Open to the Possibilities

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Men laying new hardwood flooring

Windows and doors not only provide entry and light into our homes, they also add character, dimension and insulation. With the summer heat setting in, perhaps youre thinking now is the time to upgrade these functional yet aesthetic additions. Or maybe youre planning a remodel that incorporates these elements and you want to find out whats best for your project. To help you get started, we researched whats new and available in the window and door markets. Hopefully, it will open up new possibilities for your home.


Raising the bar on windows
In todays window market, the focus of a good product revolves around quality and energy efficiency. In years past, most homes were constructed with single-pane windows. Homeowners now are moving away from these old standards. Most people are replacing single-hung, single-pane windows with energy-efficient, double-hung windows, says Earl Rahn, president of Champion Window and Patio Room Manufacturing. Since 94, [installing] single-paned windows has been against the law.

Reflecting the change in building and energy codes, as well as homeowners desires, these new double-paned windows have flooded the market. The most common of these windows are all-wood, wood-clad (with either vinyl or metal), vinyl, aluminum and fiberglass replacement windows.

On average, all-wood windows usually will be the most expensive replacement windows. However, the investment can be worth it. The natural look of all-wood windows is difficult, if not almost impossible, to replicate. These windows also hold up well under extreme temperatures, are less prone to condensation and provide excellent insulation.

On the down side, all-wood windows require regular upkeep and maintenance. They must be re-painted regularly and protected from moisture to prevent warping, cracking or sticking. The wood also may rot, shrink or swell. Once the most popular window in Atlanta, wood windows have lost some steam due to their high maintenance, says Mary Battle, owner of Exovations. Depending on sun exposure, landscaping effects, etc., you may need to caulk and paint the exteriors of these windows more than one time per year to prevent deterioration of the wood. The main benefit to choosing wood windows is the option to paint or stain any color on both the exterior and interior at any time.

Wood-clad windows, though, can provide many of the benefits of all-wood windows without the maintenance. Usually, these windows come with wood frames clad, or covered, in vinyl or metal. One of the most popular windows today, vinyl-clad wood windows provide durable weather protection. However, unlike all-wood windows, once the vinyl color is chosen, it cannot be changed without changing the vinyl. Aluminum-clad wood windows also provide great protection from the elements. It also can prevent such problems as blistering and swelling. The drawback of aluminum can be poor insulation.

3 Lite Case Open

Vinyl replacement windows are strong, energy-efficient, virtually maintenance free and come in numerous styles and design. Vinyl windows continue to gain in popularity with homeowners. According to figures compiled by Ducker Research Co. Inc., 18.5 million vinyl replacement windows were sold in 2003. This is almost twice the amount of the nearest competitor, wood windows (including vinyl-clad and metal-clad wood windows), which sold 11 million windows in 2003. People clearly dont want to spend the time scraping, cleaning and painting, Rahn says.

Double Case Open

Like aluminum-clad wood windows, aluminum windows offer great durability and low maintenance. However, also like aluminum-clad wood windows, aluminum windows are not the most energy-efficient windows. Because the metal is a good heat conductor, it allows heat, cold and moisture to travel through the window. To combat this, insulating plastic strips can be placed between the inside and outside of the frame and sash.

Double Hung Tilt

Though not as well known, fiberglass windows are popping up on the market. They are very strong, provide excellent insulation, and will not swell, shrink, warp, corrode or rot. Since fiberglass windows are new on the market, they may be hard to find in the right size for the homeowner.

When selecting replacement windows, remember that low maintenance doesnt mean no maintenance. You should wash them to protect them from environmental elements, says Alan Purdy, premium window manager for Ply Mart in Marietta. This includes both the window and the casing, or frame. Purchasing double-hung windows can help ease the maintenance routine. Double-hung windows generally tilt-in for easy cleaning.

Energy efficiency for windows has reached new heights within the last two years. Many homeowners are familiar with Energy Star, a voluntary labeling program introduced by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1992. This program was designed to identify and promote energy-efficient products that reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. Many energy-efficient windows carry this label.

In 1998, the National Fenestration Rating Councila non-profit, public/private organization created by the window, door and skylight industryadopted a new energy performance label. This label includes two energy performance ratings: U-Factor, how well a product prevents heat from escaping, and Solar Heat Gain Coefficient, how well a product blocks heat caused by sunlight. Generally U-Factors run from 0.20 to 1.20, and SHGC is expressed between 0 and 1; the lower the number for each, the higher energy efficiency for the window.

On Jan. 1, the state of Georgia took this one step further. The Georgia Energy Code states that all residential windows must have a U-Factor of 0.65 or less, and the SHGC must not exceed 0.40. This is probably the most significant change in energy efficiency in Georgia, Rahn says. Double-paned, low-E windows easily meet these requirements. Windows containing argon gas between the glass panes also can keep heat at bay. Foam-filled sashes can offer extra insulation as well.

Peter Morrison, general manager of Super Enterprises in Alpharetta, distributors of Marvin Windows and Doors products, reminds homeowners to examine the entire window when choosing energy-efficient products. Look at the total performance of the window, he says. Most heat and air is lost around the entire window, not just through the glass.

So how do you choose the right window for your home? Purdy says homeowners should consider two things. Choosing between a smooth finish and a wood-like finish will be one deciding factor. Another is the size of your current window. For example, he says, if you have an aluminum window now, a vinyl window is the same size. Likewise, a wood window is the same size as a PVC window. Therefore, they are easily swapped out. However, if you want to replace a wood window with a vinyl window, you may have to pay extra for a custom-sized window.

