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Understand Window Energy Ratings: U-Value, Lo-E Glass, & SHGC

Updated on December 29, 2011
The standard NFRC label attached to every new window
The standard NFRC label attached to every new window
Angles of solar radiation through a window, direct & indirect
Angles of solar radiation through a window, direct & indirect
The rate of heat loss through a window = the U-value
The rate of heat loss through a window = the U-value


Going GREEN is one of the hottest trends in America and having energy efficient windows in your home is quickly becoming a must-have for many people.

Not only is the "green" movement near the top of many political agendas, its presence is often seen throughout the mainstream and minor media. The bottom line is this: green sells and going green is cool.

I feel the trend is positive. With energy costs reaching new heights, we need to be proactive and intentional. We should not only reduce the amount of energy we use, but also conserve the energy we don't. And since nearly 15-20% of all home energy is lost via windows and doors, having energy efficient windows in your home should be a priority.

The focus of this hub is to help explain (without getting too technical) the current energy ratings scheduled to today's energy efficicient windows. These ratings are crucial in making informed decisions regarding the purchase of energy efficient windows for new home construction or replacement.

With the green trend gaining momentum, an informed decision concerning one of the most critical areas of energy loss (or conservation) in your home is paramount.

I'll begin by explaining a few terms needing definition.



Two or more individual panes of glass separated by a specified spacer bar system and then sealed to be air and watertight. The "captured" airspace between the panes of glass forms the insulating barrier. The majority of modern energy efficient window systems utilize some type of insulated glass (IG) application.


Emissivity is the capability of a surface to emit heat radiation. A black surface is often used as a constant in measuring other surfaces against it.

For example, in measuring the emissivity of a particular IG unit, the IG unit is placed next to a solid black surface and subjected to an identical heat source. Measurements of heat radiated from each surface are then taken. The lower the number results in better heat-reflecting capablity.

With relation to energy efficient window systems, lower emissivities are desired.


U-Value is the measure of a window's ability to reduce heat loss during indirect radiation exposure; such as during the winter months in moderating climates. Lower U-values translate into less indirect heat lost from the interior of the home resulting in lower heating costs.

U-value is the inverse of R-value (a more common term used in the insulation business). To find a correlating R-value from a given U-value, simply divide the number 1 by the U-value. Lower U-values correlate to higher R-values. For example: 1 divided by a .50 U-value gives us an R-value of 2.00.

Lower U-values are important because many municipalities are adopting the 2006 version of the International Residential Code (IRC 06 for short). This code mandates all energy efficient window and exterior door units with IG to carry a minimum U-Value of .40, translating to an R-value of 2.5.

This may sound like a low insulating value but even the finest energy efficient windows today carry U-values hovering in the .22 through .30 ranges; thus correlating to R-values of 4.55 through 3.33.

And given the fact most exterior wall cavities are a minimum R-13 (with standard 2 x 4 framing) to R-19 (with 2 x 6 framing), the most energy efficient windows are 3 to 4 times less efficient than the wall they're installed in; thus the significance to upgrade building codes with regard to window glazing applications.

So, even with the large disparity between the wall vs. window insulating factor, improving U-values greatly increases the energy efficiency of the home.


Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (SHGC) is a measure of a window's ability to reduce heat gain during direct radiation exposure; such as during the summer months in warmer climates. A lower SHGC translates into less direct heat being pulled into the home resulting in lower cooling costs. SHGC and U-value are closely linked since the lowering of one directly affects the other.


Lo-E refers to the ability of an IG unit to suppress direct heat radiation and absorb indirect heat radiation. By placing a Lo-E coating, which usually consists of a microscopically thin layer of metallic oxides (primarily silver), on a glass surface, the ability to transfer heat radiation is lowered. The heat remains on the side of glass where it originated.

In a nutshell, Lo-E coatings reflect direct heat radiation and absorb indirect heat radiation.


I witnessed a demonstration where a standard IG unit 4 x 4 inches square was placed next to an identically sized IG unit with a low emissivity (Lo-E) layer applied. Both IG units were placed equal distance from an identical heat source with an air thermometer placed on the opposite (or inside) side; thereby simulating a warm-climate condition. The result was staggering.

On the standard IG unit without the Lo-E coating, the inside glass temperature was 7 degrees warmer than the inside glass temperature of the Lo-E coated unit. Imagine what a 7 degree difference would make over the entire glass square footage in your home; especially when you're trying to heat in the winter. -- Take into consideration this was an extreme demonstration. In reality, temperature differences for Lo-E coated IG units are nearer to 4-5 degrees; still a great amount on the thermostat.

Keep in mind the opposite of this demonstation is also true. Heat sources from the inside of your home during winter months will keep the inside of your glass warmer.


Lo-E glass works based on the angle of direct solar radiation.

Due to the sun's differing angles at various times of the year, Lo-E coatings work well in all seasons. In summer, when the angle is more direct, or "a high sky" they reflect heat. In winter, when the sun's angle is less direct, "a lower sky" they absorb the indirect heat.

Referring back to the previous demonstration, the non Lo-E coated glass allowed the direct heat to pass through the glass thereby warming your interior glass.

The Lo-E coated glass, on the other hand allowed some of the indirect heat in but blocked the direct heat thereby keeping your interior surface of glass cooler.

