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Choosing the Right Windows

Today's homeowners are interested in more than just what can they find to cover the glass. Consumers want to make the right choice that will help minimize the cost of heating and cooling their homes. Most home renovations will include replacing your windows and the key to getting the best bang for your buck will be knowing which choices will deliver without emptying your bank account.

If you are thinking about replacing your windows, one way to find out is buy doing an energy efficiency checkup on your home. By doing the math, you will be able to find out just how cost effective new windows would be.

By far, old windows contribute to most of the thermal transmission problems in your home. Before you choose to do a full window replacement you will want to find out the most you can about energy efficient products out there.

Situations that may warrant window replacement, include the following:

• Your windows have single-pane glass. Most experts will agree that single-pane glass windows are cheaply made and homeowner's will greatly benefit from window replacement.

• Your windows are in poor condition. Windows that are in poor condition can contribute to water leaks, moisture and humidity problems, and even pest or bug infestations. Rotting frames, cracked glass are all good reasons to replace your windows.

• Your windows pose safety problems. Windows that don't operate correctly, especially when opening or closing, are major reasons to consider replacement. If your home is a two story, these windows need to be operable for fire safety. Even basement bedrooms need to meet codes for evacuation purposes. Your families safety is the best reason to consider replacing your old windows.

If you decide to replace your windows, there are four factors to consider when choosing energy efficient models: frame, glass, design and installation.

The Frame

Heat and cold transfer is a major consideration in Canadian climates when choosing new windows. Even though a wood frame window is less prone to heat and cold transfer than an aluminum window, that doesn't always mean wood is the best choice. There are a variety of materials to look at with both positive and negative attributes. Let's take a look:

• Vinyl: Just because vinyl is a less expensive material doesn't mean it has to be "cheap." A well-constructed, properly installed vinyl window can be a practical choice budget-wise while still offering excellent energy efficiency measures through insulated glass and tight construction that reduces air leakage. Vinyl windows can be limited in color choices, however, and the fact remains that some people simply don't like the look of vinyl on their home.

• Wood: Wood windows offer the best insulative value, though they also require more upkeep than vinyl, wood-clad or aluminum frames. Because of the potential for rot, they may not be the best choice for extremely humid or rainy climates. A well-built wood window will stand the test of time, however; many original wood windows in older homes are still in good shape thanks to the high-quality cut and species of wood used.

• Aluminum: While not the top-performing material in terms of heat transfer and loss, aluminum windows are practical in rainy, humid climates, and they meet stringent coastal building codes in hurricane-prone areas thanks to their strength.

• Wood-clad: Wood-clad windows seemingly offer the best of both worlds: a low-maintenance exterior (usually vinyl or aluminum) and a temperature-transfer-resistant wood interior. But clad windows can be prone to water intrusion, which can cause rotting, especially in the sills and jambs, where water tends to pool. Proper installation of wood-clad windows should include use of waterproof rubber membranes around the cladding as well as a stand-alone flashing assembly called a sill pan. The sill pan drains any water that gathers around the sills and jambs, minimizing moisture intrusion (and resulting wood deterioration).

• Composite: These windows, made from scrap wood shavings and plastic resins, can effectively mimic the look of wood but are virtually maintenance-free. And because the resins used in the window-manufacturing process are often from recycled plastics, they're an eco-friendly choice.

• Fiberglass: These are technically composite windows, since they're made of a mixture of glass fibers and polyester resins, but they're often discussed independently of other composite windows because that term is increasingly being used solely to describe the wood-pulp-and-plastic composite material. Fiberglass windows are more expensive than other similarly equipped window units, but their selling points are many: They’re extremely energy efficient thanks to their low thermal conductivity; they’re the strongest and most durable windows on the market; unlike vinyl windows, they can be repainted several times; and they don't twist or warp like vinyl or wood frames can.

The Glass

While looking into what materials your window is made from is great, don't forget that the inside glass is what is equally important to consider for energy efficiency.

Darren Kuntz, owner of Green Smart Windows & Doors says: "In reality, a double-pane window with low-E glass and a vacuum-sealed argon fill is what most people ask for. It is not much extra in cost to add these features and they will make a huge difference in your homes utility bills. Adding triple pane will only increase the insulative properties and, in turn, decrease a homeowner's overall heating and cooling costs".

So what are you really getting when you upgrade to these options?

"Low-E, argon-filled, double-paned windows will provide significantly more insulation than a single-pane window," says Darren. "These windows protect the inside of the house from the summer heat and harmful UV rays, and they prevent heat from escaping during winter. If energy efficiency is top of mind for your home, these types of windows make the most sense."

Darren adds one of the main reasons people choose triple-pane windows is due to our harsh winters here in Saskatchewan. These windows are definitely the best as far as efficiency, however you will notice a difference with light transmittance and visibility. To find out how efficient a window is, you shouldn't have to look much further that what type of glass is in it. All windows in the voluntary Energy Star program will have stickers on them displaying ratings by the National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC). To qualify for Energy Star status, window manufacturers must meet standards for these two main metrics:

• U-value, which measures a window unit's resistance to heat loss

• Solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC), which measures how much heat enters a home through the glass

The Design

Transom windows are not only beautiful but they can provide excellent ventilation. Homeowners seeking environmental benefits from a window design should move away from configurations like specialty shaped windows shaped like arch shaped, "sunbursts" or circles, which do not open.

The Installation

"Even the most expensive energy efficient window won't do you any good if it's not installed properly. Be wary of any contractor who relies too heavily on expanding foams or sealants to get a window to fit well — these types of products aren't waterproof and can lead to problems down the road. Pre-installation waterproofing, often completed long before windows are installed, is the best option." says Chad Brunskill, Green Smart Team Lead Installer.

"Proper flashing and correct caulking may be the cheapest parts of window installation, but if they're not done with special care and a trained eye, the potential water leaks will cause a massive problems for the homeowner that could have been easily prevented."

Some window designs are inherently more efficient than others. The most common types are:

• Double-hung windows. These are traditional units in many homes across the country, and they're especially common in prewar buildings. With double-hung windows, the bottom slides up to open the unit. They can be efficient choices, but in extreme climates, they may not be the best option, because of the potential for air intrusion between the sliders.

• Casement windows. Popular in climates where wind is an issue, these units, which have a crank that swings the window outward to open, actually seal themselves off tighter when wind blows toward the house. They require maintenance on hinges and seals, however, to ensure their continued stability and efficiency.

• Picture windows. These usually don't open, and they come in many shapes and sizes, but that doesn't mean they can't be efficient — glass choice and gas-filled interiors are especially important with these larger units.

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