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5 Tips to Finding the Best Replacement Windows | Windows Replacement Advice Print Bookmark and Share

Whatever your reason for replacing your windows (looks, energy savings, less maintenance, etc.), there are plenty of options for every goal, style, and budget. When researching your purchase, don't forget to factor in the installation process and upkeep. Informed decisions will help ensure your investment pays for itself in the shortest possible time period.

Here are five things to keep in mind while making your decision.

Window Materials - This is a big purchase, so giving yourself some flexibility post-purchase is a smart move. Consider the interior. Do you make changes often? Do you want to be able to control the look of your windows on the inside – changing color whenever your décor changes? If so, you'll want to investigate paintable windows. Or are you more the set-it-and-forget-it type?

Window Replacements -- 4 Tips & Advice To Live By

Windows come in wood, vinyl, aluminum, fiberglass, and wood composites. There are also cladding options (wood with vinyl or aluminum, vinyl with wood laminates), insulating options (insulated vinyl or fiberglass, thermally broken aluminum), and types of vinyl (cellular vinyl, solid vinyl). Each has its pros and cons, so it's a good idea to investigate which type will best suit your needs.

1. Get the Right Glass For The Job

What kind of pane should you get? Single-pane is highly inefficient and practically obsolete. Most likely single-pane windows are what you're trying to replace. Double-pane windows are the most common and efficient choice, but triple-pane windows (even more efficient) are also available.

Other features that can improve energy efficiency are gas fills and Low-E coatings that can reduce heat transmission, and guard against the damaging effects of sunlight (fading). Some manufacturers also offer a self-cleaning coating. A gas fill can be standard with some manufacturers and an upgrade with others.

The type of Low-E coating and your U-factor rating (this measures the rate of heat transfer) will depend to a great degree on what type of climate you live in, and what direction your windows face. In the summer, you might not want heat to enter through the windows, but blocking that entirely would adversely affect you during the winter, when a little (free!) winter heat can help lower your heating bills.

You'll have to do some research to find out which combination of factors will work best for you, and still fit your budget. The Lawrence Berkeley National Library (part of the U.S. Department of Energy) has a program called RESFEN that will help consumers "pick the most energy-efficient and cost-effective window for a given application." You can find the program at http://windows.lbl.gov/software/resfen/resfen.html

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2. Select the Right Window Features For Your Needs

After the energy-saving features come the easy-maintenance features. Some windows awning, hopper, and some double-hung windows tilt inward for easy cleaning. Some are easier to tilt in than others, so take them for a test drive in a manufacturer's showroom or at your home improvement retailer. Other features that could impact your decision are the opening mechanisms on casement, awning, and hopper windows (how durable is the crank assembly?), dual locks, screen locks, vent locks, and so on.

Single-hung windows mean that only one half of the window, either the top or bottom sash (usually the bottom), can open. Double-hung windows mean that both the top and the bottom can open, although only one half at a time. Both sashes on double-hung windows usually tilt inward. Double-hung windows are much easier to clean!

3. Color Selection Can Make the Project

It's a whole different world of windows today than even just a few years ago. Today's windows come in an amazing array of color options, including wood grain laminates for vinyl windows. Manufacturers can produce vinyl windows with the same neutral color on both sides, or apply a bright, long-lasting color on the exterior (dozens of colors available!).

Co-extruded frames afford the option of having the base interior color and the exterior color extruded (extruded means pushed out like sausage from a grinder) onto the exterior surface at the same time. What's the benefit of this process? It creates a more durable finish. Another method is applying a vinyl laminate, like a woodgrain, using hardy, space-age glues.

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4. It's All About Style(s)

Some window styles are better sealed than others (compression seals mean less air leakage), but for the most part window choice has a lot to do with your personal preferences and the architectural style of your home. There are nine basic window styles in the US: Double-hung, sliding, picture, casement, bow, bay, garden, awning, and hopper. Double-hung, where both the top and bottom sash open (vertically), is the most common. Sliding windows feature horizontally gliding halves, where only one half of the window moves. Picture windows do not open at all, but as a result have no frame obstructions and offer an unspoiled view. Casement windows crank open for full ventilation, with the entire window surface opening rather than half as with a sliding or double-hung window.

Bow windows have casement or picture windows of equal widths built on a mild curve, and are a more contemporary design. Bay windows have a more traditional, angular look, with a center picture window and double-hung or casement windows on each side (usually at a 30- to 45-degree angle). Bay and bow windows tend to require a roof extension called a "pent," as they protrude past the exterior wall.

A garden window projects out 90 degrees from the house, a sort of boxy shape with a glass roof, and sometimes featuring casement vents for circulation. You will often see them in kitchens, as they're a great place to grow herbs and spices.

Awning and hopper windows are very similar. An awning window is a rectangular window that is hinged at the top and opens outward. It allows for ventilation, but the tilt of the window keeps rain out. A hopper window is hinged at the bottom and opens inward, and is typically found in basements. Both tend to be opened using a simple crank or lever.

Many of these window types can be paired to create interesting configurations that match the dynamics of a particular room. If you're unsure which options would be best for your home, check with a window dealer for ideas and assistance. Be sure to have a budget in mind, as it will keep those flights of fancy in check.

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