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Windows have a tremendous environmental influence on a house. They affect the light, ventilation and temperature of the interior, and the comfort of the occupants. Windows also contribute to the architectural identity, conveying period and style. When you're choosing new windows, be sure the styles you select will suit your home both practically and aesthetically.
Windows come in many shapes, sizes and types and are made from a variety of materials. How do you select the right ones? There are several criteria to consider: your budget, your home's style and how you want the window to perform. Think about the relative importance of ventilation and security and how easy it should be to maintain. And decide whether you want to emphasize the window as a focal point or have it serve in a more practical manner.
Windows are either fixed or operable. Fixed windows are stationary units mounted within a frame. They're great for letting in light and exposing views but provide no ventilation. Among the more visually interesting choices are octagonal, half-circle or ellipse windows and a corner window that has a single pane bent at a 90-degree angle.
There are several different types of operable windows:
Horizontal Sliders: These work well at sealing in energy. They may have one or more fixed panels and one or more panels that slide in horizontal tracks. Only half of the total window may be opened for ventilation at one time.
Double Hung: Classic in style, double-hung windows have an upper, outside sash that slides down and a lower, inside sash that slides up. Hidden springs, weights or friction devices help lift, lower and position the sash. With certain types, the sash can be removed, rotated or tilted for cleaning. If only one sash slides, the window is called vertical sliding or single-hung.
Awning: An awning window is like a horizontal, top-hinged casement. It tilts out at the bottom, offering partial ventilation, an unobstructed view and reasonably good security. A top-opening style, typically placed low on a wall, is called a hopper window.
Casement: Hung singly or in pairs, a casement window is operated by cranks that swing the sash outward or inward. It opens fully for easy cleaning and offers excellent ventilation because it can scoop in breezes.
Bay Window: A bay window projects out from the wall and has a center window parallel to the wall flanked by two windows attached at an angle, usually opening casements or double-hungs. Box bays have the side windows at a 90-degree angle.
Bow Window: A bow window projects like a bay but has more than three sections joined to form a gentle curve. Center windows are generally fixed; side sashes are typically casement windows.
Windows are made from a variety of materials, including wood, aluminum, steel, vinyl and fiberglass-or from a combination of these materials. In general, those that offer better weather protection cost more, but they pay off in low maintenance and energy savings.
Most wood windows come prehung in complete frames that fit into a rough opening in the wall. They're attached with nails driven through the exterior casing, or brickmold, on the outside and through the jambs on the inside.
Vinyl or aluminum windows, and some wood windows with a vinyl or aluminum cladding, have a factory-installed nailing flange on the outside that you attach to the perimeter of the window's rough framing.
All operable windows come equipped with hardware — the mechanisms used for opening and closing the sash, the latches and so forth. Here's a closer look at key types:
The view out a window is as important as how much light and ventilation the window provides. Windows connect us to the outdoors and enhance the sense of interior space. For this reason, the placement and size of your windows — and what you'll see from them — is no small consideration.
Where your windows are placed, how large they are and what type they are have a significant effect on the amount of light and ventilation they provide.
A south-facing window lets in the most light and is desirable in all but the hottest climates; a north-facing window provides soft, diffused light. Because of the low angle of the sun in the morning and late afternoon, light from east- and west-facing windows can be too intense.
Unfortunately, glass isn't nearly as good at conserving energy as an insulated wall, so glazed doors and windows can be responsible for a major part of a home's energy loss if they're not well-chosen. Storm windows and doors and window coverings can help retard heat movement, but the surest and most effective way to save energy is to utilize high-performance glazing.
Check two important ratings to check when buying windows and glazed doors: the R-value and the overall U-value. An R-value measures a material's resistance to heat transfer; the higher the R-value, the better the insulating properties of the glazing. The U-value measures overall energy-efficiency. It tells you the rate at which heat flows through the entire window, door and frame. The lower the U-value, the more energy-efficient the window or door. An average U-value is fine for warm climates; in cold climates, a lower U-value is worth the premium you're likely to pay for it.
Insulating glazing typically has two, or sometimes three, panes of glass sealed together with either air or argon gas trapped between them to act as an insulator. Some units have a plastic film suspended between two glass panes. If the unit is properly sealed, condensation shouldn't occur between the panes; sometimes a drying agent (called a desiccant) is used in the spacer (the strip inside the panes, which helps keep them apart) as added insurance against condensation. One important reason for buying windows and doors with a strong warranty is to ensure that they'll be backed if the seal fails and condensation occurs. (There's no easy way to get rid of condensation in dual glazing.)
You'll discover that there are also a number of glass products on the market for special uses, including safety glass and stained glass. Here's a closer look at both high-performance and specialty glazing:
You can install small stained-glass panels in the same way you would install ordinary clear panes. Large panels need additional support for permanent installation; fit them into their own routed wood frames, or block their edges on both sides with wood strips nailed to the sill and window frame. Be sure to set the panel in glazing putty and caulk all outside joints.