Energy Performance Testing, Certification and Labeling

The National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC) operates a voluntary program that tests, certifies, and labels windows, doors, and skylights based on their energy performance ratings. The NFRC label provides a reliable way to determine a window’s energy properties and to compare products.

The NFRC label can be found on all ENERGY STAR® qualified window, door, and skylight products, but ENERGY STAR bases its qualification only on U-factor and SHGC ratings.

Source: Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, U.S. Department of Energy

A window’s, door’s, or skylight’s ability to transmit sunlight into a home can be measured

A window’s, door’s, or skylight’s ability to transmit sunlight into a home can be measured and rated according to the following energy performance characteristics:

* Visible transmittance (VT)

A fraction of the visible spectrum of sunlight (380 to 720 nanometers), weighted by the sensitivity of the human eye, that is transmitted through a window’s, door’s, or skylight’s glazing. A product with a higher VT transmits more visible light. VT is expressed as a number between 0 and 1. The VT you need for a window, door, or skylight should be determined by your home’s daylighting requirements and/or whether you need to reduce interior glare in a space.

* Light-to-solar gain (LSG)

The ratio between the SHGC and VT. It provides a gauge of the relative efficiency of different glass or glazing types in transmitting daylight while blocking heat gains. The higher the number, the more light transmitted without adding excessive amounts of heat. This energy performance rating isn’t always provided.

Source: Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, U.S. Department of Energy

Energy Performance Ratings for Windows, Doors, and Skylights

You can use the energy performance ratings of windows, doors, and skylights to tell you their potential for gaining and losing heat, as well as transmitting sunlight into your home.
Heat Gain and Loss

Windows, doors, skylights can gain and lose heat in the following ways:

* Direct conduction through the glass or glazing, frame, and/or door

* The radiation of heat into a house (typically from the sun) and out of a house from room-temperature objects, such as people, furniture, and interior walls

* Air leakage through and around them.

These properties can be measured and rated according to the following energy performance characteristics:

* U-factor

The rate at which a window, door, or skylight conducts non-solar heat flow. It’s usually expressed in units of Btu/hr-ft2-ºF. For windows, skylights, and glass doors, a U-factor may refer to just the glass or glazing alone. But National Fenestration Rating Council U-factor ratings represent the entire window performance, including frame and spacer material. The lower the U-factor, the more energy-efficient the window, door, or skylight.

*Solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC)

A fraction of solar radiation admitted through a window, door, or skylight—either transmitted directly and/or absorbed, and subsequently released as heat inside a home. The lower the SHGC, the less solar heat it transmits and the greater its shading ability. A product with a high SHGC rating is more effective at collecting solar heat gain during the winter. A product with a low SHGC rating is more effective at reducing cooling loads during the summer by blocking heat gained from the sun. Therefore, what SHGC you need for a window, door, or skylight should be determined by such factors as your climate, orientation, and external shading. For more information about SHGC and windows, see passive solar window design.

*Air leakage

The rate of air infiltration around a window, door, or skylight in the presence of a specific pressure difference across it. It’s expressed in units of cubic feet per minute per square foot of frame area (cfm/ft2). A product with a low air leakage rating is tighter than one with a high air leakage rating.

Source: Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, U.S. Department of Energy

Heat-Absorbing, Tinted Window Glazing or Glass

Heat-absorbing window glazing contains special tints that change the color of the glass. Tinted glass absorbs a large fraction of the incoming solar radiation through a window. This reduces the solar heat gain coefficient, visible transmittance, and glare.

Some heat, however, continues to pass through tinted windows by conduction and re-radiation. Therefore, the tint doesn’t lower a window’s U-factor. However, inner layers of clear glass or spectrally selective coatings can be applied on insulated glazing to help reduce these types of heat transfer.

Gray- and bronze-tinted windows—the most common—reduce the penetration of both light and heat into buildings in equal amounts (i.e., not spectrally selective). Blue- and green-tinted windows offer greater penetration of visible light and slightly reduced heat transfer compared with other colors of tinted glass. In hot climates, black-tinted glass should be avoided because it absorbs more light than heat.

Tinted, heat-absorbing glass reflects only a small percentage of light, so it does not have the mirror-like appearance of reflective glass.

Note: when windows transmit less than 70% of visible light, indoor plants can die or grow more slowly.

Source: Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, U.S. Department of Energy

Insulated Window Glazing or Glass

Insulated window glazing refers to windows with two or more panes of glass. They are also called double-glazed, triple-glazed, and—sometimes more generally—storm windows.

To insulate the window, the glass panes are spaced apart and hermetically sealed to form a single-glazed unit with an air space between each pane of glass. The glass layers and the air spaces resist heat flow. As a result, insulated window glazing primarily lowers the U-factor, but it also lowers the solar heat gain coefficient.

Some window manufacturers use spacers—which separate two panes of glass—that conduct heat less readily than others. These spacers can further lower a window’s U-factor.

Other technologies window manufacturers use to improve the energy performance of insulated glazing include these:

* Gas fills
* Low-emissivity coatings.

