Selecting the right window can be a big decision

The Associated Press
Friday October 13, 2000

James recently expanded his home office. A big decisions he had to make was to choose the right windows for the job. The wall that was being “pushed out” contained a window and a sliding door. James wasn’t sure whether he should nix the window and replace the smaller sliding door with a larger one, or go with just windows or reuse what he had. He anguished over the choice. He wanted it to be just right. 

Whichever he chose he knew he had to select something that was going to be consistent with the shapes and sizes of the windows and doors along that same exterior wall. Also, he didn’t want to modify the type of window frame – the new had to match the existing – exactly. Since his house is relatively new, and because the windows were modern and energy-compliant, he had no thoughts of changing the overall window theme. 

In addition to their aesthetics, windows are highly functional. They are a key element in promoting natural ventilation, and modern ones can conserve energy. While you enjoy the view outdoors, weather is kept outside away from you where it belongs. Can you imagine a home without windows? Shopping for windows involves several important decisions. Some rules of thumb: 

l You don’t want your remodel to look like one. If you aren’t going to change all of the windows, consider matching the frame of the new window type as closely as possible to the frames on the ones you already have. Nothing looks as bad as architectural potpourri. 

l Regardless of the frame type, consider upgrading to insulated glass. One, two or three sheets of glass? They all look the same at a glance but the better the insulative value, the more comfort. R-value measures energy efficiency of the glass. The higher the R-value, the more efficient the glass. U-value measures the efficiency of the glass and the frame together. The lower the U-value the better. 

l Do some research. Each type of window has advantages and disadvantages. Wood-frame windows are more energy-efficient and reduce condensation, but they are maintenance-intense and expensive. Metal-frame windows are low maintenance and inexpensive but transmit heat and cold, and condensation can be a really big problem. Wood windows that have plastic or metal exterior covers are a good bet – less maintenance on the exterior side (where wood is most often in need of maintenance) and top energy efficiency. Unfortunately, metal or plastic over wood is the most expensive kind of window. Vinyl windows are low maintenance and better suited to resist condensation than are metal ones. However, plastics have a tendency to become brittle.  

l Most folks are “light conscious.” The brighter it is, the more natural light available in it, the more a home is appreciated. If you are upgrading, don’t downsize. If anything, you might want to upsize. This will add value to your home. 

l Be sure to purchase from a major manufacturer. With today’s insulated windows you can expect guarantees that extend from 10 years to life. Since even the best of insulated windows fail, warranty is essential. Smaller companies might offer a good warranty, but might not be there to honor it later. 

l If you intend to use wood interior windows, look for wood that will complement other wood on the interior of your home – cabinets, wainscot, chair rail, door trim, etc. 

l Finally, don’t forget low E glass. It is more energy-efficient and will save dollars on your heating and cooling bills. 

Wood frames are the most energy-efficient and are even better when blended with metal or plastic covers on the exterior to reduce painting maintenance. Glass should be insulated for extra energy-efficiency – the more layers the better.