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A peek at new windows that save

Q: I am tired of old drafty, hard-to-clean windows that sweat and always need painting and I am on a limited budget. Have the quality and appearance of maintenance-free vinyl windows improved enough to be a good choice? - Pat J.

A: Vinyl replacement windows are an excellent, reasonably priced choice for almost any home. Since vinyl windows are custom made to fit each window opening, they are not difficult to install yourself. This can cut the overall cost significantly.

Some recent design improvements have made vinyl windows more attractive while still being maintenance-free. Manufacturing technology has improved to the point that many vinyl windows have realistic-looking natural wood grain indoor surfaces. Some of these use baked-on finishes and others attach separate composite wood materials.

Although most people install replacement windows for comfort and convenience (some even have special easy-clean glass), you should notice a measurable reduction in your utility bills. The type of glass you select has the greatest impact on efficiency and energy savings.

Vinyl windows are durable, reasonably-priced

The insulation value and air-tightness of the frame also has a significant impact on the energy savings. Although a window appears to be mostly glass, a typical vinyl window frame (like my own) accounts for 2.5% of the wall opening area. Vinyl is a good insulating frame material.

What you will also notice is the reduction in outdoor noise, especially if you select the proper glass option. Glass with safe, dense, argon gas between the panes, instead of just air, helps block outdoor noise. Along with the reduced noise, dust and allergens, there will be less fading of your furniture and carpets.

Most vinyl replacement window designs use multi-chambered, hollow, extruded-vinyl frame and window sash sections. An extrusion process is similar to how

Typical hollow vinyl frame with multiple insulating chambers a cookie press works. Select vinyl windows with welded section corners. Welding produces a stronger and more durable joint than just using screws.

The many chambers inside the frame create multiple dead air spaces that provide excellent insulation R-value and strength. Several window manufacturers offer optional foam insulation filling inside these chambers. Although it adds a slight amount of strength, its primary advantage is higher R-value and outdoor noise reduction.

The newest vinyl window design, called Legend, uses a solid, cellular foam main window frame instead of the typical hollow frame. It can be painted and has the look and feel of real grained wood. The remainder of the framing members use single, heavy-wall vinyl instead of multi-chambered members.

Casement replacement windows are becoming more popular due to their high efficiency and security. For convenience, choose a single-handle design with multipoint locks. Casement windows use compression seals when they close for an airtight seal even in a driving storm.

You should also consider secure tilt-turn windows that are popular in Europe. With the turn of a multi-position handle, the window sash either swings in (hinged on side like a casement) or tilts in (hinged on the bottom like a hopper). These are very airtight like casement windows with the same compression seals.

As a minimum, select dual-pane windows with a low-emissivity coating and argon gas in the gap. One of the most efficient, and also very expensive, glass options is Heat Mirror with plastic films stretched between the panes of glass. This stops almost all fading-rays and is available in either hot or cold climate designs. Triple and quad-pane glass is usually only used in very cold areas.

Write for (or for instant download Utility Bills Update No. 689 -buyer's guide of the 20 highest-quality, most efficient vinyl window manufacturers, frame/glass options, styles, colors, features and glass selector data. Please include $3.00 and a business-size, self-addressed envelope. Mail to: Jim Dulley, Illinois Country Living, P.O. Box 3787, Springfield, IL 62708.

James Dulley is a mechanical engineer who writes on a wide variety of energy and utility topics. His column appears in a large number of daily newspapers.

Copyright 1998 James Dulley


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