How is your home surviving this unusually harsh winter? Have you noticed your home is colder than previous winters, or that your heating bills have gone up?
Look to your windows for the solution to this chilling problem.
One of the first areas of a house to deteriorate from age are the windows. Rotting wood frames or corroding metal frames and hardware are virtually unavoidable in the Midwest climate. The continuous change of seasons with extremes of heat and cold accelerate the deterioration process.
If your home is more than ten years old, your window frames may have warped and are leaking air around the perimeter of the frames. In many cases the windows may be impractical or impossible to repair because the trim pieces and hardware are no longer manufactured.
When the time comes to replace your windows, the most popular choice is thermal vinyl replacement windows made of polyvinyl chloride, or PVC. Many advancements have been made in the design and manufacturing of these windows that makes them both attractive and energy efficient.
For example, PVC replacement windows are assembled with a production technique known as fusion welding. This technique welds the four sections of a window frame together into one solid unit, resulting in superior strength and the elimination of air leaks and water infiltration. The window frames have a multi-cavity honeycomb design and a nonconductive reinforcement at the meeting rail to provide rigidity and improved energy efficiency.
Advantages to PVC windows include the options of Low-E (emissivity) glass and Argon gas.
Low-E glass is coated with transparent layers of metal oxide and silver. During the warm summer months, Low-E glass reflects long-wave heat energy to the outside, resulting in a cooler home interior, a significant reduction in the penetration of the sun's ultraviolet rays, and reduced fading of furniture, carpets and draperies.
In the cold winter months, Low-E glass allows the sun's natural light and short-wave heat energy to pass though the glass, maintaining interior heat levels and helping to reduce heating costs. The window actually uses the sun's passive solar energy to help heat the home.
The best-performing PVC windows combine Argon gas and Low-E glass. During the manufacturing process, Argon gas is sealed inside the window between the glass panes.
Argon gas acts as an invisible insulating "blanket" that displaces the air as the windows are made. With Low-E glass reflecting heat away, Argon gas buffers thermal transfer to enhance the performance of the window. Krypton is another type of gas that is used in PVC window manufacturing. It is a colorless, odorless, nontoxic gas that is denser than oxygen. Krypton gas reduces the transfer of heat that flows from a warm surface to a cold surface.
How do PVC replacement windows compare to traditional wood and metal frame windows?
Wood frame windows insulate well but lose their efficiency as warping, rotting and shrinking occur over time. And they require yearly scraping, caulking and painting. Wood frames are susceptible to termites and other wood-boring insects.
Metal frame windows are simply poor insulators. In winter, heat from inside the home is conducted to the outside through the metal frames, resulting in heat loss and higher heating bills. Metal frame windows often have inadequate weatherstripping and are prone to corrosion, pitting and rust.
Thermal vinyl windows, made from polyvinyl chloride, are the most resistant to the transfer of heat and cold than any man-made material used in replacement window framing, manufacturers say. PVC provides superior resistance to changing weather conditions and abrasion damage from wind, rain and ice.
Like wood, PVC is an excellent insulator but it resists the damaging effects of pollution, humidity and temperature extremes far better than wood.
"The thermal vinyl replacement window's cost makes it practical for homeowners to replace all of their windows in their home, and a quality thermal vinyl replacement window will last a long time and deliver some of the best insulation value for the dollar," said David Wytmar, a licensed architect and LEED-certified energy expert based in Buffalo Grove.
Kitchen and bath designer David Kunzweiler of Cabinets Plus in Palatine said he recommends PVC replacement windows for newly remodeled bathrooms because of their resistance to warping and the high levels of humidity that are very common in these rooms.
The most appreciated advantages to PVC replacement windows are they require no maintenance and are easy to clean. Often, the sashes tilt inward to allow cleaning of the window safely inside the home. Years ago, PVC windows were available in only one color: white. Today, these windows come in a variety of colors and finishes, including those that closely resemble wood.
Decorative options such as retractable blinds between the glass panes, Prairie- or Colonial-style grids and bronze tints are typically available.
Mark Paulson, senior home remodeling adviser with Katlia Construction in Park Ridge, suggests homeowners choose PVC windows that have a high "R" value and a low "U" value.
"The R-value measures the resistance of a material to heat flow," he said. "A window with a high R-value has greater resistance and better insulating quality. The U-value measures heat transfer through the framing material. The lower the U-value, the slower the rate of heat flow and the improvement of the window's insulating value."
Paulson also advises his customers to check the window's National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC) label attached to the frame.
"The NFRC label indicates the window's U-value, solar heat gain, visible light transmittance and condensation resistance values. Better quality windows are typically Energy Star rated, meaning they have been tested and approved by the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy for energy efficiency," Paulson said.
He said the average homeowner will realize a 40-percent reduction in their heating bills by replacing old existing windows in their home with PVC windows. Paulson's company installs a large number of PVC windows in residential homes, apartments and condominiums. He advises that proper installation of new PVC windows is key.
"Make sure your contractor takes accurate measurements of your window openings before ordering the new windows. This important step is essential to ensure a tight fit and optimum energy efficiency," he said.
Paulson advises customers to purchase the highest quality windows they can afford. "The windows in a home serve several purposes. They ventilate the home, bring light into the home, and are an important element of the home's overall appearance," he said. "In the long run, it pays to buy the best."
• Contributed by David Lewis of Levinson Communications International in Morton Grove.