- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 9, 2006

Old windows out, new windows in: If only the replacement job were so easy.

“It’s phy-sics. It’s economics. It’s chemistry,” says Greg Hardin, a remodeling sales specialist for K.C. Co. Inc. in Beltsville, a mid-Atlantic distributor of Pella Corp. window and door products.

He exaggerates for effect, but not by much. Windows are a far cry from those available just decades ago; the variety of materials and features can overwhelm a first-time buyer.

A serious student of the subject encounters a special language, involving terms such as muntin, mullion, lite, sash and cladding. Muntins are the grilles, or pieces that separate the panes. The panes sometimes are called lites. One window can have as many as 12 or more lites. Mullions are the vertical bars between two windows. A sash is the moving part of the window. Cladding refers to the veneer on the outside of a window frame.

Homeowners considering a change should know their requirements and decide on style by researching differences between, say, double-hung (vertical motion) or casement (cranked out) windows. Self-cleaning windows have entered the marketplace but are expensive. The material used for them is a reactive substance made so dirt particles don’t stick to glass.

Pella windows come in double-hung, casement, awning, bow/bay, circle-head, fixed frame or skylight models. There are triple-pane windows and windows with blinds, shades and screens between the panes of glass. Coming soon is a stained-glass panel made of Plexiglas.

Reputable companies arrange on-site visits for free estimates and then have professionals take measurements before an installation date is set. Removing old windows is included in the price of buying new ones. It can take six weeks between the time a customer visits a showroom to view models and the time windows are in place.

Physics plays a role in relevant heat and light factors; economics is involved in calculating short- and long-term value. Chemistry enters into the range of materials used for frames and the windows themselves, whether wood, aluminum, vinyl or fiberglass. There also is argon, an inert gas most often used between double-pane windows to keep harmful UV rays from entering the house as well as helping with insulation. Being denser than air, it prevents sunlight from getting inside and cool air inside from getting out.

“Storm windows are the old way of thinking,” Mr. Hardin asserts, with good reason. They are a second set of windows offering double protection in cold weather, but if they are not custom fitted, they leak air and are not energy-efficient.

Influenced by high energy prices and the need for home and apartment owners to investigate ways of lowering their costs, the market for replacement windows is booming. Installing high-performance windows also increases the value of the owners’ property. The price depends upon the kind of window chosen, but generally, a quality model ranges from $400 to $1,000 each.

“Now is the time of year when everybody gets the itch,” Mr. Hardin says. “Plus, everybody has windows.” His company can “build practically any window you can imagine” in vinyl or wood, he says.

Ronald Evans, a homeowner in the District’s Michigan Park area, decided recently that the expense of replacing all 15 of his home’s windows with a high-end line from Pella was worth the long-range benefit. He had been told the decision could increase the value of his home as much as $40,000. He opted for wood over vinyl on grounds that vinyl, in his opinion, was less substantial.

He also knew that wood windows come with the aluminum veneer on the exterior to reduce maintenance. (Historic preservation districts normally prevent homeowners from installing anything but a total wood exterior — even vinyl that has a cover layer resembling wood.)

Energy efficiency and tilt-in hardware for easy cleaning are surefire resale points, according to Bill Lazor of Simonton Windows, a manufacturer of vinyl models. Many considerations enter into an individual consumer’s choice.

“Lifestyle is key, as is conventional weather patterns for the terrain,” he says. “Look for the Energy Star label to be certain you’re buying windows certified for maximum energy efficiency in your geographic area.”

“If [the window style] has met government codes, it will be energy-efficient for your area,” advises Simonton’s Kathleen Ziprik.

Both Pella and Simonton have informative Web sites (www.pella.com, www.simonton.com). In addition, Simonton invites consumers to request brochures by mail for additional help on choosing windows for the home.

Controversy abounds when comparing wood with vinyl. The argument has to do with the products’ ability to withstand the elements. Inevitably, Ms. Ziprik says, the quality of the material and how the item is made are the important questions.

“With vinyl, all you need to do is wash with soap and water,” she maintains. “With wood, you worry about swelling and reactions to temperature changes. Vinyl is nifty near a coastline, where frames and windows are subject to salt air and sea spray.”

Mr. Hardin argues that wood retains its strength longer than vinyl and has “beauty and warmth.” Pella products are made of Ponderosa pine, which he calls a “renewable resource” because it is fast-growing. Staining and painting of windows and frames can be done ahead of installation.

“Wood is a good insulator at first, but because of the amount of contraction and expansion, over a period of time, it is less attractive and less efficient,” argues Brian Weil, representative of Unicorp Home Energy Services, a manufacturer and installer of vinyl windows based in College Park. Because competition in the field is stronger than ever, he warns consumers to research the company before hiring one. “Look at the company and their products. Check to see if any complaints have been filed against them. Ask for references.”

Just as roof tiles need replacement every 20 years, so windows need changing if they are a source of interior problems, Ms. Ziprik notes. Mr. Hardin says windows can last forever if they are installed properly and not overexposed to the elements.

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