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Window Shopping

I want to get the most efficient, easy-to-clean vinyl replacement windows. Should I get them from a local manufacturer or a major national one, and what features should I look for?—Gary J.

There are many local and regional vinyl replacement window manufacturers throughout the country. Many smaller companies make windows equal to or better than some of the major national manufacturers. However, not all do, so you have to be selective.

The vinyl replacement windows I installed in my home 12 years ago were manufactured by a regional company. I have had no problems. One advantage of using a local company, or a large company with a regional office, is you can visit them if you have problems. When a tornado hit several years ago and tree limbs crashed into my screens, I was able to stop by the manufacturer to pick up new screen clips.

Some of the major manufacturers offer window product lines of different qualities with different warranties and prices. Within an individual manufacturer’s product line, price is often a good indicator of quality, although when comparing different manufacturers, price is not always the best comparison.

Features and design factors to compare include thickness of the frame wall, corner assembly method, interior frame insulation, type of spacer, and security. Especially when dealing with a smaller company, check references and how long it has been in business. A lifetime warranty is only effective as long as the life of the company offering the warranty.

For easy-to-clean windows, tilt-in double-hung styles are generally your best choice. They are not quite as energy efficient as casement windows, but the outside surface of casements can be more difficult to reach and to clean. Casement windows close and seal tightly on compression weatherstripping as opposed to a sliding seal on double-hung and slider windows. Smaller sliding windows are also fairly easy to clean because you can lift out the movable sash and reach around to clean the outside of the fixed one.

When comparing vinyl windows, look at a sample cross-section of the frame and ask about the vinyl thickness. Greater thickness and more interior webs indicate better quality and rigidity. For large vinyl windows, interior metal reinforcing rods are often used to increase frame rigidity.

Make sure the window sashes have welded corners. If the corners are just screwed together, they may become loose with the natural expansion and contraction of vinyl with temperature changes throughout the year. Welded corners in the main window frame are also good.

Some vinyl windows have insulating foam inside the hollow frame. Some companies inject polyurethane foam (best method) and others slip rigid polystyrene inside the cavity in the frame. This does increase the overall efficiency of the window assembly somewhat and makes the frame stiffer. With the interior webs that create dead-air spaces inside the frame, however, even a noninsulated vinyl frame is a fairly good insulator.

Look for an insulating spacer that separates the panes of glass. This is called “warm edge” technology because it keeps the edge of the windowpane from getting cold and sweating during the winter.

Take a close look at the finishing details on the windows to gauge overall quality. Check the latches on the sashes. Double latches increase security and lock the sashes closed squarely against the weatherstripping. Die-cast metal latches are stronger, smaller, and better looking than plastic ones. On double-hung windows, interior pop-out stops add security by allowing the windows to be opened only a few inches for ventilation.

Write for Utility Bills Update 700, a buyer’s guide of vinyl window manufacturers. Include $3.00, a business-size SASE, and Update number. Mail requests and questions to James Dulley, Kentucky Living, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45244. Go to www.dulley.com to instantly download.

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