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A Storm Door Is NOT a Wise Home Energy Efficiency Improvement

 

storm door building envelope home energy efficiency improvement

Although I rarely get to listen to it these days, I love the show Science Friday with Ira Flatow on NPR. It's always interesting, and you get to learn cool new science stuff. This past Friday, they covered a topic near and dear to my heart: the federal tax credit for home energy efficiency improvements.

Briefly, you can get up to $500 as a tax credit (which is real money, as opposed to a tax deduction) for home energy efficiency measures you pay for. It used to be $1500 and 30% of the cost, but they reduced it to $500 and 10% of the cost for this year. It's not great, but it's something, so if you can get it, you should.

The whole point of the latest edition of Science Friday was to make their listeners aware that this tax credit is expiring at the end of 2011. Yes, it's going away...again. Maybe Congress will extend it again, or maybe they won't. If you want to take advantage of this federal tax credit, you need to do it soon.

So, what does this have to do with storm doors, you're wondering? Well, in the show, the very first home energy efficiency improvement mentioned on Science Friday was installing a storm door. Yes, a storm door. They mentioned other items afterward that were better, but a storm door? Really, Ira?

Here's why I don't recommend storm doors for saving energy. If you want a storm door to protect your door or for looks or because everyone else is doing it, fine. Those are better reasons than getting one to save energy because they won't do a whole lot for you. In fact, you may use more energy if you do what so many do and leave the main door open and use your new storm door as a single pane window. A standard door doesn't have a lot of R-value, but it has more than a single pane of glass.

storm door home energy efficiency heating and cooling loads

The main reason it won't save you much energy is that, you don't have a lot of energy use associated with your doors. Take a look at the pie chart above. It's from a home energy rating for an energy hog of a house in Atlanta. In that house, the heating and cooling loads due to the doors in the house added up to only 1% of the total. I'm not a big fan of looking at payback (and if you're financing, payback is irrelevant), but the payback on a storm door is not very good. In the house above, the payback on a $200 storm door would be at least 20 years.

So, forget the storm door. Go with the caulk, spray foam, mastic, and weatherstripping first. Sealing the air leaks is the place to start.

(By the way, Ira, if you're looking for someone to discuss building science on your show, I could find some time for you. Give me a call.)

 

Photo of storm door by Corey Ann from flickr.com, used under a Creative Commons license.

Comments

I amazed at the number of people that really believe that adding a storm door will save them money. I guess ignorance is bliss. 
Whats even more amazing is the look on their faces when I point out all the gaps around the door that make it obsolete, during an energy audit. 
I had one client that went as far as to add window tint to the glass, yet never thought at looking at the fact that it never fully closed.
Posted @ Monday, December 19, 2011 7:31 AM by Jon LaMonte
Having 3 sons who have been tapping me for years, I have been a big fan of using our children’s money through unfunded mandates to pay for my home improvements, as you said, “paybacks” are a bitch!  
 
I also think it’s a great idea when those wise souls in DC use tax policy to pick the winners for us, so we don’t have to make these choices on their actual merits.  
 
What is also great, is all the job programs that are created and justified by Federal, State, and Local energy programs, driven by phony energy savings.  
 
I say “ If you’re going to be a Communist, Be Comfortable!”  
Posted @ Monday, December 19, 2011 7:52 AM by PJ
I grew up in a south-facing Maryland home with a storm door. One of my favorite childhood memories is of standing there in winter sun's radiant heat, enjoying the wide blue sky and breathing the icy clean air leaking around the door. Simultaneously hot and cold (wasn't there a MacDonald's promotion like that, back in the Refrigerator Perry days?) But of course you're right, a window is never an energy efficiency improvement.
Posted @ Monday, December 19, 2011 8:05 AM by Bob Seaton
Do not agree that a storm door is NOT a wise improvement...  
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
In short, there are too many, common exceptions that make that make the option of a quality (i.e. seals well, with enough insulation value to potentially achieve a 40% improvement in U value) to be a significant improvement. For example: the air and heat/cold infiltration of many doors - even with added weatherstripping - is significant. Even a 1/16 inch gap along one border is greater than a 2 square inch hole. The insulation value of many exterior doors can be substantially improved by a properly installed storm door which in some cases can add more R/U improvement that a replacement door. Besides, some folks really like their old wood doors. Some folks really like the option of having sun stream in via south facing doors in the winter time, or getting more light via shaded doors in the warmer months.  
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
In short, the comfort and enjoyment of a storm door - and the improvement in heat transmission reduction or insultation value is too often significant to disgard this option.  
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Now if you would pardon me while I open up to enjoy my full view of the sun now that the temperature has gone from 40 degrees earlier this morning to a balmy 70 (which is warmer than the thermostat setting). 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
W.D. "Bill" Piotrowski PhD 
 
