Replacement Windows

Replacement Windows ….Pane Relievers?
I can honestly say, not a day goes by that I don’t see an ad or a commercial pitching replacement windows. It seems everybody is in the window business these days. From a homeowner’s perspective, thinking about replacing windows can be confusing and frustrating. So once again it’s time for the Construction Guru to snap on his cape and come to the rescue! Ok ….no cape and rescue might be a bit of an exaggeration, so how about a few tips on the how’s, who’s and what’s?
We have been replacing residential windows since 1966 so when I talk about windows, I think it’s safe to say I’ve seen it all. So with that in mind, here’s some thoughts:
First materials, windows come in a myriad of different materials. The most popular today are: wood, vinyl, fiberglass and a few weird materials that are a variation of one or more of these three. Some are private labeled to throw you off into thinking, that the company your talking with is the only one with the “space age” material. Enter P.T. Barnum. My opinion is that vinyl windows are the best choice in most cases. The reason I say most is because there are applications where vinyl simply won’t work best, like historical restorations and extremely high elevations. So assuming that most of you live in structures other than a historical landmark or a skyscraper…..VINYL. Vinyl works well in Wisconsin because it is a non conductor of heat and cold, it’s impervious to insects and won’t rot, even in the wettest of locations.
As I have said before in other blogs, Wisconsin has a climate unlike almost anywhere else. Our temperature can change by 40 -50 degrees within hours. Also consider we can range from 100 degrees to 15 below zero. These wide and varying changes can have serious consequences on building materials. Wood, aluminum, steel, fiberglass and vinyl all expand and contract at different rates. If you have ever looked at a siding panel made from aluminum, steel or vinyl you probably noticed that there are slotted nail holes at the top of the panel. You may have also noticed that the slots in vinyl are longer that the ones in the metal sidings and may have even noticed they differ from steel to aluminum. The reason that these slots are there is so that the siding can expand and contract for hot days to cold days. The longer the slots, the more the material will move. So the million dollar question, what’s that got to do with windows? Well, many of today’s replacement windows are made from a mixture of these or other materials. Many wood windows utilize vinyl tracks, some vinyl and fiberglass windows contain steel or aluminum and there are some metal windows that use vinyl as well. Although these “mixed” material windows may work well in milder climates, they may not be the best choice in Wisconsin because of all those materials moving at different rates and measures.
So if you’re thinking about replacing windows here’s my tips:
1)      Look for extruded vinyl frame work. Extruded frames have a series of separate, hollow, cavities similar to a honeycomb. The vinyl should be thick enough so it requires no backers or reinforcements of wood, steel or aluminum. Ask to see a “corner cut” of the window so you can see the interior of the frame work. You should be able to put extreme force on the frame with you fingers with little to no movement.
2)      On double hungs, (up and down windows) and slide-by windows, weather stripping should be made from a synthetic pile type that slips in to a channel in the frame work rather then glued or fastened. In my opinion. “fin seal” is the best. Fin seal looks like a fuzzy seal with a plastic fin running down the middle. The fin keeps the seal upright, against the framework. The channeled strip is allowed to move with expansion and contraction and because it’s synthetic, it won’t rot. Channeled weather stripping is easy to replace as well. On casement or awning style windows, I would suggest a rubberized “bulb seal”. This looks much like a gasket. These types of windows lock tightly against the seal much like a refrigerator door.
3)      On double hungs and sliders look for an interlock where the two sash (or the movable panels) meet in the center.
4)      Look for fusion welded frame work. The corners of the main frame and sash frames should be “welded” not screwed or mechanically fastened. This provides a stronger and air tight seal at the corners.
5)      Glass should be insulated or as many of you know as “Thermopane”. On double glazed units I suggest 7/8” units. Triple glazed do offer a slightly better “R” factor, but cost and weight should be balanced against the slight increase in efficiency. Argon gas and Low-e glass has become the standard in high efficiency, but there are some other highbreds out there. Low-e is a special, heat reflective” glass treatment while the argon gas is trapped between the two panes, it is heavier that air so it insulates better.
6)      Buy local… Keep in mind that out side of the obvious, buying from a local contractor provides the likelihood that you’ll receive faster service in the event of a problem. Many national companies offer the same window in many climates, you want a window built for Wisconsin. As always, I suggest you consult with the Better Business Bureau, Milwaukee NARI and the Metropolitan Builders Association before hiring a contractor.
7)      Installation…. Installation is as important as the window you choose. A good window will offer poor performance of it’s not installed correctly. How long has the contractor been installing windows? Ask about the installation process so you know what to expect. Most window brands have installation instructions available on the internet, get familiar with installation techniques.
Replacement windows are expensive no matter what they are or who installs them. A little due diligence up front will make your  view better in the long run.
Nick Kerzner
AKA “The Construction Guru”

