Energy Efficient Window Design

The total radiation received per window varies according to the time of the year and the orientation. In summer, all windows receive heat gains, in particular those facing east and west. Whereas in winter, only windows facing north, north-west and north-east have a net heat gain, with heat gains outweighing heat losses. Windows facing all other directions will affectively lose more heat than they can gain. However, in the absence of northern solar access, windows to the east and west can provide some winter heat gains.
The most appropriate size of windows in terms of energy efficiency depends on many factors, such as glazing type, orientation of a building and thermal mass located inside the building materials. It is important to consider every room separately, as each room may have different acceptable limits and therefore may need different sized windows. Thinking about the windows early in the design process can save time and money otherwise needed later in the progress, to chase after the required stars to obtain a valid energy rating. We can help determine the effect of variations to window orientations, window sizes, internal glazing, double glazing versus single glazing, shading and internal coverings by using the FirstRate House Energy Rating software. Below are some clues on how and where to place windows.

How to orientate and size windows

Windows should be orientated to the north where possible. If solar access is good, north-facing windows should be large, but the size also depends on the amount of thermal mass in the building. South and east-facing windows should be kept pretty small, and windows to the south need to be positioned to enable cooling summer breezes to pass easily through the rooms. Whereas west-facing windows should be avoided where possible, if needed they should be relatively small and well shaded.
Appropriate window sizing, combined with double glazing, and/or close-fitting internal coverings such as drapes with pelmets, can minimise heat loss in winter. Furthermore, it is important not to overshadow windows in winter by the structure of the building itself, as it will reduce the solar access.

How to respond to poor solar access

Innovative design can overcome problems of poor solar access and overshadowing, especially in renovations, infill developments, higher density or small allotments with bad orientation, which can cause problems. In these cases, it’s important to use better performing insulation, protect windows, minimise overshadowing and courtyards, and reduce air leakage as much as possible. To compensate for poor solar access, the total window area of a building should be reduced.

Where solar access to north-facing windows is obstructed, clearstory windows are a good option to get solar energy into the building. Another option in responding to bad solar access is raising the sill height, as it will minimise permanent shaded glass areas, as these aren’t able to gain heat in winter and will lose heat instead.
Skylights and roof lights are also a good way to bring light into rooms, if obstructions from other buildings and structures prevent good solar access. Furthermore it’s a great opportunity to overcome overlooking into neighbouring properties, as windows above 1.7m don’t need to be screened. However, it is vital to protect the windows against harsh summer sun. Double glazing is mandatory as well as shading (a combination of external as well as internal shading would be the ideal solution).