 
 
www.GreenTechLtd.biz  
 
93 Sandy Creek Road 
 
Havana, FL 32333 
 
(850) 539-5225 or 510-4979 
 
 
 
Posted @ Monday, December 19, 2011 9:10 AM by William "Bill" Piotrowski
I've never really installed storm doors to increase energy efficiency, but they do work well to help protect your main door from the ravages of weather, and in the warm months a screen insert allows for natural air flow without flying insects entering the house.
Posted @ Monday, December 19, 2011 9:15 AM by Bill Dorsey
I didn't know this. My dad would have assured me up and down that our storm door was critical. But we did actually leave the main door open and just use the storm door. Point taken.
Posted @ Monday, December 19, 2011 9:43 AM by Nora DePalma
A--this points out the flaw that's existed in the energy efficiency tax credits even before the reduction from 1500 to 500: they've largely been used for similarly ineffective measures like roofs, windows, garage doors and storm doors. Another example of inequities in our tax code driven largely by special interests.
Posted @ Monday, December 19, 2011 9:59 AM by Peter Troast
My south facing storm door in San Pedro, CA a) has low-e & uv film to protect my beautiful 1917 craftsman oak door from low-angle winter sun. b) switches glass to screen in summer when porch prevents direct light, and allows the breezes in. Win and win. Thanks, Coppa Woodworking. Point two: the 1% is a fallacious argument for not taking action. If windows are 11% and you have 11 windows, each is 1%. Do you look at each window and say "I won't improve this window because it is only 1%"? Does it somehow make more sense if call the doors "windows" and make it 12%? No, you fix each 1% window as best you can, and the 1% doors as well. The important thing is that you thing them thru carefully, consider your particular situation and how you live. Finally, do each improvement as well as you can.
Posted @ Monday, December 19, 2011 10:02 AM by John Mattson
Thanks for all the great comments so far! Keep 'em coming. 
 
Jon L.: Yep. The average person doesn't know how their home works or how heat flows or how much the different components contribute to their energy bills. That's why we write blogs like this and you go out and do energy audits. There's a lot of opportunity! 
 
PJ: When incentives "pick the winners for us," as you said, and those winners aren't based on performance, we all lose. 
 
Bob S.:  
 
: Ah, the hot and cold thrill! Sometimes on chilly days, I like to drive with my windows down and the heat on to get that. 
 
Bill P.: I think we agree more than you think we do. There are good reasons to install to install a storm door, as I mentioned above. As for saving energy, there's a lot more bang for the buck in other parts of the house. 
 
Bill D.: Absolutely! That was one of the reasons I mentioned in the article above. 
 
Nora D.: Well, it may be critical for something...just not saving energy. 
 
Peter T.: It's always a great day when you comment here in the Energy Vanguard blog. And yes, we need performance-based incentives, not product-based. 
 
John M.: We agree 100% on the need to think things through carefully. Yes, there are good reasons to install a storm door, but you're not going to save much energy by doing so. I'm not saying that no one should ever do this. It depends on the state of their house and what their budget and goals are. If they get a good analysis like the pie chart above, then they can see where are the best places to invest their money.  
 
Posted @ Monday, December 19, 2011 10:20 AM by Allison Bailes
The best benefit from my Wood 'storm' door here in New England is when I put in the screen insert in summer and get the wonderful cool evening breezes flowing through my (no need for air conditioning) house.
Posted @ Monday, December 19, 2011 11:25 AM by Laura Notman
Re: Peter T's comment: as long as our laws (at all levels, not just federal) are made by men, tax incentives will continue to be product-based or company-based, with little if any regard to performance, cost, or real effect on the economy or environment. 
 
