Unless you’ve been looking into getting new windows — or come across glazing in your professional life — “low-E” probably sounds like a dietary supplement. Once you start looking around for windows, though, the term low-E coating becomes pretty much unavoidable if a little confusing.
What is Low E Coating?
So, let’s look at the basics — what is low-E coating, and what should consumers who are quite literally window shopping know about it?
What is emissivity?
Emissivity is, in abstract terms, a word that explains how much thermal radiation a given surface emits. A so-called “black body” would absorb all heat, while a “white body” would reflect it all.
Aluminum foil and silver would be two examples of low-emissivity materials, while concrete and marble instead fall into the high-emissivity category, absorbing and emitting most of the thermal energy that comes their way. If ever you’ve touched any of those on a hot day, you’ll know exactly what we’re talking about.
What has that got to do with windows?
Glass — the material most windows are made of, of course — would be another example of a naturally very high-emission material. There’s a lot of fairly complex science behind that, but as a consumer, you already know that heat leaves your home through your windows during the cooler months when you want it to stay in, while allowing heat to come inside when it’s summer, and you want the temperature to stay down.
That’s where low-emission or low-emissivity coating — simply “low-E coating” in the window business — comes in. This ultra-thin coating, which you can’t see, adds a protective metal layer to the glass surface to reduce the natural high-emission nature of your windows. It’s become a much relied-on material in the construction trade, particularly in buildings that use large amounts of glass.
Low-E coating on your windows won’t affect the amount of light you get from them, or impact your visibility, but it will reduce the amount of thermal radiation, in the form of UV rays, that can be absorbed and emitted.
What are the benefits of low-E coating for windows?
Lower energy costs are one of the main benefits of low-E coating — a structure with low-E coated windows will lose less heat in winter, and allow less of it in summer, leading to savings in fuel and air conditioning bills.
Your primary needs can determine what type of low-E coating would best serve you. There is passive low-E coating, which will allow more heat into a home to reduce fuel costs. Solar-control low-E coating slashes the amount of solar heat that can enter through the windows. This allows the property to stay cooler.
Other Benefits of low-E coating
An added benefit of low-E coating is that fewer harmful UV rays can penetrate, protecting both the people inside and any furniture or other fabrics that might otherwise fade over time.
The coating itself isn’t the only thing that determines how well low-E windows will serve you. The number of panes (double vs triple glazing) and gas fillings can make windows even more energy-efficient. To see how well energy efficient windows perform, US consumers can look for the Energy Star rating on replacement windows.
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