The Time to Open Your Windows – Or Replace Them

Windows

Spring… that lovely time of year when you can keep your windows open and your utility bills low – when the weather is ideal with warm days and refreshingly cool nights.  Other than the occasional April shower or bad allergy day, Spring can be the most beautiful time of the year; when you can open up your home and let the air clear out the stuffiness from winter.  It’s also the time of year when homeowners take advantage of the comfortable weather to do home improvements or begin new projects.

If the temperature of your home feels uncomfortable in the winter and summer months even with a working HVAC system, take a closer look at your windows as old or inefficient windows are often the culprit.  It’s important to understand all your options when it comes to repairing or completely replacing your windows as a full replacement is costly and often, unnecessary.

First, we examine the 4 most important factors: frame, glass, design and installation.

Frames:

Window and Flowers

Vinyl – Vinyl is a less expensive option.  One of the more practical choices, vinyl can be very effective if well-constructed and installed.  The most common complaint with vinyl is the limited colors available.

Wood – Most older homes still have their original wood windows.  That’s because well made wood windows can last a long time with proper care and in the right climate.  While they require more upkeep, they have the best long term value. They do have the tendency to rot in warm, humid climates so keep in mind your location before spending the extra bucks.

Wood-Clad – Wood-clad is easier to maintain compared to wood as wood windows tend to warp and splinter.  If you like the look of wood but looking for a simpler option, wood-clad would be the way to go.  If you live in a particularly rainy area, discuss wood-clad with a professional as they are prone to water intrusion.

Aluminum – Unlike wood, aluminum is the most practical for humid, rainy areas and is very durable.  However not the most efficient when it comes to heat.

Fiberglass – One of the more eco-friendly options, fiberglass is also very efficient.  Great for the long term, fiberglass doesn’t warp like wood, which means less repairs and maintenance over time.  Unlike vinyl, fiberglass can be painted – not to mention it’s almost nine times stronger.

Glass:

Window Glass

According to John Lala, president of Rycorp Construction in Virginia Beach, “a double-paned window with Low-E glass, with a vacuum-sealed argon fill” is the most popular and efficient option.  This combination of characteristics prevents heat from escaping your home and protects from the sun’s UV rays and heat.

Double-paned windows are the standard option for the majority of climates while triple-paned are more appropriate for areas with very harsh winter climates. On the other hand, for areas with mild climates, single pane would be perfectly acceptable.  If you live in an urban setting or facing a busy street, double and triple paned windows are the best option to drown out noise.

If your goal is to have the most efficient windows, look for those that meet the standards of The Energy Star Program.  They base their assessment on the following:

U-Value – Measures a window unit’s resistance to heat loss.  The lower the value, the more efficient.
Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (SHGC) – Measures how much heat enters a home through the glass.  The lower the number, the better.
R-Values – Indicates the energy efficiency.  Example: Single pane R-Value = 1.  Triple pan R-Value = 5-7

If you install windows that meet the standards of the Energy Star Program, check for tax credits!

Design:

Window Brick

There are many different options for window design.  While the image of the window is important, each design has pros and cons depending on how much you are looking to spend, how much maintenance you’re willing to do and the climate in which you live.

Double-Hung – Traditional and common in pre-war buildings.  This design has the bottom of the window sliding up to open.  Unfortunately, double-hung windows are susceptible to air between sliders in extreme temperatures.

Casement – Cranks swing the window outward.  Casement design has a contemporary feel with an unobstructed view and is great for windy areas, but requires maintenance on hinges and seals.

Sliding – Sliding windows are similar to the casement design with an unobstructed view.  While little maintenance is needed and they are less expensive, they don’t provide much ventilation.

Fixed & Picture – Similar in style, neither type opens as their purpose is geared towards light and views.  Both styles are available in a variety of shapes and sizes.  The only main difference is the frames on fixed windows are larger.

Awning & Hopper – Also similar in style are awning and hopper windows.  Awning windows are larger and used mostly in bedrooms or kitchens while hopper windows are smaller and used in basements or bathrooms.  The other main difference is where they are hinged: awning (hinged at the top) or hopper (hinged at the bottom).  Keep in mind air conditioners cannot be used in either style.

Installation:

Window Install

The most important factor is installation.  Quality installation is the key to efficiency regardless of window type.  It is highly recommended to use the same contractor for purchase and installation and to get a full breakdown of all costs involved before moving forward.

Alternatives:

You don’t need to spend a fortune to save a few dollars on your utility bills.  Most of the time, full replacement of windows is totally unnecessary.  You can save time and money with the following alternatives:

Partial Replacement/Pocket replacement – Use partial replacement units for frames and sills that are still intact.

Storm Windows – Storm windows come in the form of an exterior or interior attachment.  Low-e glass is recommended.  Storm windows are a nice option if your current windows are in good condition but you’re looking to go the extra mile during the winter and summer months.

Weather Stripping – Frequently used, weather stripping comes in a variety of sizes and materials and is a quick and inexpensive fix for windows and doors.  Common types are v-strips, felt, foam, door sweeps and tubular rubber/vinyl/silicone.

Caulking – Caulking is used to seal air leaks through cracks and gaps because of it’s flexible material.  It also helps to prevent water damage.  Make sure to apply when temperature is above 45 degrees with low humidity to prevent cracks.  The warmer and dryer, the better!