Evaluating Window Choices

Choosing the Right Products for your Home

In evaluating window choices, the first step is to choose beautiful, sophisticated windows and doors that perfectly suit the architectural style.  Second, you want to consider choices that fully maximize the indoor-outdoor connection year-round. However, in choosing the right products for your home, window style and performance are both important to evaluate. You must be sure that you’re not sacrificing efficiency, safety, security or privacy.  Also, consider that windows that rate better in mitigating sound transmission are another consideration for increasing the comfort of rest and work at home.

evaluating window choices

Choosing the right product for your home starts with comparing window strength, operability and durability

Modern window walls are popular for new homes and are often top of the list when remodeling an existing home. New designs continually break the mold in height and width. Product specifiers prefer windows that allow the largest span of glass before needing mullions for structural strength. For this reason steel frame windows are popular even though they are costlier than other types of windows. 

Steel frames are three times stronger and heavier than aluminum, and thus best able to support larger expanses of glass with minimal sight lines. But, aluminum is still three times stronger and heavier than wood. That can make aluminum the best choice in the strength-to-weight ratio.

In evaluating the bests choices for your home, you may also consider using commercial-grade aluminum windows. A commercial frame makes the window stronger, more advanced, and more efficient than a window with a standard aluminum window frame.   

Modern steel and aluminum windows use galvanizing and coating processes to protect against corrosion and rust. But, there are other factors to weigh when using metal frames.

Comparing the Efficiency of One Window to Another

Keep in mind that both the window frame and the window itself impact the efficiency of the window. And, that’s something else to consider about using metal frames to support those large format windows and doors. The more metal used for structural strength, the less thermally efficient the units. That’s because metal is conductive.  Wood is the least thermally conductive window frame choice. But, humid weather is yet another factor to weigh in. Humidity makes composite and wood window frames susceptible to rot. For this reason, aluminum clad wood windows may be the wise choice after all.

Understanding the ratings is key in evaluating window choices

First, a window’s U-factor indicates how well a window prevents heat loss. A U-factor of 0.4 or below is the requirement for windows in Texas. Krypton or argon gas between the panes of double-pane windows reduces heat transfer through the glass.

Next, the SHGC value of a window measures how well the window reflects solar heat. Ratings use values between 0 and 1. A rating of 0 means no solar heat will enter through the window. And, a rating of 1 indicates the maximum heat transmission.  Low-E windows are usually specified for new construction homes in Texas. That’s because the thin, colorless glazing of Low-E glass helps meet the required minimum SHGC of 0.25 or below in Texas.  Triple or quadruple glazing can further reduce the solar energy transmission coefficient.

Whole Unit Ratings-The True Indication of Energy Performance

Lastly, It is important to distinguish whether you’re viewing “whole-unit” or “center-of-glass” SHGC and U-factor ratings. Center-of-glass ratings indicate the efficiency of the window without taking the window frame into account. As a result, center-of-glass ratings can be misleading in terms of overall window energy efficiency. In evaluating window choices, the whole unit rating is the one to pay attention to.

evaluating window choices
Both the window frame and the window itself determine the efficiency of the window.
The Fenestration and Glazing Industry Alliance has certified thousands of individuals on industry-accepted installation practices and other critical information related to window installation through its InstallationMasters® program.
evaluating window choices
Multi-panel door configurations come in both folding and sliding options.

Security is also important in evaluating window choices

Some types of glass used on the window can deter burglars. For example, glazing not only helps windows be more energy-efficient. Also, glazing can reinforce your glass windows for added security. Tempered glass is another option. Not only is tempered glass much more durable than traditional glass, it is also much more difficult to break. And laminated glass (a.k.a safety glass) has a layer of vinyl sandwiched between two sheets of regular glass. That means that in order to break through safety glass, you would have to repeatedly strike the glass in the same spot. But, that would create a lot of noise.