Posted @ Monday, December 19, 2011 11:45 AM by lnthomp
Informative analysis. Thanks.
Posted @ Monday, December 19, 2011 2:00 PM by Bridget Willard
I like storm doors for the extra layer of protection they add to deter criminals.
Posted @ Tuesday, January 03, 2012 7:22 PM by Mike Finch
The "economic effiency" of a storm door debate is a subjective platform whereas the "effective benefits" or "utility" of such are one of an objective viewpoint. 
 
 
 
While the addition of a storm door or a whole house storm window system may fail to meet "industry test criteria" in terms of cost vs. energy conservation, it is how these products provide many other benefits for the homeowner that really matters (looks, bugs, rain). 
 
 
 
Here is a basic example. Any person with common sense can understand the concept of an energy envelope. That is why we are instructed to dress in layers. 
 
 
 
The heat or cold transference from one object or area to another and the speed of which this occurs, are relevent to the laws of thermodynamics. 
 
 
 
Simple logic dictates the air space and distance between indoors and outdoors acts as an insulator to slow down the loss or gain of heat. This is because cold always attracts heat. (That's how a refridgerator works. When you open the door, the cold doesn't come out, the heat goes in). 
 
 
 
Therefore, in a basic utility context, the use of storm doors and storm windows is a valid benefit if installed at a reasonable cost and with proper application as the seasons dictate. 
 
 
 
Posted @ Friday, January 27, 2012 8:39 AM by gl
We have a door that has clear air gaps in it where it meets the wall. You can literally stand back and see spots of light coming through it. I believe a storm door will do a lot more then 1% for my specific situation. But naturally we are getting a storm door for the extra secruity. The idea of having two doors instead of one is a nice addition for us. There is also some fancy storm doors as well. The more fancier ones have blinds built into them! I do get your point; if it was only for energy savings of course I can take my $200 and get more bang for my buck! But adding a storm door is a clear improvement to the house.
Posted @ Saturday, October 13, 2012 12:01 PM by Dustin
My position on windows and storms has come full circle, in large part due to the teachings and tools provided by Robert Bean. bit.ly/comfortcalculator 
 
Comfort of the occupant has serious consequences at the thermostat. Keeping the whole enclosure 2f warmer all season so you are comfortable in your favorite chair is not calculated in ROI calcs of cost effectiveness.  
 
Design to the individual instead of to the enclosure allows for lower thermostat settings to achieve the same or greater comfort.  
 
So if the window or door in question is directly adjacent to a high occupancy location, cost effectiveness of improvement may be significantly understated.
Posted @ Sunday, December 02, 2012 10:42 AM by TedKidd
You're not serious are you? You have all these brand marks that make you look serious, but your blog seems full of BS: undocumented pie chart and undefined terms. Do we just take your word? You know what, put in a little extra effort document your stuff. You surely won't be invited to Sci Fri if you don't.
Posted @ Tuesday, May 27, 2014 9:20 PM by Ben
Ben: Actually, yes, I am serious. Thanks for your comment. I revised the article a little bit to add that the pie chart is from a home energy rating we did for a house in Atlanta. If you'll let me know which undefined terms you're referring to, I'll see if I can help clear that up for you as well. 
 
By the way, you're right. This blog is chock full of BS - building science!
Posted @ Wednesday, May 28, 2014 6:08 AM by Allison Bailes
Doors windows and storm door and windows are not cost effective unless there is missing glass.
Posted @ Thursday, May 29, 2014 9:30 PM by Chad Mcauliffe
A combination door system. Adding a second insulated door in the frame, (where your flimsy metal storm door would be) is a good option for saving heat and energy loss. With a vented lite (window) in the ext. combo door it can prvide good summer ventilation and light in the summer month, while also adding an R value and more airtight seal in your door opening. Medero doors has a good website to veiw a combo door. To debate- With wall thickness in mind, how much space do you leave btw the two doors when building the frame? If you have a thick wall 10 1/2 inchs etc. Do you build the frame so the doors are on the inter an ext of the wall so there is a air space btw? or put both door towards the ext of the wall, or towords the inter? Where in the wall, an frame should both doors be placed to provide maximum insulating value? Look forward to hearing your thoughts. Will add, I live in nothern canada where temps drop to -40 C. thx.
Posted @ Friday, September 19, 2014 1:33 PM by Ryan
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