Factors to Consider When Choosing Windows

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Windows are bigger than ever today. Literally. Homeowners can now choose from a robust selection of window products that are functional, decorative, and more efficient than ever before — with many qualifying for a tax rebate of up to $1,500 if installed before December 31, 2010. These enhancements give us more ways to usher natural light and fresh air into the home.

"People are less inclined to cover up their windows, and they're more interested in the window and the trim being a focal point of the room," says Barrie Spang, a Cleveland, Ohio-based home stager. "Windows are more of a priority than they used to be."

According to a Pella Home Improvement Survey, about 3 in 10 people planning home improvements in 2010 will install new windows. Technologies in tinting and frame fabrication, along with an emergence of hardware options beyond the standard painted metal, are giving them plenty of choices. Image courtesy of Andersen Windows (andersen.com)

High Energy

Low-e argon gas-filled windows are the gold standard in energy efficient design, and you'll pay about 15 to 20 percent more for this premium option, says Tim Franklin, architect/owner of Akron, Ohio-based Tim Franklin & Associates.

If you plan to stay in your home at least five years, you'll realize a return on this investment. In the meantime, these windows are 30 percent more efficient than most conventional double-pane windows, so you'll cut your energy bills.

You might have heard about triple-pane windows, the latest super-energy saver. But you might want to wait before investing in these windows, which are intended for severe weather climates. Their insulating power over alternatives has yet to be substantiated by the industry, Franklin says. Image courtesy of Tim Franklin & Associates

U-Factor

You'd be hard-pressed to find a new window without a double pane, but that doesn't mean that glass is thick enough to prevent heat loss.

Hone in on the window's U-factor (or U-value), which measures the rate of heat loss. The lower the U-value, the greater a window's resistance to heat flow, and the better its insulating value.

The Efficient Windows Collaborative, a consortium of manufacturers that promote energy-efficient windows, recommends a U-factor of .35 or less for northern climates; .40 or less for north and south central climates; and .75 for southern climates. Image courtesy of Marvin Windows and Doors (marvin.com)

Friendly Frames

Wood is high-maintenance; vinyl is easy-care but lacks aesthetic appeal. Aluminum-clad frames are top-end and you'll pay about 30 percent more for these than vinyl. You might consider fiberglass. "It's more dimensionally stable than wood or vinyl, low-maintenance and if you get the right brand, more energy efficient," Franklin says.

Fiberglass resembles wood but is moisture-safe, bug-repellent and maintenance-free. "When the frames are painted, they look like wood," he adds. The cost is similar to a wood-framed window, sometimes less.

Meanwhile, contemporary homes can go virtually frameless. Mark Newman, a San Francisco, Calif.-based designer, is working on projects that incorporate minimalist paint-grade wood frames that are left unstained. "Another thing I'm seeing in contemporary projects is frameless windows with a reveal around the perimeter that's about 1/8" deep so it subtly outlines the window," he says. Image courtesy of Kolbe & Kolbe Millwork Co.

Tint Technology

Forget the tacky films that peel at the corners or too-dark tints that completely block views of the outdoors. New films for windows fool the eye completely, provide UV protection that preserves paint and textiles and keep a house cooler.

"There are windows that are tinted and you wouldn't know it," Franklin says of windows that are manufactured with various gradations of UV-repellent film and look like "normal" windows. Homeowners in the South, Southwest and other hot regions will reap energy-saving rewards from tinting windows ever so slightly. And no one will know! Image courtesy of 3M

Transoms That Open

Transoms are the "eyebrow art" of a window. Rather than providing fixed transoms that exist for aesthetics only, some manufacturers are rolling out "active" transoms that open, providing an inlet for fresh air.

What's more, the look of these working windows is more appealing because they require deeper casing, Franklin says. "Active transoms have more depth, so they don't look like a flat piece of glass stuck on the wall with a bit of casing," he explains.

Homeowners seeking environmental benefits from a window design should move away from configurations like radius-style windows shaped like half-moons, "sunbursts" or circles, which do not open.

Meanwhile, double-hung windows are back as the most popular style (though casements reign in contemporary homes), and now they're easier to operate and available in larger sizes. Image courtesy of Tim Franklin & Associates

Have a Seat

Design elements surrounding the window are getting more attention, such as the cozy window seat that older homes boast. Spang says people are asking for new window seat installations, which are generally poplar wood, painted. "Window seats are multi-purpose and we can hide a lot of storage underneath them," she points out. They can provide seating and a nook for reading or napping. (The family dog will appreciate this "lift" to his window to the world.) Image courtesy of Barrie Spang, Staged to Sell

Eye Candy

Hardware on windows is a package deal. You can't buy a window without it, so what you generally get is painted metal. But not anymore. Look for latching hardware in oil-rubbed bronze, satin nickel and brushed nickel. "I think manufacturers have been slow on the uptake in terms of offering different types of hardware, but I see that finally starting to change," Franklin says. Image copyright Simonton Windows (Simonton.com). Used by permission.

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