If it’s time to buy windows—whether you’re building new or replacing drafty and outdated ones—it might be hard to know where to begin. There are more choices than ever when it comes to appearance and energy-efficiency. Here is a primer of sorts to get the decision-making process underway.
TYPES OF SASHES
This is the most widely used window and features two panels that slide up and down within vertical tracks. In older homes, the sashes were counterbalanced by weights hidden in wall pockets. Today, sashes are counterbalanced by springs hidden in side tracks.
• Well-suited for homes with classic traditional styling
• Lower panel can be locked to keep kids or pets safe while allowing air in through the top panel
• Easy to open and close
• Reasonably priced due to wide availability
• Tracks are vertical, and generally don’t fill with dirt
• Over time, counterbalance may require occasional maintenance as springs may wear out
• On upper floors, these can be a safety hazard for children if mounted low in a wall.
These look like double-hungs but the upper sash is stationary, allowing only the lower sash to open. They have the same pros and cons as double-hung but can be slightly more energy-efficient and a lower-cost alternative.
DOUBLE-HUNG WITH MUNTINS
A grid of muntins create the effect of individual glass panels. It gives a more classic look for colonial, Victorian, or other traditional styles.
These crank open on hinges, pivoting out like a door. They are second only to double-hung windows in popularity with a slightly more modern style. When properly positioned, they catch and direct air into the home.
• Energy-efficient—tight window seal keeps out drafts better than double-hung
• Great for hard-to-reach locations as crank is easy to operate with one hand—extended if necessary
• No mid-window horizontal framing to obstruct view
• Wind and rain can damage these when extended
• Cranking mechanisms are subject to wear
This is a casement window with the hinge at the top so the window pushes out which is especially useful for allowing air to flow without letting in rain. Crank openers make these a sensible choice above doorways, in stairwells, or other hard to access areas.
• Can be left open during light rain since the awning prevents water from entering
• Crank mechanism is easy to use, even when reaching above your head
• Doesn’t bring in outside air as effectively as pivoting casement windows
• Mechanical cranks are subject to wear
These side-by-side windows slide horizontally along upper and lower tracks. Either both windows slide or one is fixed while the other slides. Popular in mid-century modern home styles, these are a good choice for windows you need to frequently open and close.
• No cranks or mechanisms, so they are durable
• Tend to be less expensive due to the simplicity of their design
• Tracks can fill with debris
• Sizes and shapes are limited
This style comes in all shapes and sizes but does not open. The fixed “picture “window offers an unobstructed view of the outdoors. These can also be placed in interior walls to admit more light into a room.
• Better energy savings since these are permanently sealed
• Simple design lends itself to modern home styles
• Tend to be less expensive than other window styles
• Can create too much energy gain in warm, sunny climates
• Not functional for ventilation
BAY OR BOW
These windows extend outward from the surface of the house. A bay window is more angular with three openings—a picture window with two smaller windows on either side. A bow window usually is made with four or five openings to create a rounded appearance.
• Create a visual centerpiece for large spaces
• Provide sweeping views of lawns and gardens
• Allow additional sunlight inside the home
• Cost is considerably more expensive than other options
• Requires considerable framing including headers and roofing
• Offers more variety in terms of window appearance
• Frames tend to be slightly thinner than vinyl, leaving more glass exposed
• Fiberglass is paintable and vinyl is not
• Can be textured to look like real wood
• Highly durable. Resists warping and cracking
• Typically the least expensive material
• Highly energy-efficient
• Requires little maintenance
• Standard exterior colors available
• Interiors are typically white
• Durable, cleanable and holds up well under cold and hot conditions
• Unpainted vinyl is resistant to the effects of UV exposure
• Less energy-efficient than wood or vinyl
• Stronger and more durable material than vinyl
• Structurally allows for larger sheets of glass
• Typically more expensive than vinyl, but less than wood
• Standard exterior colors usually match interiors
• Low maintenance. Holds up well under cold and hot conditions
• Represent custom craftsmanship, superior quality
• More expensive than vinyl or aluminum
• Best for energy-efficiency and sound filtering
• Traditional details
• Available in a variety of different woods. Can be painted or stained
• Requires maintenance. Susceptible to rot, bug infestation, warping or cracking or due to weather
Although they have been around for centuries, black window frames have grown especially popular over the past few years. While often associated with a farmhouse or industrial look, this color can work with almost any style of architecture. The key is the contrast it creates against the exterior siding, brick, stone or stucco. A sharp contrast creates modern appeal.
