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The Truth About Windows - Part 3

In the two previous parts I discussed why windows are not always the best first choice to make your home more comfortable and energy efficient, but can be a no brainer in some situations.  I also discussed the different components that make up a window and what you should look for when shopping for new windows.  Now we can turn our attention to cost –vs – quality, proper window installation, and what to expect from a new set of windows.

Obviously windows come in a large range of prices.  Adding or upgrading the various components of a window can jack the price up pretty quick.  One thing is for certain though, you get what you pay for, but that doesn’t mean go crazy.  Ever hear those commercials selling windows for $189 a window installed?  Believe it or not, they actually exist.  One problem though, those windows make up less than 2% of the window market.  The companies that offer them immediately start to up sell you and the next thing you know you are paying more than twice the original $189.  Either that or the installed price doesn’t include removing and disposing of the originals.  If you want good quality windows, you are going to have to pay for them.

There are several brand names available, but there are also many companies that make their windows to order at their own shops and can offer just as good a window as the major brands.  In the premium window market, the windows vary even more price wise, because have so many more options.  One thing that a premium window can offer is a wood grained finish on a non-wood frame.  If you have the extra money, that can add a special look while keeping maintenance down.  The main thing to keep in mind is that you want a good window that is at least double paned, made of a durable, non-conductive material, has a thermal break, is gas filled, and has a low-e coating.

One thing that drives me crazy about some of the new replacement windows is that many of them are designed to be placed in the frame of the old window, instead of the old rough opening.  What this means is that the poorly insulated and never air sealed gap around the frame of the old window is never addressed.  What is the point of installing new windows if you are handicapping it from the moment you install it?  I currently have a client that had this type of window installed and when we had high winds, she could see the curtains actually move with the wind.  In this particular case I will be removing the interior trim to expose the areas around the old frame, filling the gaps with low expansion spray foam, and then putting the trim back.  Something that should have been addressed at install.

Finally, what should you expect from your new windows?  If you are expecting to cut your energy bills by 40% like the commercials tell you, then I have some swamp land in Florida I’d like to sell you.  I can’t remember how many homes I have been into that had all new energy efficient windows installed and they are still having comfort issues and none of them saw more than a 10%-15% decrease in their energy bills either.  New windows can’t seal the holes or increase or properly install insulation in your attic or crawl space.  They certainly have no effect on the leakiness of your duct system either.

On the other hand, if you have already addressed the other energy and comfort issues in your home, you should expect to see a good return on your investment.  Properly installed quality energy efficient windows cut down on solar heat gain and can reduce heat loss.  The low-e coating will also help save whatever material is getting shined down on by the sun’s rays.  They can also increase the value and overall appeal of your home.

I have said it many times, the first step to solving your home’s comfort and energy issues is to have an energy audit performed by a certified energy auditor.  This will show you where many of your comfort issues are originating from and give you a cost effective game plan for fixing those issues.  If you want good quality windows, you’re going to have to pay from them.  Having a relationship with a person with a background in building science can help you make better choices when it does come time to replace your windows.  Because remember, “Don’t throw money at your problems, throw knowledge, it’s a lot cheaper”.

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