Imagine living in a house without a window. You can’t, can you? Windows are your view of the world from inside your home. Light from windows lifts our spirits and keeps us connected to the view and perpetual drama of the weather outside, from the cozy warmth of our homes.
They’re also an important design element when viewed from the outside, contributing to—or detracting from—“curb appeal.” But beyond aesthetics, windows are one of the big drivers of energy use in your home. Old single-pane windows or windows with broken seals between double glass panes leak heat in the winter and boost air conditioning costs by letting in too much heat in the summer.
If you feel drafts, see signs of moisture such as fogging or ice crystals on your windows, or if curtains blow while windows are tightly shut, it’s time for a window upgrade. Let’s look at it in perspective.
Though a complete re-do, installing energy efficient double-paned windows can result in significant savings, lowering energy bills by as much as 10% or more. The economic benefits don’t stop there. Replacing windows also pays off when it’s time to sell your house. Buyers love to see that this major change has been made and it results in excellent resale value for sellers.
What to look for
First, look for the Energy Star rating, a government program that indicates that the product is energy efficient.
When New Englanders buy new windows, they make it a double; double glazed, that is. A double-glazed window consists of two panes of glass with very little space in between for insulation. The space is filled with either argon or krypton gas. The gas is non-toxic, has no odor or color so you don’t see anything, but it provides the extra insulation value. Gas is better than just air in the space because it lessens heat transfer.
When you are replacing windows in an existing home, new window panes are fitted into the present framing and millwork. With an addition or new construction, you’ll buy an entirely new window. The frames around the glass may be made of vinyl (most prevalent), wood (traditional but more expensive and looks weathered sooner), aluminum (not ideal, can be too flimsy for larger windows and is not as energy efficient), and fiberglass (glass-reinforced plastic, a newer material that’s durable).
Aesthetics and energy value are only part of what you need to consider. What about building codes? In historic areas, you’ll be limited to wood frames, probably with muntins (vertical strips that make glass look like smaller individual panes), to coordinate with the colonial, Victorian, arts & crafts or federal style of the antique home.
Other code issues that come up on older houses are window size and placement in terms of emergency exit. Although she was hoping to put off replacing windows for another year, one homeowner who was renovating a hundred-year-old camp to make it comfortable year-round discovered that the building code had changed. To proceed with the remodeling, she had to put in different sized windows upstairs.
See a design/build professional
Another cost factor comes into play when you need custom designed windows versus standard replacement windows. If your federal style home has the old rope sash and pulleys inside the frame, you’ll need someone experienced working with them and will most likely have to have windows built to size, for example.
Condominiums, co-ops and association properties have their own standards and guidelines, and will most likely require you to use a specific window manufacturer.
When the contractor pulls out the old window, take a good look. Is there any wood rot or insect damage in the wood framing? What about insulation? You may find there is no or little insulation around the window, or that it has settled to the bottom. Remedy this situation as soon as possible.
Because there are so many considerations when changing out windows, or selecting windows and sliders for a new home, remodel, or addition, it pays to ask questions, especially to experienced design/build professionals like the 3W Design team. Adding or replacing windows—whether fully functional like double hung or sliding glass doors, or static ones such as sidelights to a door or decorative arched styles—is a major investment and must be done right.
Variety of views
Additional options to consider are tilt-in windows for easy cleaning and buying single sash windows instead of double hung. The difference with a single sash variety is that the upper sash doesn’t move. Double hung where both can move are more expensive but good for households with small children (you can open just the upper part), and they’re easier to clean, especially for upstairs windows. You can get away with only one bottom screen with single hung windows.
New windows make your home sparkle! Rooms feel more comfortable, are quieter, and you’ll see the savings on your energy bills. What a nice reflection on you and your home!