Tom Shafer

Vinyl windows 'LEED' to 'green' homes

June 16, 2011

LEED is an acronym that stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. The United States Green Building Council (USGBC) awards LEED Certification for commercial and residential properties at the certified, silver, gold and platinum levels.

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Obtaining LEED certification depends upon several criteria outlined by the USGBC, including:

  1. Energy efficiency
  2. Water efficiency
  3. Indoor air quality
  4. Types of materials used
  5. Thoughtful land use and landscaping
  6. Education by building contractors of homeowners

Choosing vinyl windows allows homeowners to meet several criteria toward LEED certification of a home.

Indoor air quality and optimal energy performance

Improved ventilation that circulates air through a home is an important consideration for LEED certification. Particularly when installed in temperate climates, fully operational vinyl windows limit the need for heating and air conditioning, while "showing" Volatile Organic Chemicals and environmental toxins "the door." To learn more about improving your home's indoor air quality, visit the USGBC's Green Home Guide.

Lighting is also important, because it causes heat to transfer to a building's interior. Use of windows balanced with heat blocking low-e glass gains a LEED point for the structure. Understanding u-values and solar heat gain numbers also provides insight into energy efficiency.

Another factor worth considering is the direction a home's windows face. For northern climates, windows pointing in the direction of the sun improve winter energy performance, by reducing usage of a home's heating system. In southern climates, summer cooling is important, so the fewer windows facing west, the better. This allows homeowners to use less air conditioning.

Regional and recycled materials

Use of regional materials--those manufactured within 500 miles of the building site--reduces transportation over long distances, thus saving fuel. There are thousands of window manufacturers in the United States.  

2011 Top 100 Manufacturers Window and Door magazine publishes an annual list of the top 100 in order of size. Selecting one in your area can assure use of regional materials, which is viewed favorably by the USGBC.

Almost all window manufacturers use partially recycled materials. For example, parts of a frame that are cut off during the manufacturing process can be ground back into a material that gets processed into vinyl. This is called pre-consumer recycling. LEED points are granted to a structure for using this material. Retailers like Milgard windows note the recycled cotent in their vinyl windows.

While LEED started off as a primarily commercial certification, "green" houses are catching on quickly. Choosing vinyl windows for a home can earn points toward a valuable LEED certification.

About the Author

Tom Shafer has decades of experience in window sales, marketing and product development. He's worked closely with window design engineers in testing, design, and building code interpretation. Past employers include United Windows and Doors and Norandex, MI Windows. He currently works at a home improvement retailer.

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