When choosing a vinyl window, George Kuonqui, branch manager for U.S. Window Factory in Norcross, recommends choosing a window that is fully fusion welded, or a window with no screws. Screws tend to loosen up and back out, he says. The window can break apart, warp or buckle. He also suggests looking for a high-gauge vinyl90-gauge is the heaviest available, as well as virgin vinyl, which wont fade. Dont get recycled vinyl, he cautions.

If you want some shutters to dress up your new windows, vinyl once again reigns supreme. Also maintenance-free, they are available in numerous styles, colors and sizes. Rahn recommends shutters of virgin vinyl to keep it from fading.

As with all aspects of remodeling and home improvement, homeowners should do their homework when it comes to choosing a window vendor. Family and friends are a good source for references. Word of mouth is a strong indicator of a good product and a good service provider. Also, check with the Better Business Bureau, the National Association of the Remodeling Industry and area chambers of commerce.

Open the door to a new look
When it comes to choosing a new front, back or other exterior door, there are three common types available today. Wood or manufactured-wood doors remain quite popular with homeowners. Wood doors can be composed of almost any wood available. Mahogany, oak, cherry, maple, walnut and pine are just a few of the woods used today. Manufactured wood doors usually have an engineered-wood core covered by some type of a veneer. Fiberglass doors have a realistic wood grain, but are easier to maintain.

Also easy to maintain, steel doors are stronger than either wood or fiberglass. Most steel doors are composed of heavy gauge, galvanized steel over a wood or steel frame. A high-density insulation core gives the door rigidity and insulation. They may be embossed with wood grain patterns, have a wood-fiber coating that can be stained or are laminated with a real-wood veneer.

Wood entry-door systems are common in most homes, Purdy says. But they can rot quickly. As a result, many homeowners are changing to fiberglass doors because they are low maintenance and energy efficient. Even doorframe materials are evolving. Were seeing door manufacturers address this rot problem by creating frames of synthetic materials, Purdy says.

Front doors and front-entry systems are seeing an upswing in quality and appearance. Entry systems generally include the door, sidelights (windows on each side of the door) and transoms (windows over the door). Homeowners are improving the look of their home, says Steve Simpson, owner of Artistic Glass Doors of Atlanta Inc. in Roswell. Full light, fully beveled doors (which contain glass from top to bottom) with leaded glass continue to be popular. It dramatically opens up the inside with the light, Simpson says.

Doors containing wrought-iron designs are increasing in popularity, says Rich Lyness, vice president of operations for Custom Door Brokers Inc. in Cumming. Were seeing the entire door being made in metal with some type of crafted steel design, he says. Metal art is becoming more popular.

These doors also are a worthy investment. If you maintain it properly, it will last forever, Simpson says. Maintenance is relatively easy. Depending on the amount of sun, apply a topcoat of varnish each year, he says. Its easy, and it lasts forever. Because they are primed and painted, wrought iron designs also need regular maintenance. It will need to be touched up every year or so, Lyness says.

In keeping with energy-efficiency concerns, todays front doors and entry systems have no trouble meeting code requirements. Solid wood will be more energy efficient than a hollow, six-panel steel door, Lyness says. Glass should be insulated for higher efficiency. He recommends a low-E glass.

For back doors, Purdy says many homeowners are selecting fiberglass replacement doors or clad doors in aluminum or vinyl. Theyre usually chosen to match windows, he says. Because th
se doors generally catch a lot of sun, Purdy says energy efficiency is really important. These doors also need to meet code, he says. Clear glass will pass, but usually they need low-E glass to prevent fading.

Though maintenance is minimal, Purdy does suggest tips for general upkeep. For door panels, wash them on a regular basis. If you have a wood frame, it should be painted and sealed, depending on the amount of sun it receives, every two to five years. Synthetic frames should be washed regularly. Fiberglass holds paint and stains for a long time, and, therefore, just need to be touched up for dings and scratches.

Garage doors: The unspoken stronghold
While a common component on most houses today, many homeowners tend to overlook the garage door as a vital element in maintaining the appearance and insulation of their homes. But like todays windows and doors, garage door manufacturers, too, have made great strides in improving their products.

There are two types of garage doors. Tilt-ups are single-panel doors that pivot out and up. Sectional roll-up doors are comprised of four or more horizontal panels held together with hinges. They are mounted with rollers to tracks on each side of the door and roll the door up and back.

Garage door materials generally include wood, steel, aluminum and fiberglass. Wood and steel are the most popular garage-door material. Hardwoods such as cedar, hickory, oak and mahogany are popular for wood doors, says Dennis Easter, president of marketing and sales for Image Doors in Alpharetta. They will last as long as the house with proper maintenance, he says. Maintenance generally consists of repainting the door and frame every four to five years, says Rick McGaha, CEO of The Door Company Distribution Inc. in Tucker.

Steel doors are, for the most part, maintenance-free, Easter says. The trim will need to be caulked and painted periodically, he says. He sells many steel doors with a medium-density overlaid (MDO) plywood veneer, which stands up well to environmental elements and can be painted in any color range.

Easter cautions homeowners to understand the materials used for garage doors. Watch for beaded board on the door, he says. It will blister, and the paint will split. If using composition materials, you cant use darker colors of paint. Darker paints may cause a door made of composition materials to warp or bow.

When searching for an energy-efficient garage door, look for doors with a high R-factor. The higher the R-factor, the better [the door is] insulated, Easter says. Generally, a steel door will have a R-7 rating while a wood door will have a R-9 rating, he says.

Finding the right windows and doors for your home takes a bit of research and a few visits with industry experts. However, by investing some time and money into quality products, you can increase your investment in your home, as well.

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