Replacing Windows? Look for Seal of Approval.

By Tim Carter
Saturday, January 24, 2009

Q: DEAR TIM: I'm about to start a window replacement project. My husband wants vinyl windows because of the easy maintenance, but I'm not a big fan. The number of choices is making it hard for me to decide which kind of windows to install. What are the best replacement windows? What should I know about how to replace windows? -- Laura B., Orlando, Fla.

A: DEAR LAURA: Window replacement is a huge industry. Not only do windows tend to be one of the largest energy thieves in the average home, but they also can be a time sink, with care and cleaning. New technology can let you spend more time enjoying life than painting windows or caring for them.

It's easy to see why replacement vinyl windows are so popular. They never require painting, and with minimal care they look like new for many years. Many houses have white windows and trim, so old windows can be replaced with standard white vinyl new ones with minimal work. The windows will match the house, and installation costs can be kept to a minimum.

Visit a local home show, and you'll discover that you can get home replacement windows in aluminum, wood, fiberglass and vinyl. What's more, you can get hybrid window replacements, in which different materials are used for the interior and exterior. For example, you may want the warmth of wood for inside, while your husband wants the convenience of vinyl outdoors.

I believe the best windows are those that have been independently tested and certified. Look for the American Architectural Manufacturers Association's seal of approval. The group tests windows for air and water infiltration, structural integrity and resistance to forced entry.

You can also look for certification from the National Fenestration Rating Council, which tells you about the window's energy characteristics. The NFRC also tests for resistance to interior condensation. The closer that number is to 100, the better the window prevents condensation. The best replacement window you can get will have both labels.

When you or a pro gets ready to install replacement windows, guard against one of homes' archenemies: water. Water leaks often happen after windows are replaced. Pay attention to voids at the base of the window frame when the old window is removed. It may be smart to fill any voids with caulk before the new window is installed. It's also good to paint any unsealed wood that was hidden by the old window.

Excellent caulking must be done where the window touches the window frame, both outside and inside. The exterior caulking is mission-critical to preventing water leaks. Be sure to use an approved caulk that's mentioned in the windows' written instructions.

Air leaks are another problem to guard against. Both homeowners and rookie installers think that just caulking the exterior will stop air infiltration. This is not always true. Air can move through the wall cavity behind siding, brick and stucco. This air can be stopped from coming indoors by installing an expanding foam sealant around the window after it's been installed. Be sure to use a foam that's rated for use around windows.

Tim Carter can be contacted via his Web site, http://www.askthebuilder. com/printer_Submit_Question. shtml.

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