A few generations ago, there were a mere handful of window manufacturers. Windows were simple then, where you could see all the components, from the frame to the panes of glass. They were made in a factory, mostly by hand, and the companies that made them were household names. Over the past generation, all that has changed. Like so many other product categories in the marketplace, modern manufacturing techniques have completely altered how window products are designed, manufactured and installed.
Manufacturing of windows is now done mostly by robot. Not by humanoid robots – although they are coming – but by great gangly, alien-looking devices with long arms and powerful tools attached to them. They weld cars together with precision, and produce far more complex products with a far higher degree of reliability. Products are designed using powerful software programs. Tests are performed in animations and inside the chips of computers, long before physical materials are expended to produce the first prototypes. Why is is done this way today? A million tests can be performed on a computer – at a far lower cost, and in far less time – than can be done in the physical world. Still, physical tests can certainly be performed later, but the first ‘wave of creation’ is done with software.
Take modern airplanes as an example. In a market worth many billions of dollars a year, one that produces unit products in the hundreds of millions, it pays to test as many assumptions as possible before risking the lives of test pilots – not to mention the cost of a test aircraft – before money is poured into physical products. There is still real world testing to be done, but by then, they have eliminated many of the risks in a theoretical environment, and the physical testing becomes on of ‘on the margins’.
You might wonder, how can window manufacturing be complicated. After all, it’s just a frame with panes of glass inside it. Well, windows are the unsung heroes of the modern household. They perform many functions, from security to ventilation to insulation. They are serve an aesthetic function in the form of making your home more beautiful. And they can have many internal moving parts, each of which must continue to perform its duty for decades after installation, and yet, continue to look good. So what are these functions a supposedly simple window must perform? If we look at all the qualities, it will be easier to choose a manufacturer that best suits your needs:
A window must help keep the heat or keep the cool
If memory serves, last year in Seattle, there were only two days when I would have appreciated air conditioning in my home. And in the winter here, it doesn’t often get so cold that you’d freeze to death in your home if the heating system failed. Still, everyone expects to live in some comfort today, and that means having windows that keep the heat in. The more drafty your windows are, the more you will spend on keeping your home warm, as it will be competing with the external elements. The same applies on hot days. If your windows are leaky, they will let all the cooled air from your air conditioner out through the gaps. So, a window must have good insulation when you do need it.
Windows should provide a degree of sound insulation
Have you noticed just how many cars there seem to be in the Puget Sound these days? You might see a traffic jam at three AM these days, as more and more people move into the area, and clog up the roads. What’s more, many people now rely on navigation systems to help them find the shortest way to their destination. And so, if the shortest way home today from downtown Bellevue to Bothell is through your quiet neighborhood – because there is an accident on Interstate 405 – you might suddenly find a thousand commuters racing down your street at rush hour. What does this mean? It means, noise levels are suddenly much higher. And it’s not a consistent hum in the background, or the tooting of a train in the distance at the same time every day. It’s an irregular noise of cars being driving by rushed commuters needing to get home as soon as they can. They race through your neighborhood, unfamiliar with the route, and bring all the noise of all that in through your windows and into your would-be quiet living room.
For this reason, proper sound insulation in your windows is critical. Triple glazing might not be needed, but double glazing certainly is. If you do expect your neighborhood to be subject to greater volumes of traffic, triple glazing might be the ticket for you. The first time I experienced triple glazing in a home on a busy street, the quiet was amazing. For some reason, that third pane of glass seemed like to brought the external sound levels down to almost nothing.
Privacy: see out, but not in
Another nice feature of ‘privacy glass’ is certainly the degree to which you can live in privacy inside your own home. Glass can be made to look like a mostly reflective surface from the outside, at least during the day. The way it works is, it increases the differential between the light levels inside and outside the house, respectively. So, let’s say the interior of your home is X bright, and the outside (in broad daylight) is 3X, then you can see out, but not in. During the night, however, when your interior lights are on, and your drapes are open, you cannot see out, but strangers can see it. Privacy tinting is effective, but just remember that when it looks like a mirror on the inside, you are essentially in a glass house as far as strangers on the street are concerned.
Fit and finish. The overall quality of the windows you choose
With all the moving parts, quality manufacturing is essential. You want a product that lasts as long as possible, so the reputation of the manufacturers will be something you can get insight into by talking to your windows installation company in detail about. If you plan on living in your home for decades, it might be a good idea to go for quality over price.
More next week!