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arrowWindows Provide More Than A Pretty View, So Keep These Tips In Mind When Choosing

The time may have come when your window issues go beyond the need for caulk, weatherstripping and storm windows. Windows not only help define a home's style and character, but are a key factor in energy-efficiency. If you live in a historical home with wood framed single-pane windows, you may just need some good storm windows. But replacement windows may be in order if windows, frames, sashes or sills are damaged or nonoperational, in which case they may not only be inefficient, but a safety hazard.

When you are ready to replace, for whatever reasons, start with the frame. Choices include vinyl, wood, aluminum, wood-clad, composite and fiberglass. Budget-friendly, but limited in colors – and simply unappealing to some homeowners – vinyl frames perform well in terms of energy-efficiency thanks to tight construction. Wood is the top choice when it comes to insulation, but it requires more maintenance and may not be a good choice for humid and rainy climates. Aluminum windows are very strong – think hurricane season – but allow heat transfer and loss. Wood-encased in vinyl and aluminum (wood-clad) may sound like the best-of-both worlds choice, but can be prone to water intrusion; therefore proper installation is critical. Often made from recycled plastics to convincingly mimic wood, composite wood-and-resin windows are considered by some to be an eco-friendly choice while being practically maintenance-free. Strong, durable, virtually weatherproof, and highly energy-efficient, fiberglass windows cost more and for good reason.

The window glass itself is the next consideration. Though you can buy windows with triple panes and denser gases inside, some experts insist that what homeowners really need are double-pane windows with low-E glass and a vacuum-sealed argon fill. They do come with a price, but not like those with other bells and whistles. These windows provide a dual function: summer protection from heat and UV rays (solar heat gain coefficient) and cool-weather protection from escaping heat (U-value). In coastal Virginia, our winters are not harsh enough to warrant triple-pane windows, which can reduce light transmission and visibility. However, homeowners, like us in Southeastern Virginia, might consider tinting that is undetectable to the eye, but that can preserve finishes and textiles while increasing energy-efficiency.

Glass choice is especially important in picture windows because they are typically larger. Casement windows, with a crank used to open and shut the windows, seal very tightly when wind blows against the window, but require maintenance on hinges and seals. Double-hung windows have a lower section that slides up to open the window, but air intrusion between the sliders is a factor in extreme climates.

Casings, both inside and out, define the look of windows. Homeowners can choose between low profile, high profile, modern and traditional. Low-profile casings lie flat against the interior and exterior walls and provide a finished look while guarding against cold air entering and warm air escaping. Layered moldings constitute high profile casings, and are now available in plastics and composites that mimic the look of high end, skilled carpentry. Modern casings are very minimal and clean-lined, designed to blend in, while traditional casings, though also simple and fairly flat, may sport slight protrusions and decorative designs like fluting. For greater accent, homeowners are drawn to transoms which are now being manufactured as stationary or “active” with the latter opening and closing. They also require deeper casings and, as with many things architectural, with added dimension often comes greater appeal.

Finally, the least sexy aspect of windows may be the most critical. Proper, professional installation cannot be overrated. Foams and sealants have their place, but if an installer relies too heavily on them for proper fit, beware, as they typically aren’t waterproof. Flashing and caulking, on the other hand, are critical components to avoid leaks.

When it’s time to look for new windows, do your homework, hire professionals, and never look back.


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