Windows – both the glass panes and the frames around them – have come a long way in a generation or two. Today there are vinyl, fiberglass, wood and aluminum frames available. There are also as many price variations, and it all depends on what you want and need, and what you can afford. Still, much of the cost is in the labor, so it’s worth going for the ‘best you can afford’, especially if you are planning to stay in the house you are installing the windows in.
Window frames of every imaginable type
If you haven’t noticed it happening over the past few decades, we have reached a point in global manufacturing where, if you can dream it, it can be made. Precision engineering was but a twinkle in someone’s eye fifty years ago. Today, we all expect it from the products we purchase. Fifty years ago, automobile engines would wear themselves out from friction and low quality lubricants. Today, engines are so precisely made, they may last three times as long with basic maintenance. Decades ago, cars would break down on the side of the road. Today, that’s rare. And it is all due to incredible advances in design and manufacturing.
Many window installation providers will be able to show you a cut-away of a window frame. Some of the more sophisticated frames have multiple chambers holding all of the window elements together. Those chambers serve several purposes, including heat insulation, weight minimization and appearance, as well as a support mechanism for the glass panes and moving systems. A cut-away will give you the best sense of just how far windows have advanced. A generation or two ago, windows were single-paned – or single-glazed – and were simply constructed. They stopped rain and flies, perhaps, but their ability to stop ultraviolet or infrared was limited. In other words, the sunlight was always able to bake the insides of your home, and the precious warmth from inside your home radiated out all day long. The heat didn’t just exit through the glass in the form of infrared radiation. It also conducted out via the window frame itself. In those old days, I suppose we were lucky to have a roof over our heads, but since then, a lot of research and development have gone into making a far superior product.
Today, you have window frame choices ranging from simple wood to sophisticated vinyl composites. There are also hybrids that use wood and vinyl combinations. Wood on the inside – presumably for appearance – and vinyl on the outside, for durability and function. Such hybrid windows are excellent in many ways, and may last longer than you or I will, but they are a little more expensive.
Different glass types
There’s glass and there’s glass. You can still buy cheap windows. You can opt for basic glass panes which will serve their purpose of keeping the rain and the flies out, but for a little more, you can get glass that works for you in several other ways.
There is a window classification called E3. It may stand for Energy 3 – I am not completely sure – but what it means is, the level of ultraviolet radiation is blocks. That level is 99%, and in a modern home, especially south facing, windows with E3 can protect the residents, their pets and their property from the dangers of ultraviolet light. In most cases, people are not standing directly under ultraviolet rays in their homes anyway, so this is more about protecting the contents of the home, and insulation. Carpets that are beaten with UV light every day may fade over time. UV light is invisible to the naked eye, but can do real damage to furniture, curtains and anything else in its way. Your pet cat won’t enjoy the sunlight as much as she did before you got your new E3 windows installed, but it’s probably healthier for her. I hope she understands.
E3 window panes can have a slight green tint to them. Some people like this, while others prefer to go without that extra UV protection, preferring to enjoy the full spectrum of sunlight coming into their home, and the uncompromised view whatever they see looking out that living room window. It’s a personal choice, and in the Pacific Northwest – where we get what feels like three hours of sunlight a year – some homeowners pass on the E3 windows choice. Others actually like that slight green tint. I have heard one person describing it as similar to an Instagram filter, giving their view a bit of contrast and beauty. I’ll leave it up to you to decide, but be sure to ask your windows installer for a sample of that special glass before you make your decision.
Should I opt for triple-glazing?
Triple-glazing, in the Seattle area at least, is a bit of overkill. It rarely gets so cold that the temperature difference between inside and outside the house is so high that adding that extra pane makes a worthwhile difference. The summers are so mild, many of us simply have our windows open for six months of the year. Triple glazing doesn’t mean anything when the windows are open. Even in the coldest winters, we only get a handful of truly deep cold days, too, so triple glazing really only pays for itself a fraction of the year. There is however one advantage of triple-glazing, and that is sound insulation. Double-glazed windows are pretty good, but if you have ever been in a room in the city with triple-glazing, you’ll notice the difference. That extra pane of glass makes a huge difference. Having said that, it won’t make a lot of difference if the house itself is poorly sound-insulated. The noise will make its way through the walls in that case.
Triple-glazing is probably more suited to places like Southern California, Florida, or anywhere in the South in general. The baking sun there is far more potent, and can damage the contents of your home quickly, so it might make more sense there. But remember, too, that if a window gets broken, you now have three panes to replace – or more likely a complete, sealed, three-pane unit – which is bound to cost you more.
The most important thing about new windows is usually the frame. Is it sturdy, and will it last. If you’re planning on keeping your home for more than ten or fifteen years, my advice to you is go for the quality. That means opting for a brand that has a reputation product and service; one that has been around for a long time. I won’t name any in particular, because I don’t want to show favoritism.
See you next week, even if it’s through three panes of glass!