Window Basics 101 Window Basics 101

When remodeling a home, homeowners are faced with many unfamiliar questions. Contractors assume that you know as much as they do - which can often lead to frustration when picking building materials. One of the most difficult materials to decide upon is windows. They seem simple enough - they are usually square, can have grids, and come in wood or vinyl. Unfortunately, many architects, builders and material suppliers do not present you with accurate facts to make an informed decision. So, how do you decide which type of windows to buy for your project?

Below is a list of window terminology which will help in the window selection process:

Grid - a decorative design placed between or on the outside of the glass.

Frame width - In wood window applications, the frame width should match the size of the studs. For example, 2x6 walls should have a 6 9/16" width, and 2x4 walls should have a 3 9/16" depth. Vinyl windows usually have a 3 1/4" window frame.

Mulled - This is a term used to describe two windows being built together in the factory. For example, taking two windows 24" wide by 36" tall and mulling them would result in one window 48" wide by 36" tall.

Rough opening - A rough opening is the wall opening needed to allow for proper installation of the window. This size is listed on the window quote and is imperative for proper window installation and function.

Tempered glass - This is a specific type of glass that resists shattering. It is required in areas where a person could accidentally fall through the glass. Examples are near a bathtub, stairs, window seat, or where a door opens toward the window.

Transom - This is a fixed or operable window placed above a larger window. They can be used for added ventilation or lighting, but are often times used only for decoration.

Window type - Windows are available in various styles which include fixed, single hung, double hung, casement, slider and awning.

Researching windows on your own
is the first step towards making an informed decision. This begins with visiting the websites of well-known manufacturers. These websites will provide photo galleries, technical information, and resources for finding local dealers.

During this process, you will want to ask yourself:
  • Will wood windows hold up in my climate or will they need constant maintenance?
  • Can I afford the added cost of wood windows?
  • Are vinyl windows common in my area?
  • Will the contractor charge extra for installing wood or vinyl?

Deciding the type of window material is the second step in the process. Prices vary greatly between a quality vinyl and wood windows. In some areas of the country, either type is used exclusively - so your region may narrow the choices. Once you have chosen the material type, developing a cost-effective window schedule is next.

Many factors influence the cost of a window. Some examples are:
  • The larger the window, the greater the cost.
  • Window grids add to the overall price of the window package.
  • Certain areas require tempered glass (near a bathtub, stairs or window seat), which increases the cost per unit.
  • Specialty shapes like circles, trapezoids and hexagons make windows more expensive.
  • White is a standard color for windows, and other colors may have an additional charge.
  • Mulled windows receive an additional charge from the factory. For example, if two windows are built together (to form a larger window), this receives a milling charge.
  • Transoms placed over windows will increase the overall cost of the unit.

When remodeling your home, it is important to take these factors into consideration. Selecting windows with standard sizes, colors and options can save thousands of dollars! On the other hand, choosing custom sized windows, in a custom color, with special grilles can make a window package extremely expensive.

At this point, your investigation should have lead to the selection of material type, sizes, options, and overall design. The final step is having a material supplier provide a quote for your windows. This quote will list each window with the size and options you chose. Below are some helpful tips for receiving and analyzing quotes:
  • Make sure all the retailers are quoting windows with the same styles and options you chose (this will make it easier to compare quotes).
  • If possible, visit the window showroom and see the windows in person. Open and close the window, check the rigidity of the frame, and make note of the overall quality.
  • Ask if rebates are offered through the manufacturer or city for buying energy efficient windows.
  • Make sure the windows they quoted meet building department requirements in your area (i.e., energy efficiency, tempered glass in appropriate areas, egress requirements, etc).

If you are installing the windows, compare the quote to your building plans or floor layout. You may even want to walk through the house and visualize where each window will be placed. Confirm the window will function properly and that nothing will obstruct its operation. If a contractor will be installing the windows, provide them with a copy of the quote so they can verify the dimensions.

As you can see, window selection takes more than just picking a style. Design and function play an integral role in the process. Remember, architects and builders may not be window experts. Never assume their window schedules are correct! Always verify the size and location of windows, and ask questions. Windows are an investment and you will have to look at them everyday. However, taking responsibility for the window design and selection will provide you with years of worry-free enjoyment of your home.

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