Windows are a key component of every home, yet we take them for granted. We don't think about our windows until they need cleaning, a piece of glass needs replacing or we find water leaking into our home. There are many advertisements for replacement windows so how do you know when it's time to consider replacing windows in your house?
And while you know how to buy a car, do you know how to buy new windows?
The big selling point for replacement windows is energy efficiency and that is very important as energy prices are only going up. Windows represent the single, largest loss of conditioned (heated or cooled) air from your home so it pays to learn how you can invest wisely in maintaining and/or replacing windows in your home.
How Replacing Windows Can Benefit You
Close your eyes tight. Notice how you start to listen harder when you don't have visual clues to what's around you. Think about how your house might feel without windows. For example, imagine living in a cave with only one entrance that offers natural light until the cave bends away from the entrance.
Now we're ready to explore the benefits your windows provide.
- A view of the outside world which differs based on where you home is located. In the suburbs you'll see shrubs and a few other houses while in a city, you'll see lots of nearby buildings.
- Most windows are made of clear glass, so the window openings let natural sunlight into your home saving electricity during the day.
- Operable windows that let fresh air into your home (you decide when).
- Egress windows are required in bedrooms as an alternate exit in case the door or hallway outside is blocked during a fire.
- Windows can provide a decorative touch to otherwise boring blank walls, especially with the curtains we like to wrap around them (read: Picking the Right Window Treatment).
- … and if we've missed something, please add to our conversation with a comment below.
Key Factors to Picking the Right Replacement Windows
When you decide it's time to replace your windows, the tendency is to use new windows identical to the existing windows. While it's true that replacing windows this way is the easiest path to follow, it's not that difficult to change most windows … especially if you don't like the ones you have.
You can't change the view but there are ways to get your sunlight without the view. Higher windows and horizontal windows at eye level can capture needed sunlight while leaving room for furnishings below. It's also a great solution to keep your natural light while blocking an unwanted view.
Here are two examples of windows that have added needed sunlight. In this photo it looks like this kitchen is awash with sunlight but it's not at 7am. The homeowner (that's me) knew that taller windows were necessary to capture early morning rays of light. The solution was clerestory windows above the operable windows and sliding patio door.
The window below was found in a model home in the suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona. With open floor plan kitchens there are fewer walls for cabinets. This creative solution extends the kitchen cabinets into the dining area, placing windows above the cabinets to insure the room gets enough sunlight.
Location affects how much sunlight enters your home, and along with light there's also heat (learn more at the Efficient Window Collaborative). Windows facing south gain more solar heat during the winter and shade can reduce unwanted heat during the summer.
But wait, there's a lot more you can learn about “passive heating and daylighting” by reading Green Building Advisor's article on this topic. I'm amazed at how many new and different ideas they've identified to increase the amount of natural sunlight we can use to light up our homes … during the day.
- Skylights are even more valuable with open floor plans, where the sunlight can benefit multiple rooms (spaces).
- Clerestory lights and dormers offer alternatives for adding natural sunlight where traditional windows don't otherwise fit.
- Light shelves located below skylights or clerestory windows, bounce light back toward the ceiling where it can light up more living space below.
- The new trend using stone on interior walls offers a heat sink to store the sun's heat for use at night, in addition to being decorative.
So if you like these ideas and want to learn a lot more about passive ways to light and heat your home, read Green Building Advisor's article on designing around the sun to lower heating and lighting needs.
Homeowners can add/enlarge windows in an existing home. The best time to consider more window coverage is when you're remodeling or replacing windows. You can add natural light with larger windows, patio doors and skylights.
And of course, window location is a key design consideration when building a new house.
Features to Consider When Adding and/or Replacing Windows
Do you even remember when you had to crank car windows open and closed? There have been even more changes to house windows that you might not remember because homeowners only think about windows one, two or maybe three times in their lifetime.
- Energy efficiency isn't just double or triple pane windows. The U-factor measures how well a window insulates to slow the rate of heat transfer. U-factors range from 0.25 to 1.25 with a lower U-factor indicating a window that provides better insulation. One way that manufacturers product higher window efficiency is with gases like argon or krypton (but sorry, Superman isn't involved). To learn all the window components that affect energy efficiency, visit the page on Energy Star's Performance Criteria.
- Operable windows or not? You'll save money making hard to reach windows stationary, as well as multi-unit window designs. Using a fan to circulate air needs open windows. Air conditioning cools and removes humidity, so check the pros and cons of windows versus air conditioning. Single-hung windows (only the top or bottom opens), also lowers window costs.
- The quality of window materials and manufacturing has a great deal to do with energy efficiency and aesthetically, how your windows look. From a homeowner's perspective, you want to consider:
- Window glass – today is single, double or triple pane and glass can be tinted to filter out unwanted sunlight. You can upgrade windows with gases that reduce air flow and corresponding loss of conditioned (warmed or cooled) air.
- Window design and construction – addresses how well the assembled window components prevent unwanted air flow. The glass sits in the sash, which moves up and down in channels. The pieces are held together by the frame and each seam where two/more pieces come together should be airtight.
- Window materials influence energy efficiency and how your windows look. Wood is the most energy efficient material and offers metal or vinyl cladding to protect them from the weather. Metal and vinyl windows cost less but have higher operational (heating and/or cooling) costs. Learn more at The Efficient Window Collaborative.
Tips for Replacing Windows
Installing a window isn't hard but it must be done right. They must be level to operate smoothly. Hidden gaps between the window frame and the rough opening must be insulated for maximum energy efficiency. Too often this step often skipped by window installers who get paid by the window. When replacing windows, it's also important to repair any wood rot damage found or the rot may affect your new windows.
We've got lots more information about windows:
- Replacement Windows Bigger & Better
- Custom Windows in Many Shapes
- House Windows, Window Styles & Shutters
- Energy Efficient Homes & Homeowner Resources