Windows designed for the energy savvy

How do you make a window that insulates as well as a two-by-four wall? Four panes, first of all. Between those panes, don't content yourself with a insulating layer of air. Instead, pump in some argon, the same gas found...

How do you make a window that insulates as well as a two-by-four wall?

Four panes, first of all. Between those panes, don’t content yourself with a insulating layer of air. Instead, pump in some argon, the same gas found within incandescent light bulbs.

“Argon is an inert gas; it holds no properties … so cold and heat do not transfer through argon as readily as they do through air,” said David Borud, president of Whitehorse-based Northerm Windows.

And on the outer panes is a microscopically thin metal coating that does the near-magical double duty of reflecting warmth back into a house, and repelling cold.

It is the Northerm 4000 series, a bizarre sandwich of glass, gas and vinyl that is so ridiculously well insulated, the inside pane can often feel warm to the touch.

In industry terms: “Conductive cold will not flow off of the quad to a noticeable point,” said Borud.

At first glance, the concept of adding another pane seems to be the most obvious diagnosis for an ultra-efficient window system. And while it’s true that a four-paner is nothing new, Northerm is the first company to put a four-pane window into its standard production line.

No longer are green building technologies an obscure niche market. Rather, Northerm sees innovative efficiency as giving their company an edge over the competition.

The company’s efforts have attracted the attention of the Yukon Cold Climate Innovation Centre, which granted the manufacturer ,000 to develop the groundbreaking new window.

As recently as the mid-1990s, most consumers simply wanted to purchase “some windows.” But green-consciousness and rising fuel prices all took their toll, transforming modern customers into efficiency virtuosos.

“They’re willing to pay a little bit more, and in some cases a lot more,” said Borud.

The windows do come at a premium, costing 30 to 35 per cent more than a standard three-pane window system.

But as with all things energy efficient, capital costs may be higher, but the payback in heating costs is immediate.

If a standard sized Whitehorse residence were to upgrade from three-pane windows to Northerm’s fully-loaded 4000 series, the window would pay for itself in only three to four years, said Borud.

With the latest federal budget announcement, green homebuyers are also blessed with official government support.

The Home Renovation Tax Credit, a high energy efficiency tax relief of up to ,350, was introduced in last week’s federal budget speech by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, offering homebuilders yet another incentive to go green.

“The (credit) is available for renovations to the house or the cottage, for everything from a new furnace to energy-efficient windows to a new deck,” said Flaherty.

While the Yukon is not generally looked upon as ideal territory for manufacturing, its frigid climes are a “natural testing ground” for the windowmakers at Northerm.

“We not only have cold, we have something worse, called temperature swings,” said Borud.

It’s the seasonal fluctuations between minus 40 and plus 30 that really separate the window men from the window boys, and what ensures that, by necessity, Northerm windows achieve Herculean efficiency.

The challenges of the Yukon elements were what first attracted Borud and his two brothers to the window business in the 1980s.

Initially working as storm-window installers, the trio found themselves spending entire work days staring at the beleagured, out-of-date windows on Yukon homes.

“We were trying to put a Band-Aid cure on windows that had performed, but that were now finished,” said Borud.

The brothers quickly moved into the window replacement business, ordering shipments of modern windows from Calgary.

“Windows don’t ship nicely, and by the time they got here they were showing the toll of riding the Alaska highway,” said Borud.

“We just thought, ‘We could do this here,’” he said.

Of course, whenever a window is sufficiently engineered to heavy-duty standards, it will inevitably find uses beyond mere insulation.

In particularly noisy locales such as near airports and freeways, the 4000 series is sought after for its sound insulation potential. Northerm may soon be licensing its design to window manufacturers in the most noise-polluted segments of Florida, said Borud.

They’re also safer.

In the communities, where rocks and Frisbees fly freely, the durability of Northerm windows have been well tested.

Gone are the days when an errant pebble can instantly turn a residential home into an ice palace.

“A rock often goes through one, two, and in some cases three, but it’s pretty tough to take a rock and go through four,” said Borud.

Contact Tristin Hopper at