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The cost of your windows goes far beyond the upfront cost of the materials and installation. These days, windows go a long way to insulating your home from the elements, and a good window will save you tons of money in the long run on heating and cooling.
If you’re planning to replace some existing windows or building a brand new home, it’s time to research which window options give you the best value without dipping below your bottom line for something you simply can’t afford right now.
You want your new windows to be cost-effective while still giving you an energy-efficient home. It doesn’t matter whether you install them yourself or hire a professional, you want to get the best windows you can for the money you have right now.
Evaluating the Current Windows
Sometimes, your current windows aren’t the problem. Your dollars might be better spent finding the thermal transmission problems before you replace all of your windows. A window makeover won’t help if you can solve an air leak with some weather stripping or a tube of caulk.
Replacing windows isn’t the right choice for everyone, especially if you live in a historic home or the antique windows are an integral part of your home’s character.
Sometimes putting a good storm window over the original wood window can give you the same energy performance you want in a modern window without damaging the historic significance of the original design.
However, you may still need to replace your windows in some of the following situations:
- You have temperature-conductive frames and sashes or single-pane glass windows. Homes with poorly-performing, cheap windows should normally be replaced.
- You have windows in bad condition. These windows may leak, cause humidity problems, and can contribute to pest infestations. Consider replacements if you have rotting frames or cracked panes.
- Your windows have safety problems. All of your windows should open and shut completely. Improper maintenance and damage may cause them to be weak or loose, in which case they should be replaced, especially if they’re on an upper floor.
Factors to Consider When Replacing
If you’ve decided you need to replace your windows, there are still some other things to consider before you do. You want to be sure you choose energy-efficient models, but your choice won’t be the same as someone else’s.
Metal conducts temperature more easily than wood, so usually wood is a better frame choice when installing new windows. However, that’s not always the case. There are a lot of different frame choices, and many of them can be friendly to your utility bill.
- Vinyl: Less expensive doesn’t always mean cheap. It’s practical because vinyl is made well but it’s still affordable. You get energy efficiency and cost-effectiveness in one. It reduces leaking air through tight construction and insulated glass. They come in limited color choices and some people simply don’t like vinyl.
- Wood: This material offers a much better value as far as insulation goes, but it also requires more maintenance. They open up the potential for rot and aren’t the best choice for particularly rainy or humid climates. Wood will last a long time if they’re well made and maintained.
- Aluminum: It may not be the best performing material for heat transfer, but it’s practical in rainy climates and can meet really stringent building codes in coastal areas and hurricane-prone cities because of strength.
- Wood-clad: You may get the best of both worlds here with low maintenance and a temperature-resistant interior. However, it’s also prone to water intrusion, so you may deal with rotting. It requires proper installation and the use of rubber membranes and sill pans to drain pooling water.
- Composite: Frames made from scrap wood and plastic resin can help mimic the same look as wood without the maintenance. They’re an eco-friendly choice made from recycled plastic materials that many love to choose.
- Fiberglass: Similar to composite, these are made of polyester resins and glass fibers. They’re more expensive than other composite windows, but they have plenty of other selling points, like energy efficiency, low thermal conductivity, strength, durability, and paintability. They also don’t twist or warp.
Glass is glass, you might think. But there are a number of important things to consider about what you put inside the frame that makes a difference. While it certainly makes sense that there’s a big difference in the energy efficiency of a single-pane window and a triple pane window, you may not think much about the reduction in visibility.
Here’s what you might want to consider when choosing your glass.
Low-E, argon-filled, double-pane
It’s a mouthful, but this is generally the type of window that will work for most people. The double-pane design is a good compromise between something like single-pane, that’s not energy efficient enough, and triple-pane, that reduces visibility too much.
The low-E, argon-filled glassworks to protect the inside of the home from UV rays in the summer, which can keep it cool, but it also works to trap heat in the winter, keeping it warm. It’s the perfect compromise in most climates.
You might choose triple-pane windows for particularly harsh winter climates because they do an excellent job of trapping air. You really won’t experience much leakage at all from this glass, meaning your heat will stay right where you want it.
However, you will suffer from low visibility and light transmittance, which many people simply don’t like. If you enjoy lighting up the room with the sun’s brilliant rays, you won’t get as much of that from these windows, and you still may find yourself plenty happy with double-pane windows.
A window’s U-value indicates its ability to resist heat loss. A lower U-value indicates a better-insulated window. This is also called thermal transmittance, which is the rate at which heat passes through the structure.
Any windows that are a part of the voluntary Energy Star program are rated for this U-value and should have a sticker on them that displays this rating.
Solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC)
This number measures how much heat can enter the home through the glass. The number is expressed as a fraction between 0 and 1. The lower the number, the less heat the window transmits.
While you may think a higher number might be a good thing in the winter, it can also be a bad thing in the summer. Generally, right in the middle is where you want to be. Between 0.3 and 0.6 is a good rating.
