Windows: Not Just a Piece of Glass
By: Todd McIntyre
It's early in the morning and you've just opened the curtains to bring in the bright new day. Or perhaps
the snow is falling softly outside as you snuggle up with a cup of hot cocoa at your window seat and take
in the view. Windows have been around for hundreds of years, and while their basic purpose has not
changed, they have gone from being a necessary "hole in the wall" to a significant element of design.
What is the definition of a Window? According to Webster's dictionary, a window is an opening, usually
framed and spanned with glass, built into a wall for light and air. We still use windows for this
fundamental purpose. Properly placed windows can provide cross ventilation and eliminate the need for
artificial lighting during the day. Most people have at one time or another been in a dark, dreary room
that simply needed the light of a window. Current national code requires that the glazed area of the
windows (that is the glass itself) equal 8% or more of the square footage of a room.
Windows can range widely in style and cost. If you prefer contemporary styling, you may choose to go
with a casement style window (a unit that either cranks out to the left or to the right). A more
traditional style is the double hung unit (a unit that slides up and down). Other styles include horizontal
sliders, awnings, and transom windows. A window manufacturer can provide detailed descriptions of
the various styles available. The styles are as plentiful as the prices are varied. Of course, you can mix
and match units. For example: in your kitchen you may desire a casement unit above the sink because
they are easier to open reaching over the counter; however, adjacent to the kitchen, in a gazebo shaped
breakfast area, there is no reason you should not consider using double-hung units.
Let's take a closer look at the two most popular units , the casement and double hung window. There
are pro's and con's to both. The casement offers full ventilation when opened where the double-hung
only gives about half. However, if you have a group of casements units overlooking your deck or patio,
be aware that casements take up exterior living space. So be careful at parties; open casements can be
very painful when walked into. Probably the best part of double-hung units is many new models tilt in
for easier cleaning, where as the casement does not offer a similar feature.
Whether you are building new, adding on additional space, or renovating a room in your home, the
windows you choose should play a major role. When looking at windows for your new project, look
carefully at the hardware, is it well manufactured? Plastic hardware may provide a more contemporary
look, but also tend to break sooner. Open the windows at the showroom, do they operate easily? Do
they offer a good warranty on the unit as a whole? Most manufactures should cover the windows for at
least ten years. Check the energy efficiency (insulation value) of the particular units you are interested
in. I recommend a minimum insulation value of R-3. Most units nowadays carry an insulation value of at
least this, and very often it is higher. Overall, examine the quality of the unit on the interior as well as
You will find that the cost of windows is quite significant, but you get what you pay for. You want your
windows to last 30 to 50 years, therefore they need to be constructed from good quality materials and
made to last for long time. If you skimp on quality, you may have problems in as little as 5 years.
Depending on the number of windows your project calls for, you should plan to spend approximately
5%-10% of your entire building budget if you are adding on or building a new home. This percentage is
higher for smaller renovations.
Windows provide much more than light and air today. A properly designed window can make or break
the mood of a room. Today's windows should be treated as an integral part of the design and NOT JUST
A PIECE OF GLASS.