One hundred years ago a window functioned to let in light and keep the elements in, or out, depending on the season. Like many other home features, windows have evolved with precision and technology to become more science and possibly a piece of art.

Karen Winkler, owner of Billings Windows & Doors, started her career in homebuilding by working in a lumberyard. As a result, she knows windows inside and out. The best starting point for making choices about windows, noted Winkler, is listening to a customer and asking the right questions. She sees customers come in who are experiencing drafty windows, seal failure (most noticeable by foggy glass), function failures (not working) and wood rot.

“Sometimes a 12-foot roll of weather-stripping and some replacement parts, especially if they are quality windows like the Marvin windows we sell, are all the customer needs,” she said. “Think of weather-stripping like rotating the tires on the car—it’s part of the regular maintenance, but eventually the tires do wear out and have to be replaced.”

She also points to on-site evaluations as a key first step when considering replacement.

New windows are an investment, yet they can also save the homeowner money. According to consumerreports.org, replacing old-fashioned, single-glazed windows could save the homeowner 10-25% per year in heating and cooling costs. However, on average, homeowners will spend between $7,000-$20,000 plus an additional 15% cost for custom sizes. So deciding whether and when to replace windows could be a quandary.

Matt Lucas, general manager at Pella Windows and Doors, Inc. recommends that homeowners contact a reputable, experienced window expert to evaluate their home’s windows. The five employees at Pella have approximately 120 years of experience between them and specialize in new and replacement windows and doors.

“Windows and doors are all we do,” Lucas mentioned. “When we visit a customer on-site, our extensive knowledge base helps us provide options for every home and budget.”

Thinking ahead

Lucas also points out that the homeowner should think about how he or she wants the windows to operate. Is it a fixed window, meaning it will not open but simply lets in light? Is privacy an issue? Does the homeowner prefer to use two hands to operate the window, like a double-hung, or would a casement (also known as crank) style be easier? Does the homeowner want an un-obstructed view or do grids better fit the home’s style?

Both Billings Window & Door and Pella Windows and Doors offer extensive showrooms and sample kits so that homeowners can operate each style, see exactly how big a 4x6’ window is and play with all the optional gadgets. The show room can be more like a playroom, Winkler said as she demonstrated how a Marvin window essentially flips inside-out for easy cleaning.

“Women just love that feature,” she said and moved on to demonstrate a large casement window that opened either horizontally or vertically with dual pivot points. “And guys love that one.”

The sky’s the limit

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To say that the options with windows are endless could be an understatement; but there’s no doubt that the sky is the limit.

It used to be that windows in a roof, known commonly as skylights, had a bad rap. While leaks were more likely due to bad flashing or installation, the window itself fell out of favor. New technology, however, has saved the skylight.

Both Winkler and Lucas agree that Velux is the way to go.

“Velux has engineered the frame so that it is almost foolproof,” said Winkler. “It is an entire system.”

Homeowners can choose from a fixed, or non-opening, skylight or a remote-control opening skylight. Tube lights, which filter light from the roof into an interior room, are also popular.

New choices

“Homeowners really need to think about how they want their windows to function,” Lucas said. “If you are building, think about what your lot or view offers—or doesn’t offer. What do you want to see? What do you want them to look like from the outside? What areas do you want to highlight?”

Lucas pointed to transom windows, the small rectangular windows framed over an existing window or door, as becoming popular new-build options in this region along with fixed windows with privacy glass. These are common as “side lights” alongside a door or in bathrooms where the homeowner might want light but still desire privacy.

In addition, Lucas said those who build homes have many more options for style and size than those homeowners who replace windows—they can dictate unique window styles and shapes during the building process without too many restrictions like ceiling height or electrical circuit that might otherwise restrict windows in existing homes.

Like all home features and replacements, the homeowner’s budget may also dictate the materials used. Vinyl windows are a starting point and are often used with tighter budgets. However, vinyl is a plastic product so it does not hold up to the elements and temperature extremes as well as the other options: fiberglass and wood-clad. While fiberglass is the middle of the road in terms of materials and cost, wood-clad windows that are well-maintained could last 30-40 years.

“Until someone has lived with bad windows, they likely won’t really appreciate a really good window,” noted Winkler. “Investing more now comes back in the budget later.”

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