And being cool in the summer and warm in the winter is a good thing.

I'd be remiss if I didn't add one detail concerning Lo-E applications in overall warmer climates; since they can be optimized with additional coatings. Let me first begin by briefly explaining what a glass surface is.


All energy efficient windows with insulated glass are broken down into 4 surfaces:

Surface 1 (S1): The exterior surface of the exterior pane of glass.

Surface 2 (S2): The interior surface of the exterior pane of glass.

Surface 3 (S3): The exterior surface of the interior pane of glass.

Surface 4 (S4): The interior surface of the interior pane of glass.

These designations are important because the optimum effectiveness of the Lo-E coating is determined by which surface it is applied to.

As mentioned earlier, with Lo-E applications, the heat radiation remains on the side of glass where it originated.

For warmer climates, Lo-E coatings are sometimes applied on S3 and a secondary tint applied to S2 to reduce the initial heat radiation.

Such applications don't work as well in cooler climates since you want some of the initial heat to absorb in order to remain trapped once it tries to leave.

The ideal surface for a Lo-E coating in cooler climates is S2.


Hopefully, I've shed a little light (no pun intended), on what those silly acronyms and numbers signify on today's energy efficient windows. No matter what climate you live in it's always a smart thing to lower your energy costs. And becoming knowledgeable concerning energy efficient window ratings is a great start. I look forward to any questions and comments.

A great resource to find the energy ratings of your windows can be found at the following website.


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    • profile image

      michaelhimpson 5 years ago

      hello there gary if your still knoking around here is there site

      filling address ,check out there great prices , mention michael put you on

    • Steel Engineer profile image

      Steel Engineer 5 years ago from Kiev, Ukraine

      Americans should worry about the massive power behind these new green laws and requirements. Title 24 reports for new homes practically necessitate low-e glass, for example. The big winners are corporations selling specialty products that meet legal requirements.

    • profile image

      Eugene S 5 years ago

      Does the emissivity factor affect U-value or SHGC?

    • profile image

      Sachin Kulkarni 6 years ago

      Great Work. Inspiring for engineers and designers.

    • Rob Jundt profile image

      Rob Jundt 6 years ago from Midwest USA

      thanks everyone for such nice comments. I am glad this information is proving helpful.


    • profile image

      Toronto Window Ex 6 years ago

      This exactly what most customers need when they do research.

    • profile image

      Window World Houston 6 years ago

      Energy Efficient Windows are one of the most asked about products we carry at Window World. Thanks to informative blog posts like these, our customers are becoming more aware of the benefits of choosing Low-E and energy efficient windows. Thanks Hubpages for continuing to post such great articles, and making life a bit easier for replacement window and new construction window contractors like us!

      Keep up the great work!

    • profile image

      Paul Keane 7 years ago

      Reading this from Ireland. great the glass industry has a univeral language to explain their products.

      Great and well thought out piece

      appriciate it

      Go Raibh a maith agus

      Slán go Foill! (thank you and goodbye!)


    • profile image

      Scratched Glass Repair 7 years ago

      This is a great hub page for me to point clients to. I have so many people ask me what all the abbreviations mean, and I usually just let them know what the stuff stands for. This is a great explanation of what the glass is actually doing though, Thanks!

    • Rob Jundt profile image

      Rob Jundt 7 years ago from Midwest USA


      Thanks for stopping by! What I mean by a high sky is the sun's angle on the earth. In summer it is higher and more direct, while in winter less direct or lower. It has nothing to do with time of day. As for putting Lo-E coated glass on certain sides of a house, my experience has been to put it on all sides to be safe. After all, light doesn't just come in from one direction. I hope this helps clarify your questions.

    • profile image

      Padgemi 7 years ago

      Quoted from above: "In summer, when the angle is more direct, or "a high sky" they reflect heat."

      OK Now, how many people think the sun is high in the sky at sunrise or at sunset? Anyone? Anyone? I see no hands. Should we then never put Low E on the east and west sides of a building????

    • profile image

      N L Panwar 7 years ago

      This is very good information for learner.

    • profile image

      subhrajit pandit 7 years ago


      its informative and effective for the industry

    • profile image

      ed77burns 7 years ago

      Felt nice reading your hubs.

    • paulhines profile image

      paulhines 7 years ago from Fl.

      This is great information that not everyone takes into account.

    • Rob Jundt profile image

      Rob Jundt 7 years ago from Midwest USA


      Thanks for the kind comment. Having lived in the world of energy ratings for so long, it was like writing what I used to regularly say. Thanks for stopping by!

    • Sylvie Strong profile image

      Sylvie Strong 7 years ago

      This is a great hub. I have never seen this broken down and made so easy to understand. I know that isn't easy. :)

    • ciidoctor profile image

      ciidoctor 8 years ago

      amazing hub

    • profile image

      Muzic 8 years ago

      Great info for those of us that do not know anything about windows. Really helpful!

      God Bless,

    • profile image

      Chicago Window Expert 8 years ago

      Thanks for an excellent technical, yet understandable presentation. I am working in a similar direction at, so I know that making technical information friendly is quite a challenge.

    • funride profile image

      Ricardo Nunes 10 years ago from Portugal

      Great informative hub!