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Wood Windows

Q — I have considered replacing our leaky single-pane wood windows
with new ones. I like wood windows, but I also want low maintenance. What should
I look for and will they yield a good payback from energy savings?-Sarah T.

A — Old leaky windows not only drive up your utility bills, but they
make you feel uncomfortably cold (and hot in the summer), allow dust/allergens
indoors, sweat during cold weather, and allow furniture and carpeting to fade.
Also, when you install good-quality replacement windows, the first thing you
will notice is reduced road noise near a window.

Wood frames are still very popular for new and replacement
windows, even though they may require some maintenance, because no other frame
materials match their beauty. Many windows, with natural-wood interior surfaces
and vinyl- and aluminum-clad wood exteriors, are virtually maintenance-free.

The year-round utility bill savings from installing
new replacement windows result primarily from the new, more efficient types
of glass and airtight weatherstripping. Since the window frame itself makes
up a relatively small percentage of the total window opening, its design and
manufacturing quality are more important than its material type.

The wood frame material is a natural insulator and
never feels cold to the touch. With the many new types of low-emissivity thermal
glass available, with up to four panes and/or films, window condensation will
be very rare and you won’t get that chilly feeling when sitting near a window
at night.

Whether or not installing replacement windows will
provide a good economic payback is a difficult question to answer. Ask lots
of questions and be wary of claims that sound too good to be true.

The actual dollar payback from lower utility bills
depends on many factors: efficiency of your heating and air-conditioning system,
number and orientation (to the sun) of the windows, condition of your existing
windows, etc. Ask several window contractors to do computerized savings payback
analyses for you. Keep in mind that the other non-economic, convenience advantages
of installing new windows are also important.

Wood window frames provide a virtually endless array
of styles, shapes, and sizes. It is much less expensive for the manufacturers
to make the tooling to machine wood for various frame contours than it is for
aluminum or fiberglass. This makes them ideal for older houses where you may
want to match the existing windows. If you prefer the natural look of a clear
finish, windows made of mahogany, teak, cherry, redwood, and ash are available.

Almost all the wood window manufacturers offer the
standard styles of single- and double-hung, casements, awning, hopper, etc.
For the greatest overall efficiency, choose casement windows that close on the
weatherstripping with a compression fit. This provides a long-term airtight

More domestic companies now offer tilt-turn windows
that have been popular in Europe for years. This window design provides the
airtight compression-sealing benefits of casement windows, as well as security
against unwanted guests when the window is opened for ventilation.

Once you have selected the style of window that you
desire, you must select the type of glass. The best type of glass to select
will depend on your climate and whether winter heating or summer air-conditioning
bills are your primary concern. In most cases, some type of thermal-pane glass
with a low-emissivity coating or film in between the panes would be the minimum
quality to accept.

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