Source: EERE, U.S. Department of Energy

Low-Emissivity Window Glazing or Glass

Low-emissivity (Low-E) coatings on glazing or glass control heat transfer through windows with insulated glazing. Windows manufactured with Low-E coatings typically cost about 10%–15% more than regular windows, but they reduce energy loss by as much as 30%–50%.

A Low-E coating is a microscopically thin, virtually invisible, metal or metallic oxide layer deposited directly on the surface of one or more of the panes of glass. The Low-E coating reduces the infrared radiation from a warm pane of glass to a cooler pane, thereby lowering the U-factor of the window. Different types of Low-E coatings have been designed to allow for high solar gain, moderate solar gain, or low solar gain. A Low-E coating can also reduce a window’s visible transmittance unless you use one that’s spectrally selective.

To keep the sun’s heat out of the house (for hot climates, east and west-facing windows, and unshaded south-facing windows), the Low-E coating should be applied to the outside pane of glass. If the windows are designed to provide heat energy in the winter and keep heat inside the house (typical of cold climates), the Low-E coating should be applied to the inside pane of glass.

Window manufacturers apply Low-E coatings in either soft or hard coats. Soft Low-E coatings degrade when exposed to air and moisture, are easily damaged, and have a limited shelf life. Therefore, manufacturers carefully apply them in insulated multiple-pane windows. Hard Low-E coatings, on the other hand, are more durable and can be used in add-on (retrofit) applications. The energy performance of hard-coat, Low-E films is slightly poorer than that of soft-coat films.

Although Low-E coatings are usually applied during manufacturing, some are available for do-it-yourselfers. These films are inexpensive compared to total window replacements, last 10–15 years without peeling, save energy, reduce fabric fading, and increase comfort.

Source: EERE, U.S. Department of Energy

Passive Solar Window Design in Cooling-Dominated Climates

In cooling climates, particularly effective strategies include preferential use of north-facing windows and generously shaded south-facing windows. Windows with low SHGCs are more effective at reducing cooling loads. The following types of glazing help reduce solar heat gain, lowering a window’s SHGC:

* Low-E
* Tinted
* Reflective
* Spectrally Selective.

Most of these glazing types, except for spectrally selective, also help lower a window’s VT.

Source: EERE, U.S. Department of Energy

Passive Solar Window Design in Heating-Dominated Climates

In heating-dominated climates, major glazing areas should generally face south to collect solar heat during the winter when the sun is low in the sky. In the summer, when the sun is high overhead, overhangs or other shading devices (e.g., awnings) prevent excessive heat gain.

To be effective, south-facing windows usually must have a solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC) of greater than 0.6 to maximize solar heat gain during the winter, a U-factor of 0.35 or less to reduce conductive heat transfer, and a high visible transmittance (VT) for good visible light transfer.

Windows on east-, west-, and north-facing walls are reduced in heating climates, while still allowing for adequate daylight. East- and west-facing windows are limited because it is difficult to effectively control the heat and penetrating rays of the sun when it is low in the sky. These windows should have a low SHGC and/or be shaded. North-facing windows collect little solar heat, so they are used just to provide useful lighting.

Low-emissivity window glazing can help control solar heat gain and loss in heating climates.

Source: EERE, U.S. Department of Energy

Passive Solar Window Design

Windows are an important element in passive solar home designs, which can reduce heating, cooling, and lighting needs in a house.

Passive solar design strategies vary by building location and regional climate. The basic techniques involving windows remain the same—select, orient, and size glass to control solar heat gain along with different glazings usually selected for different sides of the house (exposures or orientations). For most U.S. climates, you want to maximize solar heat gain in winter and minimize it in summer.

Source: EERE, U.S. Department of Energy

Five Elements of Passive Solar Home Design

The following five elements constitute a complete passive solar home design. Each performs a separate function, but all five must work together for the design to be successful.

Aperture (Collector)

The large glass (window) area through which sunlight enters the building. Typically, the aperture(s) should face within 30 degrees of true south and should not be shaded by other buildings or trees from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day during the heating season.


The hard, darkened surface of the storage element. This surface—which could be that of a masonry wall, floor, or partition (phase change material), or that of a water container—sits in the direct path of sunlight. Sunlight hits the surface and is absorbed as heat.

Thermal mass

The materials that retain or store the heat produced by sunlight. The difference between the absorber and thermal mass, although they often form the same wall or floor, is that the absorber is an exposed surface whereas thermal mass is the material below or behind that surface.


The method by which solar heat circulates from the collection and storage points to different areas of the house. A strictly passive design will use the three natural heat transfer modes—conduction, convection, and radiation—exclusively. In some applications, however, fans, ducts, and blowers may help with the distribution of heat through the house.


Roof overhangs can be used to shade the aperture area during summer months. Other elements that control under- and/or overheating include electronic sensing devices, such as a differential thermostat that signals a fan to turn on; operable vents and dampers that allow or restrict heat flow; low-emissivity blinds; and awnings.

Source: EERE, U.S. Department of Energy