About 63 million windows are sold annually in the United States, nearly 70 percent of which are replacement windows. With countless products on the market, how can a consumer pick a good window?
First, find out if the window is certified by the National Fenestration Ratings Council. Its glass should also have an ENERGY STAR® seal of approval.
“I tell people if it’s not NFRC, don’t buy it,” says John Kypreos of Tri-State Window Factory in Deer Park. (The Web site, www.nfrc.org, lists products and details its rating system.)
Next, make sure the window has some type of frame-reinforcement properties, says Bob Nyman of Crystal Windows in Queens. “Vinyl frames should be reinforced in some manner,” he says.
Finally, Trent Winfree of Andersen Windows advises consumers to consider warranties. “Andersen has a 20-10 warranty, 20 years on the glass, 10 on the frame,” he says.
Once you’ve checked these factors, here’s how to pick a good window for Long Island, based on council’s ratings, says the organization’s executive director, Jim Benney.
U-factor. “A big factor in colder areas,” Benney says. “This number measures how well a window keeps heat inside a building. In the Northeast, you’d want a .4 rating or less.” The lower the U-value, the greater a window’s resistance to heat flow and the better its insulating value.
Solar heat gain coefficient. This measures how well a product blocks heat caused by sunlight. In regions of intense heat (such as Arizona), the lower number would be advantageous. On Long Island, where some heat gain in winter months is desired, a rating of .4 is acceptable. “In the summer, you won’t have to use the air conditioning as much. In the winter, it retains some heat,”
Visible light trasmittance. How much sunlight penetrates glass. The higher the VT number, the more light is transmitted. “In the Northeast, probably .50 is about right,” Benney says. “If you are designing to allow more light, you’d go higher, perhaps .55 or .65.”
Air Leakage. Expressed as the equivalent of cubic feet of air passing through a square foot of window area per minute (cfm/sq. ft.) A rating of .3 cfm or less is desirable. The lower the AL, the less air will pass through cracks in the window assembly.
Jim and Margaret Murano did plenty of research before signing a contract to buy their new windows last summer. They gathered information from friends, clicked on company web sites and marched into building supply showrooms.
In the end, they were satisfied, a bit surprised, actually. They purchased vinyl replacement windows that fit both their needs and their budget.
“I never felt we had to just settle for something,” Jim Murano says. Margaret adds: “We really had a limited budget, but I really feel we got a good product.”
Like many consumers looking for new or replacement windows today, the Muranos found more for their 45-year-old Deer Park ranch than 21 windows (for less than $10,000). They discovered an industry that in the past decade has been enhanced by technology and advanced by consumer demand. Whether buying high-end, from companies such as Andersen, Pella, Marvin, Simonton or Certainteed, or locally, such as the Muranos’ pick, Tri-State Window Factory in Deer Park, consumers can get products rated for performance, primarily energy savings and structural strength.
“There’s a real choice today of getting what you want at a price you can afford,” says Jim Benney, executive director of the National Fenestration Ratings Council, a nonprofit organization created in 1989 by the window, door and skylight industry.” That’s quite a change from five or 10 years ago.”
Today’s window manufacturers offer frames of reinforced vinyl, newer fiberglass composites and wood clad with weather-resistant materials; newer metalic coatings for glass, which can filter harmful rays of the sun, and improved double and triple panes that increase energy efficiency.
The council, which began testing and rating windows in the early 1990s, was pivotal. Until its inception, window manufactureres could make unsubstantiated claims on energy savings. The ratings group, whose membership includes manufacturers, architechs and designers, utilities and government agencies, sheds light on window performance by providing consumers with a national energy rating and labeling system.
The progress of the inexpensive vinyl replacement window is one way to gauge industry advances. “Vinyl was considered a cheap product,” Benney says, “Today, the vinyl itself is stronger, enhanced with stiffening products. It’s rare to see a hollow vinyl frame; now, they’re reinforced with aluminum or steel.”
“When I first started to install windows [in 1976], I bought them from other manufacturers,” says Tri-State owner John Kypreos, whose windows bear the National Fenestration Ratings Council label. “I could not get a window that would last. I had to send out repairmen to keep fixing them.”
Soon after, he started to build his own windows. In 1986, Kypreos joined the ratings group. Like all council-certified windows, Kypreos’ windows are rated in four categories; UF Factor tells how well a window keeps heat inside a building; solar heat gain shows how much warming sunlight a window can block; visible light transmittance describes how much light passes through a window, and air leakage indicates heat loss and gain through cracks in a window assembly. (See accompanying article to determine what the numbers mean.)
Because of the ratings, Kypreos can show a consumer how windows made by his small company measure up to a giant like Andersen, with annual sales of about $1.5 billion. Tri-State says it installed 15,000 windows from Queens to Montauk last year.
The council’s ratings have forced manufacturers to make windows that meet standards. “When we first started looking, we looked at Certainteed windows, because a friend in Oak Beach had them installed and really liked them,” Margaret Murano says. “But they were out of our price range.” So the Muranos looked for windows in their price range that had similiar features. They found them at Tri-State.
Like the Muranos, even the most high-brow window buyers make price a priority. “I deal with custom homes and a high-end market,” says Jim Zizzi of James V. Zizzi Contracting in Quogue, whose clients can spend up to $300,000 on windows alone, “and I tell my customers to find a window within your budget that is the best you can buy.”
Companies such as Andersen are looking into windows of the future; its Project Odyssey is exploring windows that turn into computer screens, movie screens and audio systems. But smaller technological advances are what influence most consumers.
For example, Fibrex, a composite of wood fibers and vinyl, was introduced by Andersen in 1994 and is the main component of its replacement window line, Renewal. More composites, including fiberglass, are being developed. Fiberglass has excellent insulating properties and is structurally strong. Andersen also introduced a wood window clad entirely in vinyl called Perma-Shield. It’s common in the industry today to find wood windows clad in vinyl or other low-maintenance materials, including color-coated aluminum.
“Materials like Fibrex also can be shaped to simulate the appearance of wood,” says Trent Winfree, director of marketing for Andersen. “We’ve had great results with it.”
Smaller companies than Andersen are following suit. Crystal Windows in Queens, which says it sells more than 400,000 new and replacement vinyl windows in 25 states, has started exploring fiberglass frames, marketing director Bob Nyman says, “I think that’s going to be a big thing in the very near future,” he says.
New technology also will include window glass charged with low-voltage electricity to change shades, from clear to opaque, to filter light. Spectrally selected gazings are being improved to block solar radiation and to keep buildings cooler in the summer.
“It’s all a matter of testing and technology,” Nyman says. “The more strides we make mean more knowledge and better products for the public.”