Mountain House & Home: Windowology
Fraser, Colorado revels in its self-proclaimed Icebox of the Nation title. With global-warming-defying temperatures that routinely plunge into the negative teens and 20s in winter, this isnt the kind of place to tolerate poor insulation or sub-standard windows. And when local builders and homeowners think about replacing them, many head to Legacy Building Specialties in nearby Granby.Chris Hill, a windows and doors specialist at Legacy, says window replacement boils down to two solutions: A complete window unit that fits into the existing frame, or a total replacement, usually accompanied by new siding and trim.A couple of things are driving a move toward the latter, more comprehensive solution. For one, many people want to replace old windows not only with newer, more energy-efficient models; they want bigger ones. Another factor is that many mountain homeowners have seen their properties increase greatly in value over the past few years, so they have equity they can divert to significant renovations like new windows. And with the housing market flattening, more people are looking to enhance what theyve got rather than buy new.While new windows will most certainly enhance the financial and aesthetic value of a home, they will also add greatly to a homes thermal efficiency making a mountain home more comfortable in winter while reducing heating bills and lessening a homes carbon footprint. (Calculate your own homes footprint at http://www.carbonfootprint.com.)What people will notice is a warmer window, one that wont be as conductive of cold from the outside, Hill says, referring to the new breed of Low-E, super-insulated windows available nowadays.Another choice to make, he adds, is whether to go with wood or vinyl frames. Wood, Hill says, is the way to go in the mountain climates, not only for its typically better quality, but there are more options in color and material to choose from. One of the main windows sold at Legacy is Weather Shield, a leader in whats known as Low-E windows. The E is for emissivity, and it refers to a thin metallic coating applied to the glass that reflects heat back to the source. In summer, that means heat is directed back outside, while in winter, just the opposite occurs.
Glass is glass, more or less. A windows defining characteristics have to do with how the glass was glazed, how its put together and what kind of material the sash and hardware are made of. For the purpose of thermal efficiency, the Low-E coatings are probably the biggest factor in how tight a window is. Another is the spacers between the panes of glass. Dave Kloester, a brand manager at Weather Shield in Medford, Wis., says in the past spacers were made of aluminum, which conducted cold air and made the glass cold to the touch (and, consequently, less efficient). Now, they use a composite material Kloester says is about 600 times less conductive than aluminum.But it all has to come together in a complete package.You cant have great Low-E and a bad spacer, he says. Creating a warm edge helps the thermal performance of the whole window and reduces the opportunity for condensation as well.For a mountain home located in a cold place, Weather Shield and other companies make windows that are triple pane, with two air spaces that really keep out the cold. Add to that the Low-E coatings and the non-conductive spacers, and its a whole different animal than the ones installed in homes even a decade ago.
Kloester says window technology has been steadily improving for years, but that it was in the mid-1990s that a real jump was evident particularly with the Low-E coatings. Both he and Hill say that just about any new window is going to be an improvement over one installed more than a decade or two ago. Homeowners then need to ask themselves how far they want to go in buying the best. Given that a whole-house window replacement can run into the tens of thousands of dollars, logic would seem to dictate going with as much window as one can afford.But Kim Galvin with Denver-based Designs in Windows cautions that a lot of the window-replacement happiness factor lies in who you deal with.Once you get to these higher-end windows, it really comes down to service, Galvin says. Youve really got to get it right the first time, because backing up is very expensive.