It might be better to replace those drafty wood windows Panes are biggest source of heat loss during winter

Home Work

November 08, 1998|By Karol V. Menzie and Ron Nodine

NOW THAT we have had a few chilly nights, people who have old wood windows have most likely been reminded of how inefficient they are at keeping out the cold.

Windows are the biggest source of heat loss in the winter, especially old ones. So what can you do to minimize the loss and keep that cold air outside?

If you want to keep your old windows, for historic preservation or other reasons, your options are limited. You can add some weatherstripping, but you have to be careful not to use too much, or the window will not close properly and that will make the problem worse. A felt strip on the top of the top sash and the bottom of the bottom sash will fill in some gaps and stop some air leakage. If there any gaps around the exterior of the frame, where it meets the walls, you can caulk those as well.

Be sure all the glazing is intact on the outside and caulk the seams around the exterior frame. Some people don't want to -- or can't -- add storm windows, for reasons of historic preservation. There are companies that make interior storm windows, or you can you use inexpensive shrink-wrap type insulation.

On the other hand, if you are considering new windows, the options are many.

Vinyl windows have become very popular in recent years. They are energy efficient, easy to install, relatively inexpensive and offer such a myriad of features.

You can buy vinyl windows at home improvement centers; that way you can do your own research and figure out what features you want. Then you'll have to find someone to install them for you. Sometimes the store will have an installation service, or will make recommendations about contractors. Or, if you're handy, you can install them yourself.

The other way to buy replacement windows is to hire a contractor who specializes in that field. The contractor will usually have a particular supplier that he works with, so be sure to discuss what options you want to make sure that the supplier offers them.

As always, do your homework on the contractor you choose to do the work. Inquire about the warranty; (the standard warranty for these windows is 20 years). Also remember that, as with all home-improvement projects, the lowest bid is not necessarily the best bid.

Make sure you know what is included in the price, and how interior and exterior finishes will be dealt with.

Vinyl windows are custom-made to fit into the existing frame. The interior is undisturbed except for the stop molding, the piece of trim that holds the inner sash in place, which is removed and replaced. The exterior trim is covered with sheet aluminum.

If you buy an installed window, which is the standard practice, these things should be included in the price.

Beyond these things, there are a lot of options -- in fact, in some cases you may find that there are way too many options. Here are some of the ones available, with pros and cons:

* Low-E glass. This is a coating that is applied to a surface between two panes of glass; it increases the insulation value. It costs a little more, but doesn't have other drawbacks.

* Argon gas. Argon replaces air between two panes of glass and, like low-E coatings, increases insulation value. The argon is clear, which means it doesn't interfere with vision; however, it can escape. There's no way to tell if it's there in the first place, and no way to tell if it's gone. Make sure you're dealing with a reputable company.

* Triple glass. This is also an insulation enhancer, but it adds to the weight of the sash, which could wear out the balances faster, and it also adds to the cost of replacing a pane should one get broken.

* Welded sashes and frames. These will increase the durability of the window. Welding is more important in the sash -- the moving part -- than in the frame, which is screwed and caulked in place. However, installation may not look as neat and clean as a mechanically attached window.

* Ventilator stops. These are standard on most vinyl replacement-type windows, but not all. They allow the window to open a few inches for ventilation.

* Sometimes the spacer between the two panes will be a metal bar; however, some windows have a black rubbery sealing strip that doesn't transmit heat or cold as metal does.

There are lots of other features, such as sash locks, balances (in double-hung windows), and lift rails on sashes, just to name a few, that vary widely. Some of these features are better than others, and some are just a matter of personal preference.

Since many of these features are optional, remember that they will usually add to the cost of the window.

Next week: Wood windows and how low-E glass works.

Ron Nodine is owner of American Renovator Inc., a Baltimore design-build remodeling firm, and current president of the Remodelors Council of the Home Builders Association of Maryland. Karol Menzie is a feature writer for The Sun.

If you have questions, tips or experiences to share about working on houses, e-mail Ron at or Karol at Or write c/o HOME WORK, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column; comments, tips and experiences will be reported in occasional columns.

Pub Date: 11/08/98

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