Triple Pane vs Double Pane: Is it worth the cost?

One of the most common questions I get from customers is whether or not it is worth it to upgrade their order from double pane to triple pane. The honest answer if you live in cold weather climates like Wisconsin is almost always yes.

Energy bills continue to rise and far outpace the rate of inflation. Heating and cooling costs make up the largest percentage of your utility bills and the smart consumer will seek ways to reduce their overall usage. But even after you change out all of your light bulbs to compact fluorescents and you wrap all of your hot water pipes with insulation, you’ll still be paying more than you need to if you don’t pay any attention to your windows and doors. In fact, the US Department of Energy estimates that as much as 70% of your energy could be wasted through inefficient windows and doors.

But let’s face it, you’ve got to balance your budget with your needs and this is where many consumers have a tough time deciding.

Here in the Milwaukee area, there are many companies that will upgrade you to triple pane for, what they say, is a great deal of “just” $400 or $500 for your average-sized window. First things first — don’t get sucked into that game. Typically you should be paying no more than a $200 upgrade fee for a good triple-pane window. If you’re paying more than that you are paying for a company’s high overhead or an overly zealous salesman who is looking for a fat commission. Keep in mind that many of these bigger, high-pressure companies will start out with the top of the line and then drop down to double pane if you don’t pull out your checkbook.

Differences in most quality triple panes are not huge. There’s not as much gamesmanship in the triple pane market as there is with the double pane market. Chances are that if you’re buying triple pane today, you’re getting a quality glass pack. (Unfortunately, this doesn’t guarantee that you’re getting a great frame.)

Make sure that your triple pane is filled with either argon or krypton gas and you should be fine. Krypton is going to be more efficient than argon but as far as cost, the upgrade from argon to krypton should not run you more than 10% additional. As of the writing of this column, in 2010, I know of no companies that sell a low-efficiency triple pane. That being said, companies may bring a low-quality “comparison sample” triple pane glass pack into your home to show you the differences. If that happens, they’re seeing dollar signs, you should see a red light.

Cold weather climates will see the greatest benefits from triple pane windows. Today’s consumers are not often replacing all of the windows at the same time. If you’re like most consumers and you’ve replaced just a few of your windows with triple pane, on a cold day touch your window with the back of your hand. Then touch a window that you haven’t replaced with the back of your hand. With a quality triple-pane window, you will not only notice a big difference, but you’ll be wanting to replace the rest of them as soon as your budget allows.

Note: Some double-pane windows on the market come with one, two, or even three layers of suspended film in between the glass. These windows are not widely available to all contractors and their price is sometimes prohibitive. Regardless, if a company tells you that a simple double pane (without additional film or glass in between) is sufficient for a northern climate, you should be very skeptical.

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