Measuring Performance: U-Factor

The rate of heat loss is indicated in terms of the U-factor (U-value) of a window assembly. The lower the U-factor, the greater a window’s resistance to heat flow and the better its insulating properties.

The nationally recognized rating method by the National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC) is for the whole window, including glazing, frame and spacers. Center-of-glass U-factor is also sometimes referenced, and describes the performance of the glazing alone without the effects of the frame. For most energy efficient windows, the whole window U-factor is higher than the center-of-glass U-factor.

High-performance double-pane windows can have U-factors of 0.30 or lower, while some triple-pane windows can achieve U-factors as low as 0.15.

Low U-factors are most important in heating dominated climates, although they are also beneficial in cooling dominated climates. ENERGY STAR provides recommended U-factors for your climate; additionally, the Window Selection Tool compares average simulated energy costs for your location based on various window types.

What is the difference between U-factor and R-value?

While the U-factor is used to express the insulation value of windows, R-value is used for insulation in most other parts of the building envelope (walls, floors, roofs). While they are related, different assumptions and test criteria are used in calculating the two values so they cannot be directly converted. To compare R-value and U-factor, divide 1 by the U-factor number, E.g.: a 0.25 U-factor equals a 1/0.25 = 4 R-value.