Some manufacturers add UV-repellent film to their glass, which you can’t see with the naked eye, but it helps to keep your house cooler. It’s beneficial in warmer climates and can help to preserve the paint and textiles within as well as keep energy bills lower.
You’d be surprised by the energy savings with just a small degree of tinting.
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There are 11 main window designs to be aware of. After you’ve chosen what kind of frame and window unit you want or need, you get to choose the design. This is the fun part, but it’s also important to not only choose a design that works for your needs but also matches the style of your home.
Windows offer natural light to flood your home and can enhance the aesthetic appeal, but they can also detract if you select the wrong thing. Make sure that no matter what you choose, it suits your tastes and your home’s overall feel.
Double-hung windows are some of the most common modern window installations. They have two sashes that allow the window to slide up or down inside the frame. They can also open outward from either the top or the bottom.
You can even slide the top and the bottom toward the middle of the frame so the window is open at both ends at the same time, making them very effective air circulators. They’re easy to customize and awesomely aesthetic with great architectural appeal.
However, sometimes it takes a lot of effort to move the panes, so if you have limited strength or back problems, it can be tough. You’ll also experience problems with slippage if you don’t maintain them properly.
They look similar to double-hung windows, but they only open at the bottom. They’re primarily used in starter homes and you’ll find them at a variety of price points. They’re much less expensive than double-hung windows with almost the same curb appeal. Plus, you won’t have the same problem with slippage because they don’t open from the top.
However, they don’t allow for the same great airflow because you can’t open them at both ends like you can a double-hung window.
You’ve seen these windows, even if you didn’t know what they were called. They’re mounted on a hinge and they open outward with a crank. They let in a ton of natural light because they’re typically made of a solid pane.
The crank makes them a great choice for anyone with limited strength and they can take on many different designs like clear or art glass. Some even mimic the design of a double-hung window for that same great curb appeal.
These are some of the most energy-efficient windows you can buy. As the wind blows against the seal, it reinforces itself, keeping out unwanted air.
Some people don’t find these types of windows as visually appealing as other designs, so it’s a personal preference all the way.
Awning windows have a hinge at the top and they open outward, letting air in from the bottom, left, and right. Sometimes they’re installed above, below, or beside another operating or stationary window.
They’re easy to crank like casement windows, so they’re great for almost anyone. They’re also great for circulation because the entire window is lifted out of the frame when it’s open. They’re also really useful in rainy areas because you can open it slightly without letting moisture in.
While they offer an interesting aesthetic, they can’t be used as the primary window type in any home style.
A large picture window doesn’t open at all, but it does let a ton of light in. It’s a beautiful choice for a large wall in a large room, and because it’s inoperable, there are no mechanical parts to break. They’re also less expensive, despite their size.
They come in many shapes and sizes, but if they’re not manufactured correctly, they can let in too much heat. In hot climates, it won’t save you any money. They also don’t offer any ventilation because they don’t open.
Transom windows are mounted above doors to let in extra light. They can be operable or stationary. They add style and come in many different shapes. They’re great for brightening your entryway and adding a bit of natural light.
With natural light comes heat, so they need to be manufactured correctly or operable to allow for airflow. Your ceilings also need to be high enough to allow enough space for the transom window. Transom windows can also be difficult to clean because they’re so high.
Slider windows glide along a track and are operable on at least one side. They slide horizontally over or past the other side of the window. They’re used in modern houses and basements.
If you maintain them correctly, they’re easy to open and close. They help you meet egress requirements for local building codes and can maximize your view in very little space.
However, they aren’t always the most sophisticated solution. Many people feel like they’re not very aesthetically appealing when dealing with higher-end homes.
Stationary or fixed windows
These windows are different from picture windows because while they’re also stationary and inoperable, they can be customized in any shape or angle you want. They’re found most often in modern or contemporary homes and in conjunction with operable windows.
They’re energy-efficient because they’re inoperable but they don’t allow for a breeze. They can be harder to clean because of their shape or placement, and depending on size, shape, or customization, they can be expensive.
Bay windows are a great option for allowing more interior space because they extend out from your house’s exterior. They typically have a stationary window in the middle with double-hung windows or casements on either side.
They’re very aesthetically pleasing, adding a ton of visual interest to a home. They increase your interior living area without adding a ton of square footage to your home’s footprint.
They can be made with fixed or operable windows in any combination, giving you endless customization options. They’re perfect for natural light and create a small, cozy space in a larger room.
They’re perfect for kitchens to grow herbs or for creating book nooks in living rooms.
However, if they’re not built correctly, they can have major structural problems. They let in a ton of light, so with the wrong type of windows, they can be very inefficient.
Skylights can be fixed or casement style windows installed in the ceiling. You can add a skylight to any room, but they work best in rooms where the light is restricted because of other buildings or because of a lack of exterior walls or other windows.
Skylights used to be prone to leaks, but technology is evolving. You can control skylights with remote blinds or line them with heat-resistant coatings. They can be excellent sources of light without being sources of heat.
