Friday, March 07, 2008
Choose window materials well
By Ann Robinson and Annie Vernon
Windows are an important part of your remodel. You may be adding windows to capitalize on natural light or a particular view. You may be replacing old, inefficient windows to save energy costs. Or you may be looking to change the style or functionality of your windows.
Whatever your goals, you need to be particular about the windows you choose.
Last week we talked about common window styles. This week we'll look at more technical aspects — specifically the material of the window frame and various options for glass.
Once you have selected the best window style for your home, the next decision is the material of the frame. Aluminum frames are inexpensive and lightweight and come in various finishes and colors. They are essentially maintenance free, but they cause conductive heat loss and therefore can be an inefficient choice. They also generally have thin and plain profiles, so they don't add much — in terms of design — to a room.
Vinyl windows are strong and provide good energy savings. You can select from a few colors (white, almond and tan), but dark colors are not an option because they will warp and fade in the heat. Vinyl also does not receive paint well. Vinyl windows have come a long way in terms of design. They are now available with thicker, more detailed profiles, which give them a much richer look than the vinyl windows of just a few years ago.
Fiberglass is a more recent option for window frames. This is a stable material that allows the use of darker colors, such as brown and forest green. It is excellent in terms of insulation but is slightly more expensive than vinyl.
Wood-framed windows are a good choice when you want a more traditional or natural look. Wood windows are not affected as much by temperature extremes and have fewer condensation problems. However, wood frames can be expensive and require considerable maintenance with regular painting. You can get wood windows that have the exterior wrapped in aluminum or vinyl to reduce exterior maintenance issues.
Once you decide the framing material, you need to decide which type of glass — or "glazing" — to use. As windows evolved throughout history, they have been covered with anything from hide to thinly sliced marble. By the 20th century, glass became common.
Today glazing has advanced to include multiple "layered" panes, energy-efficient technologies and safety options, such as nonshatter tempered glass in doors.
Most new windows are sold as double-paned units, sometimes called insulated glass. The space between the two pieces of glass can be filled with a gas that is a poor thermal conductor, thus reducing the heat that passes through.
Glazing can also come with coatings and tinting. Low-emissivity (low-E) is the most common coating in residential windows. This is an invisible layer of metallic oxide that reduces the amount of heat that passes through the glass. Low-E coatings add up to 20 percent to the cost of a window, but they also cut energy expenditures by about 25 percent. Low-E coatings also filter ultraviolet rays, which helps protect furniture, carpets and artwork.
Finally, one good way to get energy-efficient windows is to look for Energy Star windows. They come with multiple panes of glass, gas fill, low-E coatings, warm-edge spacers and improved weather stripping. And through the Energy Policy Act of 2005, they may also come with up to $500 in federal tax credit.
Windows give you a lot to think about! But they are an important part of any remodel and can become one of the most beautiful features of your home. As always, we welcome your home architect design questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.