Vinyl Replacement Window Features and Options
Since all vinyl replacement windows are fundamentally
similar, the windows companies go to great lengths to differentiate
themselves from the competition. Sometimes this results in useful
innovations. Other times, it's downright silly.
Yes, it's true. One of the companies
we considered had an option for self-cleaning glass. This had me picturing
little men with squeegees that pop out of a compartment at the top
of the window. Turns out it's a special coating that supposedly
causes water to bead up and roll off the window without leaving residue.
I can't tell you if it works because I thought it was too funny
to take seriously and not worth the extra money they wanted for this
Window Grids (Muntins)
Muntin grids add a decorative touch to vinyl replacement windows.
Almost all dual paned vinyl windows can be
ordered with a grid between the two panes of glass. The technical
term for these grids is muntins. They are a series of thin bars that
simulate the look of a real old-fashioned wood window made up of several
panes of glass. The grids serve no functional purpose
and are simply cosmetic. Many people think they look classy, others
find them tacky, but they're clearly popular as you can see
by driving around most neighborhoods. If you like the look, go for
it. It will add a modest amount to the cost of your replacement windows.
Another, newer design option is beveled glass.
With this style of window, a real beveled design is etched into the
glass. Most commonly, it is a rectangular border spaced a few inches
from the edge of the glass. Bevels generally look nicer than grids
since they are "real" instead of simulated, but they are
also more expensive.
Double Panes (Double Glazed Windows)
Dual paned windows (which means there are two
sheets of glass) are standard in the vinyl replacement window business.
You probably won't encounter a company that doesn't offer
them. They provide great advantages in energy savings and noise reduction.
Gas Filled Windows
Vinyl replacement window companies make a big
deal about what goes between those two sheets of glass. Many will
tell you that they fill the space with special gasses (usually argon
or krypton) that provide tremendous benefits in energy savings and/or
noise reductions. Others will tell you that the gas leaks out over
time so you're just as well off having air in there. It
seems the benefits of the gas are greater in colder climates and not
as important in areas like Southern California. In any event, you
have no way of verifying if the promised gas is really in there or
if it will leak out a week after your windows are installed, so this
doesn't seem like a critical consideration to me.
The vinyl window salespeople also put a lot of emphasis on the seal that's used to connect the two panes
of glass. This seal is very important, because you don't want
air to leak into the space between the glass. If that happens, you
can get condensation on the inside of the window that's next
to impossible to remove. The window companies all claim to have developed
the world's best high tech seal that's guaranteed not
to fail. They'll show you diagrams and photos and samples of
the materials. Problem is, unless you're some sort of engineer
you have no way of knowing if any particular seal is really better
or worse than any other. My advice is to take the mumbo jumbo about
the seal with a grain of salt and get an iron clad warranty that covers
condensation between the panes. Accept nothing less than a warranty
that offers lifetime replacement if this type of condensation occurs.
Thin Vinyl Frames
The width of your vinyl window's frame
is another key factor to keep in mind. With all vinyl replacement
windows, you are going to loose some of your glass area. It's
unavoidable since the new vinyl frame fits on top of your old aluminum
or wood frame. Less glass area means less light will enter the window.
In rooms with small windows, this loss of glass area can be very noticeable
and the room could become unpleasantly dark. The best way to minimize
this loss of glass it to get the thinnest vinyl frame you can find.
The current trend is to switch to thinner frames, but there's
still a lot of variation out there so make sure to compare.
If you want to be able to clean your new windows
without going outside or getting on a ladder, there are some easy
cleaning features that will help. Most sliding windows can be lifted
out of their tracks for cleaning. Some single and double hung windows
are designed to tilt inwards so they can be cleaned. For sliders,
some companies offer tracks that pop out so you can rinse of the dirt
and other junk that always builds up there.
Vent locks secure the window while it's partially open.
Vent locks are built in devices that allow
you to keep a window locked while it is open a few inches. They can
be a great way to have some security while keeping a window open for
ventilation. Vent locks come in many different variations. Some are
spring-loaded plastic wedges that pop out of the frame to stop the
window from opening beyond a predetermined distance. Another type
is a bolt that attaches to the moving part of the window and slides
into a hole in the frame. One company that didn't offer vent
locks said they'd make us some vinyl sticks to place in the
frame, which we thought was a rather cheesy solution. Keep in mind,
these vent locks don't provide a high degree of security and with an open window, you may not be able to set your home security system. Since
vinyl isn't as strong as materials like aluminum they can be
broken with a rather small amount of force.
Many vinyl replacement widows tout the security
features of their products, but this is one area where vinyl falls
short compared to other materials. It's simply not as strong as aluminum,
for example. For added security, look for windows that include well
made locking mechanisms. Some companies will even place more than
one lock on windows over a certain size. Windows that include the
vent locks mentioned earlier also offer a higher degree of security.
One big security advantage of vinyl replacement windows is the glass
itself. Most likely, you'll be trading in single paned widows with
thin glass for double paned windows with thicker glass. That means
your new windows will be a lot harder for a burglar to break. If security
is a top priority, look for "security glass" which is even
harder to break through.
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