps…
The sweep on the bottom should just barely touch the threshold when the door is fully closed, if it drags you are wearing it out prematurely & accomplishing nothing more than if it was adjusted properly.
Drafts, Energy & oh my…
But wait, won’t adding a storm door help me cut down on the drafts I feel? While it can – the best solution is to find the issue & solve it. You solve the real problem & no more drafts. Now when we get into windows or large areas of glass (say a patio door) there is another phenomenon that takes effect called convective heat loss & that is where your body forms a convective current as it gives up its heat – in this case some drapes would serve you better when you sit down to eat. As for energy savings, as we have pointed out many “saving estimates” are grossly overstated and you have to see what they are really being compared to.
Storm windows appear to be a no-brainer especially when you consider pieces like this from Building America’s site or this study from PNNL. To top that off in October we recommend that you install storm windows & switch back to screens sometime between March to May (dependent on your climate). With that & as pointed out above, the devil is in the details & you might notice that in the October piece we state “If you don’t have dual-pane, low-e windows.” This matters a great deal as many studies done either deal with older historic single pane type of windows or in the rare case of double panes they compare them to the cheapest aluminum double pane versions out there.
Just like above, the first thing to think about is why do you think you need them? If you happen to live in Climate Zone 3 & up & have single pane windows (or yes those really cheap aluminum versions), storms make sense. Live in a warmer climate zone it can be harder to justify. Have a real double pane or better window – you shouldn’t really need them. Granted you may occasionally see ice or condensation on the inside of them but then you need to consider the root cause.
Storms on the exterior not an option?
One big item to remember about storm windows is you need a gap between them & the regular window for it to have any benefit. If you don’t have one, you either need to create one or consider other options. One quick option is a DIY plastic kit which is pretty easy to install but doesn’t always look the best & if you are not careful can damage the finishes. A few other options can be found here on my good friend John Poole’s site where he evaluates some interior storm window options for historic homes.
Low E or regular glass?
Unlike above, Low E is a great option for these windows as we want them to help reflect the heat being lost back inside. The other item is while your windows maybe shaded during the summer months, with the loss of leaves they are not as well shaded now meaning more UV light. Ahh but how about the heat from the sun – while this would seemingly point to using regular glass to help harvest as much as possible, the sun is not “up” as much & many days are overcast meaning the little bit you may gain is generally lost in spades during the other times.
Should I go old style or new?
Old style are the single picture frame style (which you have to take down & put up every year) while new school now allows for ones with screens built in. I have to admit, I prefer old school over newer versions if you are in an area where you get a lot of sun during the summer so one can put on solar screens. With that said there are pros & cons to both – storage issues, more piece to fail, hard to clean windows, etc… so weigh your options & do what is best for you.
How can I tell how well will it perform?
Assuming proper installation, the best way to see how a new storm will perform or compares to another is to check the NFRC label.
Why not just replace the windows?
I actually plan on discussing this more, but lets look at two examples – historic windows vrs. the cheep aluminum frames mentioned above. For historic homes this generally can not be done affordably especially if you live in a historic district. The second issue is those windows lasted how many decades – as most newer models will be lucky to hit half that number. The final straw is that a properly installed storm coupled with some basic air-sealing can give you the same if not better performance than many other units out there today.
As for the cheap aluminum versions, it mainly gets down to cost – adding a storm can bring you up to the same if not better levels than many top of the line models out there. With that said, if you are redoing your siding or just tired of them, that is an upgrade that will save you some hassles & more than likely increase your houses salability.
I just replaced my windows but…
I seemingly don’t have as much light &/or I still had put my storms on as it was so drafty… In most of these cases it comes down to someone installing a “replacement” window aka where they leave much of the original window frame in place & slide a new unit in costing at least 1″ worth of glass and not solving the original “draftiness” issue – what is going on behind the frame. It gets down to a few of my favorite sayings – green isn’t about the materials used but the process coupled with you can take the most basic code compliant window (in this case) – install it properly & it will outperform the most hi-end system you can find if it was installed improperly (or didn’t take into account the whole system)
Wait – most storms are aluminum &…
Yes I did say cheep aluminum, but unlike the windows which are tied directly to the inside & outside, you have an air gap which helps prevent that heat loss from going straight through the frame. While wood might be considered a better thermal product, it would not be as good long term as an aluminum storm.
Side Lites & Transoms:
This one is a little tricky as it really isn’t part of the door & more like an attached window so does it reap all the benefits of a storm window? In short, no – not really unless it is just a single pane of glass. One other issue is most of these “storms” for side lites & transoms do not have weep-holes allowing moist air to remain trapped. As with many other items, 1st ask why you think you want or need them & go from there.