A Buyer’s guide: Clear Choices for Windows

Whether you want to improve the appearance of your home or create a new space, choosing new windows can make a difference. If you choose to open up a new view or replace worn out units that don’t protect you from the elements, new windows can help too.

guide to windows

Modern windows cut air infiltration down to zero, and advance glazings can cut down your energy bills by 40%. They also free you from painting periodically and rival fine cabinetry which can be eye appealing.

Replacement windows are no longer limited to just ripping out and installing a new window, as manufacturers now offer new frame materials, glazing and installation options. Money-saving versions of these installations can allow you to replace the glass and sash without replacing the frame. New labeling programs make choosing energy efficient windows easy.

Material Choices

Wood, vinyl, aluminum, fiberglass and composite glass are the types of window frames available today.

As the most affordable, vinyl are half the price compared to wood-frame versions. They’re energy efficient due to honeycomb of chambers that boost insulation and trap air. They fit in any size opening and do not need repainting, although colors are limited.

First appearing in 1970s, they were birthed because larger manufacturers were not offering custom replacement sizes of stock wood windows, so small fabricators started to do it. Custom sizes are now available from nationwide companies. Vinyl replacements are now offered by traditional wood-window companies.

Look for a uniform color through the frame when looking. Look for heat-welded joints and not ones with screws or fasteners. Two to six week waits are normal for custom units.

Despite being the gold standard by professionals and homeowners, wood-frame windows are slowly losing their market dominance to vinyl. Wood-frame windows are still strong, beautiful, and energy efficient. Good ones cost the most and the maintenance can be rough, as it needs to be painted often because of the elements deteriorating the window.

Cladding the wood with vinyl or aluminum is a required upkeep by manufacturers. As a result, the window is tough with a natural wood interior that can be painted or stained. However, clad-wood windows cost more than ordinary wood.

Wood windows should be easy operation and look for tight-fitting corners. Wood free of blemishes and finger joints being invisible are a must.

Aluminum-frame windows are durable, low cost and low maintenance. A big drawback is that with their metal frame, they conduct heat easily having a high U-value, which is not good as U-value’s must be low as possible. Vinyl frames have a .3 to .5 U-value range, while aluminum frames have a 2 range. They are also prone to condensation and can feel cold to the touch.

Warm-climates are most suitable for aluminum-frame windows, as the cooling bill will be higher than the heating bills. Be sure to get a thermal break in the frame, so the strip of plastic or rubber on the inside and outside of the frame separates to limit the heat conductivity.

Composite-frame windows and fiberglass are newer options for shoppers. The material is similar to car bumpers, strong, maintenance-free and energy saving. They are affordable, costing between prices of vinyl and wood.

The replacement market offers a company that has composite units. They’re a combination of fiberglass and polyester resin, allowing units to be painted to your taste, which cannot be done with vinyl windows.

Look for heat-welded joints and not ones with screws or fasteners. Vinyl windows look best in uniform color throughout the frame. Don’t just go by material alone, look for a quality window that’s easy to use and comfortable in your hand. Quality windows have quality hardware. Vinyl windows also can be built to fit any size opening.

Savings and Strength

About 20 years ago, most homes had single pane of glass on their windows. This results in large bills for both hot and cold climates. As much as $800 would be lost in cold climates, and $850 in hot climates. Now with high-tech double glazing, about $450 to $500 can now be saved annually.

Manufacturers use low-e coatings and inert gases to make double-glazing more efficient. Newer coatings of low-e stop heat gain where cooling is needed. However, these coatings add about 10 to 15 percent to the cost of the window.

The U-value is used to determine how much heat a window lets in. Solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC) ranges determine how much light is transmitted. To cut energy losses for hot seasons, look for low U-value windows. Optimal cooling units usually have a low SHGC despite letting in a lot of visible light.

If these labels are too confusing, just go with a window that has an Energy Star label. They are labeled by the U.S. Department of Energy and the EPA. They tag the most energy efficient windows and these windows usually are 15 to 40 percent more efficient, while meeting typical building codes.

Cool areas require U-value 0.75 and SHGC .4 or below. Heated areas require .35 or below and no SGHC requirement. Mixed areas of hot and cold, require U values of 04 or below and SHGCs of .55 or below. A heat dominated area is categorized as having 70% of energy bills going to cooling. Cool dominated areas are categorized as 70% of energy bills towards heating.

Developed by the American Architectural Manufacturers Association, alongside the National Wood Window and Door Association, this organization ensures that wood, vinyl, and aluminum windows meet structural standards. They provide tests and grant certification.

Choosing the right style

Choosing a style that suites both your needs and the home is crucial, as it can throw off the current style or look out of place. Choices can also either raise your home’s values or reduce it. These styles should be considered while shopping for the right window:

Double-hung windows with divided lights for traditional or colonial style. Usually referred to as “six over six” or “eight over eight” to describe number of panes in the sashes individually.

Metal frame units are safe bets for modern or contemporary homes. Out-swing casement windows that don’t have divided lights, look best for ranch style houses. Weigh your options by looking at similar homes or asking contractors advice.

Add identical or similar units to an existing windows shape or size when adding a window to a wall. This is to make sure the window does not look out of place. Location for new windows on walls can be difficult. Line up the top of the new window with the top of an existing window to see if there is a consistent height to give you a sense of order on the wall.

Look at all that a manufacturer has to offer, such as their entire line. Companies offer materials in different shapes and sizes. Double-hung windows are also available with curved glazing, as they have a great old Victorian look. Others offer windows for older homes.

Never go to a show room unprepared. Have your questions and concerns ready when exploring. Do your own research to be prepared to choose the right windows for you, your home, and your pocket.