Casement style skylights are great for ventilation.
Skylights are more prone to damage because of their location on the roof. Hail and weather can cause cracks. If your skylight doesn’t have an energy-efficient coating, it can be a heat trap for your room.
Older skylights can also be prone to leaks. If it is in a place that captures direct sunlight, without a UV-resistant coating, it can increase the risk of UV fading on your furnishings.
Decorative glass windows
Art glass, decorative glass, or stained glass can be very beautiful. You find it on many different types of windows, both operable and stationary. They’re typically in focal areas of the home or where you want to add privacy with visual interest.
You can use them as accent pieces in bathrooms, kitchens, hallways, or foyers. It can reinforce your home’s style in a subtle way, adding light and color. Custom items will give it a very personal touch.
But it can also be too much. Overuse of this type of window can be overwhelming or stimulating.
As with any home improvement item, you have a lot of choices. It can be confusing when shopping for windows because everyone claims they’re the best. However, here are the top three brands on the market today.
In my experience, Pella goes above and beyond the customer’s expectations to offer quality products at an affordable price. When compared with other manufacturers, Pella consistently offers a better value.
They make energy-efficient windows and back their products with a lifetime limited warranty.
Pella makes three different types of wood windows, one fiberglass window, and three vinyl windows. Within each window type, they’ve further broken down their products into even more categories for a wide selection of windows to fit every homeowner’s needs.
They make single-hung, double-hung, casement, awning, fixed frame, bay, picture, and custom window shapes and sizes with a variety of different glass types.
Pella also offers a 2-year labor warranty, so if the installation technician happens to do something wrong, they’ll come back out and fix it in the first two years.
For hands-down the best value on the market today, Pella is a great choice.
The general consensus is that while Andersen windows are good, they’re a bit overpriced. However, Andersen has been awarded the Energy Star Most Efficient Windows ratings of all other manufacturers, so that says something about their processes. Perhaps they’re worth the price.
They offer all of the same great choices as Pella with even more energy-efficient options, but the warranty definitely isn’t as good. They only offer a 10-20 year warranty, depending on the product, rather than a lifetime warranty.
You might want to check with the company that installs your Andersen windows because even though Andersen doesn’t offer an installation warranty, you might be able to get one out of your installation company.
Andersen offers unmatched color blending, so if you have some hard-to-match colors on the interior or exterior of your home, Andersen is the better choice because they have more than 50 color match options.
If you’re looking for vinyl specifically, Simonton is the best in the business. They’re well constructed and they’ve been making them since 1946. Their products carry an Energy Star rating and 20-year warranties.
They make better vinyl products than both Pella and Andersen, so it’s definitely the right choice for that particular material. While you won’t find the breadth of options here that you will with other manufacturers, what you will find is the one thing they know how to do right.
In fact, Simonton has better overall customer ratings than Pell and Andersen. Installation companies love working with Simonton products and customers have been pleased with their performance.
Warranty claims are also very rare and their products tend to be superior. If you’re choosing vinyl, you’ll typically get your windows faster and with fewer problems than the other, bigger manufacturers if you order from Simonton.
If you’re on the fence about which windows to order, that’s normal, because it’s a big decision. These frequently asked questions will help you figure out which windows to order and who to order them from.
Answer: The top three brands are Pella, Andersen, and Simonton, but all for different reasons. Pella offers the best value as far as quality and price go. They’re backed by years of experience and can offer energy-efficient windows at the best price.
However, Andersen is the leading expert in color matching and has the best selection of energy-efficient windows on the market. They’ve been awarded the most Energy Efficient products over any other manufacturer to date.
If you’re in the market for vinyl windows, Simonton is the best. They’ve been doing vinyl for more than 70 years and can offer the best products at the best price. They’re also faster and more efficient with fewer problems than any other.
Answer: Dual-pane glass is better insulated than single-pane glass, so it’s clearly more energy efficient. Triple-pane windows can maximize your energy efficiency, but many people don’t like the light reduction.
Glass with inert argon gas between the panes can also help reduce the thermal transfer of the window, which makes it even more energy efficient.
UV-repellent film is another great option for maximizing your energy efficiency. You can’t see this film with the naked eye, but even the tiniest bit of film can reduce your energy bills more than you might think.
Answer: It’s all up to you. If you’re building a new home, you have a lot of decisions to make. A lot of it depends on the style of your home, but technology has improved so much that you can use a lot of modern window designs while still making your house look any style you want.
Double-hung windows are some of the best modern options for increasing efficiency and curb appeal, and they’re what most modern builders go with when starting new construction. You might not save on costs upfront, but you’ll be happier in the long run.
Windows are a bigger decision than you might think. They can change the overall aesthetic appeal of your home and have a huge impact on design and comfort.
Make sure when you’re building a home or replacing your windows, you choose the right type of windows for you.
They need to match the style of your home while still meeting your needs. Pay particular attention to window style, design, frame, and glass.
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