How to Buy Replacement Windows That Look Great

February 16, 2012

how to, insulation, interior work

One of the best investments you can make for your old home is new windows. For the average homeowner, vinyl replacement windows is a good choice. But all vinyl replacements are not the same. Here’s how to choose the best window for your money and your old home.

Making your Selection

It comes as no surprise that the best window is the one that is the most attractive at the most affordable price. This is easier said than done, however. Window manufacturers seem to love to confuse the consumer with strange terms, baffling “new” “technology” and other slick marketing techniques. I’ll explain what some of these terms mean.

Vinyl
Vinyl replacement windows are made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC), the same material used for PVC pipes and vinyl siding and fencing. PVC is a veritable soup of chemical ingredients. One manufacturer may use more of one ingredient to produce a better window while another manufacturer may use less and produce an inferior window. For this reason, it is best to stick with a name brand manufacturer who has a history of producing quality windows. Avoid the cheap no-name brands because chances are these products use cheaper ingredients that may cause problems in the future. Look for windows that have the American Architectural Manufacturers Association (AAMA) label on them. This means that the window is certified by the AAMA for high quality materials and manufacture.

Two of the big problems with vinyl windows are their propensity to warp or sag with extreme temperatures and yellowing that occurs under direct sunlight. Look for a window that contains titanium dioxide (TiO2), an additive that helps vinyl keep its white color. There’s not a whole lot you can do about the warping from temperature changes– vinyl siding suffers from the same plight. If possible, install awnings over the windows that face south as these generally receive the brunt of direct sunlight year round.

Double Glazing
Most vinyl replacement windows are “double glazed.” Double glazing is also known as insulated glazing. It’s basically two panes of glass separated by a small pocket of air space. This type of glazing is marvelous, in my opinion.

A double glazed window. Image courtesy of pvc-window-manufacturer.com

Old homes with their original windows have single pane glass. As many of you old-home owners know, heated or cooled air and sounds pass very easily through single pane windows. But add another pane to the window and air flow and sounds are sharply restricted. Years ago, the double glazing cost for new windows added greatly to the entire cost, but today, double glazing is very common. Some companies will even offer to add double glazing to older windows and doors. It’s incredibly more energy efficient.

Gas
Some window manufacturers boast that their windows contain argon gas or some other inert gas, claiming that the injected of gas between the two panes help prevent damage from UV rays and add additional energy efficiency to the windows. Personally, I don’t think the gas does much good and I will never pay extra for it. Over time, the gas leaches out. It’s not toxic in such tiny amounts. But seeing that it is not a permanent feature and that it does very little good anyway, I won’t ever pay more money for a window that has it.

Screens
Vinyl replacement windows screens are, in my opinion, substandard.

Kitty cat screen damage.

They are usually made of fiberglass material and they tear easily (especially if you have cats!). They are very pretty at first, when installed, but over time they start to sag and the fibers weaken. They fill with dust and dirt, and if you wash them, the fibers sag and weaken all the more.

I don’t know for sure if any window manufacturers make metal screening in a smart-looking black color. They certainly should. Metal screens are much easier to keep. If you get a vinyl window with fiberglass screens, expect to have to mend or replace the screens pretty regularly, every 7 to 15 years or so.

Tilting Sashes
In my estimation, the sashes of a vinyl replacement window are one of its best features. Many models feature “tilting” sashes. You press two small clips on each side of the bottom sash and the sash will tilt in for easy cleaning. What a marvelous, magnificent feature! No more clambering 40 feet up a ladder to wash windows!

Another great feature about these sashes is that you can lift the bottom sash up AND the top sash down. This is a great feature for homes with small children or pets who may try to poke through the screen. You can simply open up the top sash of the window to protect the lower screen, and still get fresh air.

Things to Avoid

Besides the usual features I’ve mentioned, check the window for any possible future problems that may develop.

Stupidly Designed Safety Clips
When we bought our first bunch of vinyl replacement windows, the window installers proudly pointed to their “safety clips” as an exclusive added feature. These clips were simply plastic triangular pieces that, when flipped out, would “lock down” the windows yet still allow the windows to be cracked open. This would keep the windows secure but still allow fresh air to circulate especially during hot summer nights.

While a terrific theory, the clips didn’t last long. They were poorly made and they were not attached to the window at all. After a year, they fell out and left ugly gaping holes.

Thin Vinyl “fin” Opening Handles
I would have gladly skipped the Amazing Safety Clips for better opening handles, that’s for sure. If you expect to open and close your window more than a dozen times, look for thick handles.

A broken handle on my window.

Blue-Tinted Windows
Some manufacturers tint their windows various colors, because homeowners may not want only white. However, avoid blue-tinted vinyl windows especially if they are a no-name brand and do not come with any AAMA certification label. Like supermarkets that color their old beef a red color to make the meat look fresher, blue-tinted windows hide the sub-grade vinyl used for the windows. These windows are tinted blue to hide their lack of titanium dioxide, the additive that makes the vinyl a white color. Over time, the blue tint will fade and the vinyl windows will become an ugly light yellow color.

Despite the caveats, I love vinyl replacement windows. They are more energy efficient and easier top operate than my old 100-year old windows. While no one is quite sure how long vinyl replacements will last (since they have only been around for 30 years or so), I think they can certainly last the lifetime of the homeowners. I’m hoping that manufacturers continue to offer us better technology and better features in the future.

Thanks for reading!

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