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”