Typically, black will not be an upcharge from other finish colors—and it’s a standard option on some materials such as fiberglass. Clad, aluminum and fiberglass windows are coated to protect from fading. Interior colors are often black or white, but there are other options, depending on the frame material you select.
If you are worried about black windows being trendy—don’t. While more homes are featuring them than ever, black windows are a classic, timeless choice. There are no signs they will be going out of style—it’s a look that will be going strong for years and years to come.
• Base of the window frame is wood with vinyl wrapped around the exterior
• Wood is an excellent insulator
• Durable, low-maintenance exterior
• Less expensive than full wood or aluminum clad windows
• Typically allow for painting or staining interiors
ALUMINUM-CLAD WOOD OR ALUMINUM-CLAD VINYL
• Often the most expensive material
• Energy performance rivals solid wood or vinyl windows
• Not as low profile as non-clad aluminum windows
• Great in harsh environments
• Not easily dented
• Low maintenance. Paint is baked on to last longer
• Made from a combination of materials, such as wood, metal, vinyl or plastic
• Energy-efficiency depends on the materials it’s made of
• New to the industry, expected to be long lasting
• More expensive than vinyl, but less than wood or aluminum
• Exteriors come in a variety of colors
• Combines the strength of wood with the low maintenance of vinyl and aluminum
NUMBERS TO KNOW
The U.S. Department of Energy recommends you pay particular attention to two numbers when purchasing new windows. The U-Factor measures how well the window insulates. In general, for windows, it ranges from 0.20 to 1.20. The lower the U-Factor, the better the window insulates. In our section of the Midwest, the U-Value should be .32 or lower.
The Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (SHGC) measures how much of the sun’s heat passes through the window and ranges from 0 to 1. The lower the SHGC, the less solar heat the window lets in. In our section of the Midwest, the SHGC should be .40 or higher.
For more information visit: www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/guide_to_energy_efficient_windows.pdf
TYPES OF GLASS
Window glass can be insulated, Low-E, glazed, laminated, or tempered. Each of these types of glass will perform differently and even look different.
The most popular type is Low-E (low emissivity) glass which blocks infrared and UV rays. This helps with energy-efficiency—keeping your home cooler—and protects furniture from fading. These windows are great on west and south-facing windows, which get a lot of direct sunlight.
Two or more sheets of glass are bonded together with PVB (polyvinyl butyral) under high heat and pressure to create thick, strong laminated glass. This shatter-resistant glass is used in car windshields, so it’s a good fit where hail, high wind, or an overthrown baseball might be an issue.
When tempered glass is struck or breaks, it shatters into many small, marble-sized pieces. This may be necessary if your windows are low, big or near a busy area.
Gaps between windows with at least two panes, can be filled with an invisible gas—usually krypton or argon—for insulation. More layers equals more insulation. Insulated glass has a guaranteed fill rate, which is a percentage of how filled the window is. The higher the guaranteed fill rate, the more insulating it is. While not dangerous, the gas between the panes will escape over time.
Tinted glass has a coating that adds a layer of protection. This tint can be made in various colors, like green, yellow, blue, and grey. Tinted glass is used as a barrier to the sun’s heat and light. While Low-E glass only blocks the heat rays, tinted glass provides a shade to the window.
This glass can be made with a finish—sometimes ridged or textured—often for privacy purposes. Another type is made from pieces of glass cut to form a design.
It’s important to note that before you purchase any type of window you fully understand the warranty behind the product.
Article by Karen Bradner
Article originally appeared in February 2024