Remodeling and Romance

Thinking about a remodeling project but don’t know where to start? Hire a couple complete home remodeling contractors in Orange County. Here’s a few tips, and fair warning, unlike many of my articles that are written in my light hearted and comical style, this one is tough love! Over 90% of potential clients break the rules and then wonder why they can’t win.

First you need to understand the scope of your project. Is it a simple kitchen update or a complete remodel? Are there structural concerns? Do you need a professional design / build firm? Will it require financing?……. Next establish a budget. Too many times I am asked to give a ballpark estimate based on an hour long conversation and review of some magazine pictures pulled from a manila folder. In today’s economical climate self preservation dictates, that a contractor “lowball” the project in the initial phases, to remain in the game. Now I know how it sounds, but how many times have you heard from someone who has done a project, something like: “It started out at one price, but then it went up and up” Another question, “What’s the average __________remodel run?” Well, you’re not going to like the answer because averages take two extremes and use the mid point. In other words if we use, say a $200,000 rec room as a high, then a $35,000 rec room as the low, the average is, well still quite ugly. I always use this example, if you place one foot in a bucket of ice water, the other in a bucket of boiling water, on average you should be comfortable, but ……well you know the rest. This whole exercise originates from apprehension to share the budget because if the budget is shared, there’s this underlining worry that the estimate will come in at that number. Excuse me, but yeah! Isn’t that the idea? to come in on budget? Here’s another eye opener, if you don’t trust the firm your sharing info with……..DON”T HIRE THEM!!!! Now I warned you this was going to be tough love.

So how do you know who you’re talking to? Two words, due diligence! I suggest you start with organizations and associations. The Better Business Bureau will rate potential contractors from A+ to F. The BBB also has an upper echelon known as Accredited Businesses, the crem de la crem. (French for best) Next, check industry associations The National Association of the Remodeling Industry or NARI (pronounced “narry”) screens member companies and requires adherence to a Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice. MBA or Metropolitan Builders Association also screens member companies. If the firm you’re talking with is not a member of these organizations, you may want to reconsider. Visit potential contractor’s web sites to see if they offer examples of your type of project. This should get you to the short list. Now, trust your gut, yes that’s what I said ….trust your gut! When first meeting with a contractor, I call it the romantic stage. It’s never going to get better than at that first meeting. This is as good as it gets, if you feel you aren’t communicating well here…….bail! Inevitably, there will be rubs and uncomfortable moments in EVERY project, good communication will be paramount during these times, if it’s not present in the beginning, it won’t magically appear as the project progresses.

Another thought I hear often, can you provide me with references. Here’s an industry rule that EVERY contractor abides by……….ready ………….” Don’t give potential clients bad references” Cats out of the bag! Sorry peers, I had to let it out! References don’t mean anything! No contractor is going to give you a bad reference to contact and, let’s face it if they do, they’re simply too stupid to work on your house! Here’s a good question, “How many industry awards has your company won?” Remodeling awards are typically based on these criteria: craftsmanship, compatibility with the home and ability to stay within budget. I’m guessing that maybe, just maybe, you could narrow the three major concerns any homeowner has when doing a project to some form of those three criteria.

Next, remember NOTHING IS FREE! If a contractor is offering free design, free material, free labor or free anything, someone is paying for it, and that someone is their paying customers……accountants call it overhead! Or as I like to put it “you don’t always get what you pay for, but you NEVER get what you don’t pay for. Another thought, if it’s free how can you hold them accountable if something does go south?

Remember remodeling is a practice. There are no remodeling schools or degrees one can earn in our profession. Remodeling contractors learn by doing. As a potential client, you must rely on the reputation, ethical conduct and reliability of the contractors you choose to deal with. Asking questions, is not enough, you have to ask the right questions. I know this was a little rough and I promise to lighten it up on the next one…..maybe faux finishes or textures 101! I think it was Mary Poppins that said something about medicine and sugar, but then again, she never punched a dormer out of a twelve pitch roof, to house a third floor full bath with a whirlpool tub, a 15 hole body spray, glass tiled shower stall and low voltage halogens.