Window Wonders

Window shopping: Modern windows now come in "systems" and can cost more than $3,000 each. But they also can save money and improve the look of a house.

September 22, 2002|By Adele Evans | Adele Evans,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

It was probably natural that when window aficionado Kevin Browne decided to renovate his Stoneleigh home, one of his first thoughts was the windows. He wound up replacing them all.

"The windows were leaky and drafty; double hung," said Browne. "I put in high-performance glass."

That was just the start.

Not only did Browne's windows have to be energy-efficient and tough, but they were also an essential part of the overall look of his 1932 Dutch Colonial home.

As a sales representative for Andersen Windows, Brown knew the breadth of portal possibilities.

Soaring picture windows, French doors, double-hung windows with inner and outer grills, Palladian windows and an oval window, all adorn his home.

Another addition was a delicate, 2-by-4-foot, Victorian-style window that simulates stained glass (without the lead).

As for curtains, there's not a one.

Like Browne, today's homebuyers and homebuilders have more window options than ever.

Styles extend from the standard single- and double-hung starter windows to elite Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired windows that seek to demonstrate the famous architect's maxim that the inside of a home ought to blend with the outside.

High-tech has also hit the window industry. Today's portals are so sophisticated that, with the flip of an electric switch, windows can be made to allow more or less light into a room.

But windows can also be expensive. The $120 cost of a basic, single-hung rectangular window can rise to $1,600 with more insulation and fancy grillwork.

Homeowners commonly pay $3,000-plus for popular bow or bay windows. And architecturally unique windows can cost even more.

"It's not unusual for someone to pay $39,000 for a system. On the other hand, you see $5,000 worth of windows on a $500,000 house. It looks cheap, with flat grills ... it doesn't read," Browne said, adding that $77,000 was the record he had seen someone pay for an entire window system.

"Windows are the only element of the home that affects the exterior and the interior equally," said Nan Farnsworth DeGonda, spokeswoman for the Andersen Corp. in Bayport, Minn. "Contemporary, traditional, unique windows make a huge impact on how the house looks. You usually don't change the windows because they last so long."

"More than just a passing trend, designing with light has elevated windows and doors to become important architectural elements, affecting a home's style and personality, inside and out," said Pat Meyer, director of product marketing at Pella Corp. of Pella, Iowa, another industry giant.

"You have to look at your needs," DeGonda said. "Do you like privacy, or as much light as possible? If you value privacy, you may want skylights. You have to consider the overall impact of windows."

DeGonda says deciding on the right system boils down to four issues: function vs. style; ease of maintenance vs. style; sturdiness vs. style; and privacy vs. light.

Maximizing light is the current craze. Andersen officials report a boom in the outdoor living room. The enclosed patio-courtyard is the rage, and glass helps integrate it with the rest of the house, DeGonda said. The movement began in the Western states and is rapidly moving east.

In addition, the old is becoming new. Retro designs of the 1940s are hot again. And early 20th-century heavy, double-hung windows with thick casings are in vogue. Frank Lloyd Wright-styling, heavier Victorian looks and ornate casings are particularly popular in higher-end homes.

Ease of maintenance still influences the market. Ryland Homes purchasing manager Mark Somerville says Ryland's customers want quality, but nothing tough to clean.

Top Ryland window

For example, Ryland's best-selling window is a basic double-paned, vinyl model with an enclosed grid. "We're lucky if we sell five to 10 homes a year with [fancier] options," Somerville said. "Performance is what counts; not whether it's wood or vinyl."

The right windows can help homeowners save up to 35 percent on their utility bills. In hot weather, solar heat coming through windows can make an air conditioner work two or three times harder.

The basic starter window is probably a standard, uncoated, double-paned window, with two pieces of glass separated by a small space (single-paned is practically extinct and not recommended by most window experts).

Continuing up the scale, customers can buy windows with a "low-emissivity coating" that limits the amount of heat gain or loss. A thin metallic coating is bonded to the inside surface of a sealed, double-paned window. The coating cuts the flow of radiant heat across the space between the panes.

The coating's chemical properties help keep the home warmer in winter and cooler in summer. The coating also filters out certain types of sunlight that can damage carpets and furniture. A "low-E glaze" is very common and inexpensive.

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