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Maintaining your windows and doors in winter

Doors need to close tightly against the jamb and sill weather stripping. Also, inspect for cracks in the door slab, especially for wood doors. (Stacy Zarin Goldberg)
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Freezing winds and icy conditions in a brutal winter caused many people to notice drafts and cold air seeping into their rooms. Many homeowners dread spending the time and money to replace windows and doors, but sometimes maintenance is all that’s needed to get better performance from them.

We asked Chuck Khiel, senior vice president of Fred Home Improvement, and Steve Hoffins, a vice president for windows and doors at Cornerstone Building Brands, the manufacturer of Simonton and Ply Gem windows, for advice on how to maintain your windows and doors and how to know when they need to be replaced. Both replied by email, and their responses were edited.

What should homeowners look for when they check their windows and doors?

Khiel: Folks should make sure that the window sashes (the operable part of the window) close tightly against the jamb liners and sill. This helps reduce air intrusion. Doors are similar and need to close tightly against the jamb and sill weather stripping. Also, inspect for cracks in the door slab, especially for wood doors.

Hoffins: Air leakage is most important, but many places that leak air are easy to address. Homeowners should first check by feeling around windows and doors with their hand.

For doors, ensure the hinges, rollers, locks and keepers are properly adjusted and tight. Also check the weather stripping; this can be damaged over time by the sun, pets, insects, etc., and should be replaced every few years, depending on wear.

For windows, homeowners should ensure locks are tight and secured, weather stripping is intact, etc. Window tracks should be clean and free of any insects or debris that may cause gaps.

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The humidity in the home should remain at a moderate level. Too much humidity can affect the performance of any insulation within the windows. To get the best thermal performance, keep blinds or curtains open in the day and closed at night.

How often do your windows and doors need a checkup?

Khiel: Annual checkups should be fine, unless the homeowners are noticing a specific problem.

Hoffins: Generally, once per year in the fall when you have a larger temperature differential between inside and outside and leaks will be easier to identify. This will allow homeowners to address any challenges before winter.

How should homeowners properly seal any cracks in windows and doors?

Khiel: This depends on where the cracks are. If there are gaps where the window sash or door closes against the jamb, it could be time to replace the weather stripping. If there is an actual crack in the wood door itself, and the door is painted, it could be possible to fill the crack and repaint the door. In most cases, it is better to replace the door.

Hoffins: The U.S. Department of Energy found that sealing air leaks in a home can reduce energy expenses by up to 30 percent. Homeowners can seal leaks with items like caulk, expanding window foam or even temporary seasonal window films.

How do you know when to replace drafty windows and doors?

Khiel: Once windows or doors get to the point where they have been repaired many times but are now past the point of repair, replacement is needed. Also, when windows and doors wear to a point that the air is penetrating everywhere because of wear and tear, it is time to replace.

Hoffins: If you notice issues like air leakage, peeling paint, difficult operation and/or condensation between the panes of the window, it’s likely time to update. Or, if your windows do not have insulated dual- or triple-pane glass, it may be time to consider replacement — which may be more cost-effective than you think.

What energy certification should you look for when replacing windows?

Khiel: Typically, Energy Star rating is what you look at when choosing new windows or doors. Energy Star means that an Energy Star partner of the EPA produces the product. These products are tested, certified and verified by the NFRC (National Fenestration Rating Council) and meet strict energy-efficiency guidelines set by the EPA.

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Hoffins: Some windows qualify for the EPA’s Energy Star Most Efficient rating, which meets even higher standards of performance. Manufacturers also must include a variety of performance test ratings on the windows’ NFRC label. The U-factor is a manufacturer’s rating for heat loss from windows. Check for low U-factor scores, which mean the window is particularly energy efficient. Look for a rating of .3 or less. Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (SHGC) indicates how much heat from the sun will enter the house through the glass in a door or window. Windows that protect against sunlight coming in and creating a glare effect will have a lower SHGC rating.

Can you share a brief explanation of the effects different materials such as vinyl, insulated glass and gas fillings have on energy conservation?

Khiel: Regarding windows, vinyl frames (filled with foam or not) provide a good insulation factor. Gas-filled glass panes also provide a solid insulation for the sash itself. Wood frames do a good job for insulation as well. Composite frames offer good insulation for windows. One key element of a good window or door installation is the added insulation between the frame of the door or window and the framing of the wall. Vertical spray foam is a simple way to achieve this. Using an Energy Star-rated window or door ensures that the product itself meets strict criteria for energy conservation. With that said, the installation needs to be done correctly so that the entire opening (window or door) is sealed.

Hoffins: Long-lasting, strong and moisture-resistant vinyl is ideal for windows and doesn’t transfer heat easily, making it energy efficient. Vinyl windows are designed with frames that provide the best possible sealing, saving homeowners energy and money.

Since a lot of energy can be lost through glass, it is important to ensure windows are double paned. There’s also a triple-pane option with even more insulation. Upgrading provides greater energy efficiency at a low cost that can have a good payback when it comes to various home improvements.