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The Silver Lining Playbook to Energy Bill Savings

Each year 4% of the total energy produced in the United States sneaks out of our windows. That might not sound like a lot, but stopping this leakage could reduce energy loss in the average American home by 30%-50%. One force being used to stop this expensive energy leakage is a precious metal few would probably expect: silver.

Silver's value shines through

Silver has the highest electrical conductivity of any element and the highest thermal conductivity of any metal. It's also the most reflective metal in the world. Thatthermal conductivity and reflective nature make silver an important component in energy-efficient windows known as low-emissivity, or low-e, windows. For perspective, uncoated glass alone has a thermal emissivity of 0.91, meaning it lets in not only the visible light from the sun but also infrared light and ultraviolet light. Infrared light, which is also known as heat energy, transmits heat into a building while ultraviolet light is what causes materials to fade. Silver's thermal emissivity, on the other hand, is 0.02, meaning it's like Fort Knox when it comes to infrared light.

Source: U.S. Department of Energy.

The only problem with replacing existing windows is that it requires a fairly large up-front investment. In many cases the return on that investment isn't very compelling if the savings and cost don't line up. For example, my parents live in upstate New York and were looking at getting triple silver low-e windows to keep the heat inside their home during the brutally cold winter. However, the estimates to replace all 18 of their windows was a pretty steep $18,000, which was a reduction from the astounding $54,000 that was first quoted. Given that their heating bill is around $2,000 per year and they already have double pane windows they would only save about $330 per year according to the Department of Energy's savings chart. This translates to a nominal payback period of 54 years - a questionable investment at best. That being said, home owners with old single pane windows the return on investment can be more reasonable.

There are, however, other options for homeowners looking to save money without installing new windows. Low-e storm windows can be installed in conjunction with existing windows. The Department of Energy cites installing exterior storm windows with a low-e coating as one of its energy savings projects : It's an easy and cost-effective option that will enable a homeowner to save money on energy bills. On average, low-e storm windows can save a homeowner 10%-35% of annual energy bill. For a consumer who spends $1,000 each year in heating or cooling costs, this could add up to $350 per year in savings. Given the cost of $60 to $200 per storm window installation, the return on investment could be quite compelling depending on the number of windows in the home.

Final thoughts

Silver has long been one of the earth's most precious metals. Many of today's homeowners are finding silver to have another valuable property inpreventing energy, and therefore money, from sneaking out of their homes. This is why many Americans are investing in silver-glazed low-e windows as it can be a cost-effective way to keep their homes warm in winter and cool in summer .

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The article The Silver Lining Playbook to Energy Bill Savings originally appeared on Fool.com.

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