Selecting Windows for Your Custom Home or Renovation

06:36 Sep 2018
custom home windows - Marwood Construction

Most homeowners do not give enough thought to their selection of windows for their new custom home or home renovation project. They are led through the process with little technical knowledge and driven by either a line item allowance item that their general contractor has provided them or told what windows they will receive. So by the virtue of default, price becomes the primary criteria for selecting your homes windows.

Windows and doors have a necessary role in a home’s function, appearance and comfort. Understanding the details and consequences of making the buying decision is essential when making your selection decision. There are many features to evaluate during this decision making process. We will examine and discuss these features.

Selection Criteria

There are two distinct markets for home windows. The first type is the new home construction window segment. These windows will normally have a flange mounted to the edge of the window frame. The window is nailed through the flange to the outside of the window framed rough opening. The second market is for replacement windows. Replacement windows do not have a flange and are secured directly to the structural window jambs.

The industry experts state that making a window buying decision should be based upon 3 essential factors; 1) appearance, 2) performance, 3) durability. Appearance is described by what does the window or door look like. Is it frail or thick looking or is it cheap or rich looking in appearance. The gold standard for window appearance are wood windows. They have a bold and rich appearance and most people see an enhanced value of a wood window.

Performance is based upon the energy efficiency and the functional needs for such things as egress, ventilation and visibility. The most impactful of these priority elements is energy efficiency. Energy efficiency is measured upon the windows ability of keeping your Houston home’s air conditioning inside and the subtropical heat outside. In the northern region of the US it is in reverse, trying to keep the winter cold out.

Durability is the most overlooked of all the essential buying criteria items. Durability is the ability of the window or door to sustain over time without a great deal of required maintenance. There are essentially 5 commodities that windows and doors are manufactured from; wood, claded wood, fiberglass, aluminum and vinyl. Durability depends on the existing conditions and exposed elements of the doors and windows. It also depends on the composition of the product that dictates the long term durability results of each manufactured product. We will elaborate on this point as we examine the other buying features.

custom home windows - Marwood Construction

Architectural Appearance

Your design professional will normally develop the balance of the windows appearance and function for a specific window opening with the need of a rooms space, need of direct light and architectural design theme needs. For instance, a contemporary home design customarily will receive a bigger number of large sized windows. This allows the outside to become an extension of the interior. These windows normally do not have divided light separations for each window pane and are rectangular in shape.

Whereas with an European architectural design your designer will use radius and elliptical specialty windows in combination with large combinations of windows. Windows and doors are often used to define the distinctive design theme for a home. A Georgian style design will commonly use smaller windows with divided light mullions to convey the traditional style associated with Georgian design themes.

Window Styles

There are seven different window styles that are commonly used;

Single / Double Hung – This is the most common window used in homes and are considered to be vertical windows. They are usually taller than wider and operate by raising the lower sash and pulling down on the upper sash. Commonly used on the front elevation of homes.

Casement – Is a one sash window that hinges from the side and opens to the outside. They are usually hand cranked to open and close.

Awning – Awning windows are very similar to casement windows, but hinge from the top. They are also hand cranked to open and close.

Gliding – A horizontal gliding window is usually wider then they are tall and are considered to be horizontal windows. They come in the form of a double sash window, one active and one either stationary or passive.

Fixed Glass – These can also be called picture windows or transoms. They are non operating sash windows that are used for a stationary window that provide a view. They are also widely used as sidelights to doors.

Special Shapes – Special shape windows are fixed glass with a twist. They get their name from various geometric shapes that they are designed from.

Bow / Bay Windows – These are windows that independently project from the structure of the home. They will consist of multiple combinations of windows. They are commonly a self contained structure attached mechanically to the home.

Exterior Door Styles

Exterior doors are made from the same materials as windows. They can be swing doors or sliding patio doors. They are designed in combinations of multiple doors and fixed glass windows. They require much more hardware then windows such as locks and handle sets. Doors require hinges mounted on their side edges and are mounted to an embedded jamb.

Exterior sliding doors are usually commonly glass in a frame which glide on a threshold track. They are much like a reinforced fixed glass frame on ball bearing glide wheels.

Door & Window Materials

As mentioned there are five materials that doors and windows are manufactured from. These materials are wood, vinyl, fiberglass, aluminum, wood cladded and steel. These materials vary in cost, performance, maintenance and durability.

Wood – As mentioned, wood is considered the gold standard for doors and windows. They have a very desirable appearance for most, although have some sustainability problems. Wood requires a regular maintenance program to look good and be preserved. Moisture and humidity will cause swelling and rotting of wood. This often leads to wood destroying insect attacks.

Vinyl – Vinyl is a cost effective product for producing doors and windows. Unfortunately vinyl does not hold up well in heat or direct sunlight. Vinyl can bow, crack, fade and warp. In the case of windows the use of a vinyl frame leaves the dual pane insulated glass cartridges exposed to seal leak. This is likely to result in a complete replacement of the window.

Aluminum – One of the most cost effective window products is aluminum frames. Aluminum frames are commonly used by home builders. The problem with aluminum is that it is a heat conductive material and absorbs heat. It expands at 4 times the rate of glass.

Fiberglass – This is used for both doors and windows. Fiberglass can be used for both doors and windows. Fiberglass is fairly durable unless it is exposed to intense sunlight. The primary resin will breakdown and begin to expose the fiber strands.

Steel – Steel is commonly used for exterior doors. If the steel is galvanized there is a good chance your steel door will provide you a long life of service. The use of steel for windows is only used for higher end custom home windows and doors.

Cladded Wood – Windows and doors are both manufactured with different types of wood cladding. The cladding can be metals, vinyl or composite polymers.

Energy Efficiency

The energy efficiency can be measured in many ways. The US Energy Star rating measures the Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (SHGC) and the U-Factor. The U-Factor measures the rate of heat transfer through the glass. These typically range is between .025 to 1.25, the lower the better. The SHGC is a fraction of solar radiation admitted through a window and then subsequently released as heat in the home. The lower the SHGC, the less the solar heat transmitted.

The 3 critical aspects to a windows energy efficiency is the glass, the frame and the installation of the product. The law now requires insulated dual pane Low E-glass. Single pain window glass is no longer allowed to be manufactured. The glass is measured by the standards we have spoke of. The frame of the window provides stability and integrity to the glass to minimize the possibility of the insulated glass cartridge seal leak. A well manufactured window will have multiple points of insulation and design features to keep out water, dust, air and insects.

It is also essential that the window be installed professionally. It is critical that the window be properly shimmed, anchored and insulated to avoid unwanted drafts. This is often achieved by hiring qualified craftsmen that have pride in a professionally installed window.

Regardless of which windows and doors you select for your replacement windows or new home construction, you will need to do your research on the attributes and weaknesses of the various products.

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