Choosing the Right Windows for Your Home
By: Danny Lipford
If your windows have seen better days, replacing them with energy efficient, double pane windows can significantly reduce your heating and cooling bills while adding value and curb appeal to your home.
However, selecting the right windows for your home can be overwhelming given all the styles, materials, and features that are available to choose from. In addition, since this project is a major investment and new windows are expected to last up to 20 years, doing some homework before you make a decision can save on headaches later on.
New or Replacement Windows
One of the first decisions a homeowner must make is between “new” and “replacement” windows. Here is the difference:
New windows are usually installed when the homeowner wants to change the size or shape of the current window opening and put a completely new window in its place. This generally requires the work of a contractor to complete the installation and surrounding carpentry.
While new windows generally do not cost more than replacement, the additional labor adds to the overall price. A big advantage of new windows is that you have the option to completely change the appearance and feel of your home both inside and out.
Installing replacement windows involves removing the old windows without disturbing the surrounding trim or frame, and replacing them with new windows or sash that are designed to fit right into the existing opening. Replacement windows cost around the same as new windows, but there is less labor involved in the installation, so the overall cost is less.
Replacement windows are a great option when the existing frame is still in good condition or when the trim is attractive and fits the décor of the home. Obviously the savings on labor costs are helpful when budget is a consideration. Depending on the manufacturer, replacement windows can be a stock size or they can easily be custom ordered to fit any opening.
Once you have decided between new and replacement windows the next decision is the style or type of window you would like. The four most basic and popular types are:
- Single or Double Hung Windows: These are among the most common windows and are found in most homes. They consist of two separate sash (the actual pane of glass in the inner frame), which open or close by sliding up or down. A single hung window opens from the bottom only by sliding up, while a double hung window can be opened from either the top or the bottom.
Double hung windows are ideal for creating air flow through the home when you lower the top sash. They are especially suited to homes where there are small children as they prevent the danger of a child climbing out the bottom window. (Remember: window screens don’t support the weight of a small child.)
- Casement Windows: These windows usually consist of one large sash that’s hinged vertically and opens by swinging out. Usually a lever or other mechanism is used to open this style of window.
- Awning Windows: These windows are hinged at the top and opened by tilting the window out from the bottom. As their name suggests, awning window create the appearance of an awning when open. These windows are most popular in coastal areas and in bathrooms.
- Slider Windows: These windows slide open from side to side and are an excellent choice when there is limited space outside to swing the window open.
Window Frame and Sash Materials
Once you have determined the style or type of window, next you have to consider the materials the windows are made from. The most popular window materials today are wood or vinyl. There are also variations including “wood clad” windows. Aluminum frame windows are also available, but are less popular since they aren’t as energy efficient as vinyl or wood.
- Wood Windows: Wood is both beautiful and had good insulating properties to resist heat and cold. However, the natural look of wood involves considerable maintenance. Besides periodic painting or staining, wood windows must be treated to protect them from moisture, movement, and rot.
- Vinyl Windows: Like their cousin vinyl fencing, vinyl windows have become one of the most popular choices among homeowners. Vinyl is virtually maintenance free, provides excellent insulation, is reasonably priced, and looks great.
- Vinyl Clad Windows: These windows offer the beauty of wood on the inside with a vinyl coating on the wood frame outside. This offers the maintenance free feature that makes vinyl so popular, while giving the beauty and natural feel of stained or painted wood on the inside.
Choosing Window Glass
Next you must choose the type of glass for your windows. Recent advancements in technology have greatly expanded the choices available in window glass. Besides choosing between double-, triple- or even quadruple-pane glass; you also get to decide on the distance between the panes.
The number of panes of glass doesn’t increase the insulation factor of the window, rather it’s the air between the panes of glass that provides the additional insulation. Most manufacturers today use an inert gas (usually argon) between the panes that insulates better than air alone.
- Low Emissivity (Low-E) Glass: Low-E glass refers to glass with a special microscopically thin, virtually invisible layer of material on the surface of the glass which acts to reduce the amount of heat that can flow through the glass itself.
- Impact Resistant Glass: While if you wack this glass with a baseball bat it may crack, but it will not shatter and spread glass shards all over the place. The beauty of impact resistant glass is that under extreme weather conditions it holds up beautifully. And of course the occasional stray baseball won’t leave you with a big mess to clean up.
When choosing windows, one tried and true rule of thumb is that you get what you pay for. While cost is certainly important, it’s even more important to choose a quality product made by a well-known company. It is imperative to choose a well made window that will provide the energy savings, ease of use, and low maintenance to hold up over time.
Carefully examine the warranties offered by the various window manufacturers, especially concerning the glass itself, since fogging between the panes is a common complaint on insulated glass windows. This is where a well known company with a good reputation will serve you well. Companies that have been around for a while are more likely to be around in the future should your window have problems or need replacement parts or sash.
Choosing a Window Contractor
There are several ways to find a good window installation contractor, but your best bet is to choose the window you want first and then look for a contractor who is especially trained by that manufacturer. Of course, as always, a great idea is to call your local Home Builder’s Association to find window installation contractors in your area.