Multi-point locking systems make new windows and doors more intruder-resistant. On the other hand, a simple crowbar is all that’s needed to lift the slider up and out of its track on older sliding doors. Newer locking systems lock each panel using a concealed locking rod at the floor and the head track. And sometimes, there are several other locking points along the door stile.  Additionally, magnetic locks on some new windows allow windows to automatically lock when closed.

Comparing acoustic performance

Finally, where noise control is a major consideration, soundproof glass or units made with composite acoustic foils may be a consideration. Standard dual-pane windows are a practical solution to sound control.  And dual-panes that are dissimilar are a less expensive solution for controlling noise. For instance, one pane that’s 1/8” thick and another that’s ¼” thick might be specified. Each pane in a dissimilar glass unit blocks different sound frequencies. One pane in a dissimilar glass unit works to targets lower-frequency sounds. And the other pane targets higher-frequency sounds.  While you might think that triple-pane or laminated glass would work even better, these choices have smaller air spaces between the panes of glass. For that reason, they are less optimal for sound control. 

Vinyl and wood windows, in general, perform well when it comes to blocking sound. But metal conducts sound, and thus, it is better to avoid aluminum and steel when sound control is a main concern. 

Since air infiltration plays a role in acoustics and windows, you might consider casements, awnings and fixed windows. These types of windows tend to be more airtight because of their higher glass-to-frame/sash ratio. For the same reasons, casements, awnings and fix windows also perform better against sound. 

Large scale doors for new construction homes in Texas
Keep in mind that big windows and doors require hardware with a big footprint to maintain the structural integrity.
Reducing design constraints
  • Pivot doors can make a dramatic and modern statement. An added advantage is that they can be larger than regular doors and made of materials usually too heavy to be used for swing doors. 
  • Johnson Hardware makes a “Soft-Close Kit” designed to support extra-heavy doors weighing up to 330 pounds. 
  • Diamond Glass weighs up to 45% less and is three times more scratch resistant than traditional laminated glass
The Efficient Windows Collaborative
The Efficient Windows Collaborative is powered by the National Fenestration Rating Council, a nonprofit organization that certifies the energy-performance of windows, doors, and skylights

Step-by-step guides by the Efficient Windows Collaborative are a resource for selecting energy efficient windows. Each sheet summarizes the key considerations considers the conditions in that state. Then, it provides a summary of energy performance results from the Window Selection Tool for key cities in that state. Fenestration energy conservation requirements continuously rise. And, by law, replacement windows must also comply with new construction energy codes.

New Windows Comply with Updated Safety Requirements

Building codes address important safety issues for windows and doors.  Thus, legal requirements now specify: 

  • All rooms that are considered sleeping rooms must have emergency escape and rescue openings.  Threshold heights for required exit doors and widths of the clear openings of the required egress are specified. 
  • To prevent falls, all windows that are more than six feet above the grade outside must have a bottom opening a minimum of 24 inches above the room’s interior floor.  
  • If a window is close to a door, above a bathtub, on a staircase or landing, or if the glass is within 18 inches of the floor, tempered glass or safety glass is required.
  • Window mullions must undergo testing or structural calculations to demonstrate the ability to meet structural requirements.
new construction homes in Texas
International Builders Show 2023 Best in Show Winner and Best Window and Door Product category winner was Door Stud. The installation tool revolutionizes how builders install pre-hung or slab doors.  It bears the weight of the door to eliminate the need for a two-person installation, reduce risk of injury and prevent damage.  Door Stud Heavy is made for doors that weigh more than 300 pounds.

Understanding Sound Transmission Class (STC) ratings

The STC rating of a window indicates the average amount of noise it can stop across 18 different frequencies. A decibel rating assigned to each frequency ranges from 18 to 38.  Typical single pane windows range 26 to 28. And dual pane windows range 26 to 32.  Note that on the logarithmic rating scale, every number is substantially higher than the number that came before it.  For example, a two-point increase can actually represent 90-percent noise reduction.

THE BOTTOM LINE: There are many factors to weigh in choosing the right product for your home when it comes to window and door selection.  But, no matter how much care you take in evaluating window choices, proper installation ultimately determines performance.

Read / download the original version of this article from Building Savvy magazine.

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