Condensation on window glass is one reason homeowners turn to replacement units. But it can also be one of the reasons for a callback after the windows have been replaced. What starts out as a selling opportunity — visible evidence of energy-wasting windows —can turn around and bite you when the condensation persists after new high-performance units have been installed.
It's important from the very start to educate homeowners about the causes of condensation, and not to oversell what the windows can do. Be clear with them that, although cold glass exacerbates the problem, windows do not cause condensation; high humidity does.
CAUSES OF CONDENSATION Moisture vapor in the air tends to condense on cold surfaces in a home where the air reaches its dew point. This is common when there is great difference between inside and outside temperatures and when the relative humidity of the warm side is high.
Typically, the coldest surfaces in a home are on the windows — most often at the edges where conduction is greatest. In extreme cases, when indoor humidity is very high, chronic condensation at the edges of the glass can create a significant moisture problem that leads first to peeling paint, then to mildew (a type of mold), and eventually to rot.
Keep in mind also that if condensation frequently forms on the glass, it's likely also to be forming inside walls. This can happen where warm, moist air leaks into the wall at a point where a pocket of poor insulation creates cold surfaces.
Condensation can form in both very hot and very cold weather. On a cold winter night when the indoor temperature may be more than 50º F higher than outside, condensation on the inside edges of an insulated glass window is possible, depending on indoor humidity.
Similarly, on a hot Florida summer day, condensation may form on the outside surfaces of the windows of a heavily air conditioned home.
In winter, you can do something about the humidity — ventilate. In the hot summer, the solution may only be found in using high-performance windows.
SOLUTIONS TO THE PROBLEM
The first line of attack should always be to examine the humidity conditions in the home. If the relative humidity is greater than 50%, condensation may be inevitable. Keeping humidity levels as low as possible in very cold weather is the first best strategy, but selecting the right window can help alleviate the problem. Window options include:
- Switching from a single-pane to a double-pane replacement unit. It's not uncommon to see condensation on single-pane windows, even in normal humidity conditions. An insulated glass unit will often solve the problem.
- Investing in a window that uses warm-edge technologies to reduce conduction at the edges of insulated glass units. This will keep the window edges warm and reduce the chances that condensation will form. However, when condensation forms on the edges of an insulated glass unit it is an indication of excessive indoor moisture levels.
- Choosing an insulated-glass unit with an argon or krypton gas fill, which provides a slightly better insulation value and reduces convection between the panels. This may be the best option for a window in a kitchen or bath where even exhausting the humidity may not be enough to avoid condensation forming at the edges of the glass.