Is there any way to determine either empirically or by convention a rule-of-thumb when one should spend money on insulating windows rather than insulating the attic of a house or building to keep it warm in winter and cool in summer?

In other words, how do we determine where to place the next piece of insulation to maximize the increase in total building system insulation effective R-value?

  • $\begingroup$ Do the standard heat transfer calculations using r-values and surface areas of windows walls roof and , of course floor.... $\endgroup$
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Nov 20, 2017 at 9:09
  • $\begingroup$ A good text to get you going is Simonson : Engineering Heat Transfer , available here, amongst others... palgrave.com/de/book/9780333459997 $\endgroup$
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Nov 20, 2017 at 9:29

1 Answer 1


A project makes economic sense when the return from the project exceeds the rate you can borrow money at. Usually we want a fairly large return before we concern ourselves with the project however. Lets say we want a 3 year break even or 33%APR. All aspects of that project should target that rate of return to be optimized.

To calculate this you first determine the return. In this case it is the amount of heat saved by upgrading to new windows (kW * 24hr * 365 days), multiplied by the cost of heat ($/kWhr). Then take this amout divided by the cost of the window project. If it is more than your target APR, consider increasing to the next quality level of windows. If it is less than your target APR, try decreasing the quality of the new windows or abandon that aspect of the project.

You can then run the same calculation for all the other items in your project: attic insulation, wall insulation, HVAC COP, etc.


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