Options in wood windows plentiful, but get 'low-E'

Home Work

November 15, 1998|By Karol V. Menzie and Ron Nodine

WHEN IT comes to windows, some people really want wood. Wood is good, so the saying goes. People love its warm, natural look. The variations of grain and color are endless, and no two pieces are exactly alike. Or it may be more than the look: They may have to comply with historic preservation guidelines.

Even a few years ago, having wood windows would have meant sacrificing the ease of maintenance and the energy-preserving qualities of modern vinyl windows.

That's because unless it is still a tree, wood is not so good when it is exposed to the elements. This is especially true of wood windows, which have a lot of parts and pieces joined together in a lot of places.

However, the technology of wood windows has come a long way in recent years. They are clad in vinyl or aluminum exteriors, which makes them maintenance- -free. (Though you can still get wood exteriors if you really want to paint them.) Today's wood windows have many glazing options, such as dual thermal panes, low-E glass and argon gas "sandwiches," that provide energy efficiency and eliminate the need for storm windows.

In addition, most wood windows offer sashes that tilt in for easy cleaning -- an option that until recently was available only on vinyl windows.

Other options include a range of exterior cladding colors, of hardware types and finishes, of locking mechanisms, and of interior finishes and mullions.

Mullions are the strips that divide windows into panes. The patterns of the dividers and the ability to paint or stain their interiors to match other finishes are the main reasons people want wood windows.

Among mullion choices are true divided-light windows or what is called a simulated divided-light window. In true divided-light windows, each pane in the divided sash is a separate dual-glazed unit. In the simulated divided-light version, there is a single dual-glazed unit in the sash, with thermal bars between the panes and grills permanently attached to the interior and exterior of the glass. This method gives an authentic look to the window at a more reasonable cost. You can also find removable snap-on grills in vinyl or wood, an alternative that's even less expensive, though it doesn't look as authentic.

Of course, you can decide to keep your old wood windows and restore them. Karol once spent a couple of months painstakingly stripping, repairing and restoring eight wooden windows from an elegant rowhouse in East Baltimore. The windows were almost 3 feet wide and 8 feet tall, and no two were exactly the same size -- facts that made replacing them a costly proposition. And besides, the house was in a historic preservation district. Although it was a labor-intensive job, restoring the windows was rewarding, because when they were painted and reinstalled, they looked as good as new.

The windows were in bad shape because they had been seriously neglected for several years. That is the main drawback to wood windows that are not aluminum- or vinyl-clad on the outside; they must be maintained.

If you want new windows, the best way to choose them is to go looking; there are so many differences among manufacturers that you need to see for yourself what each offers. Home-improvement centers, distributors and brand showrooms have a variety of choices, and you can ask friends and neighbors for their recommendations. You can also ask your contractor, who may be able to tell you which ones are most easily installed -- saving labor, and therefore money.

Whatever type of window you choose, there's an option you might want to take advantage of: low-E glass.

Low-E glass is coated on the interior with a thin, transparent layer. It may be on one side or both sides of the interior panes. It allows visible sunlight to penetrate, but it reduces ultraviolet and infrared light that can damage carpets, draperies and furniture. However, its main function is to reduce the amount of heat that enters the house in the summer and to reduce the amount of heat that's lost through the windows in the winter.

It works because heat naturally flows from warm to cool places. When sunlight enters the house in the winter, it is absorbed and reflected by the contents of the house -- and then tries to escape through the cool windows, as does the heat from your radiators or furnace. The low-E coating prevents heat from escaping, keeping more warm air inside.

In summer, the coating reduces the amount of heat radiation entering the house from outside.

Although low-E glass has been around for a couple of decades, it was originally used only in cold climates, to reduce heat loss in winter. Better technology means it can be used in hot climates as well to reduce heat penetration.

Low-E glass is becoming the standard in replacement wood windows. In vinyl replacement windows, it may be more expensive than plain glass, but not very; and the energy savings will rapidly repay the extra cost.

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 henovator.net or Karol at karol.menzialtsun.com. Or write c/o HOME WORK, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278.

Pub Date: 11/15/98

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