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Windows: Revealing a Building’s Soul

By Jeff S. Barnes

Some say the eyes are the windows to a soul. The same can be said for windows. Windows come in all shapes and sizes and perform three functions: they let light in, provide ventilation, and keep the elements out. Some windows perform these functions better than others based on design, fabrication, materials, operation, and location. They are also tasked with the greater responsibility of reducing energy loss. Windows have to do all this and look pretty while doing it.

Choosing a window is not as simple as it may seem; there are many things to consider during the process. For starters, the window design and operation (casement, double hung, awning, hopper, sliding, operable sashes, fixed, cam handles, etc.) needs to be considered, then the material (i.e. aluminum, wood or PVC) is chosen which could affect the look of the building dramatically. Then there’s the insulation factor to consider (single pane, double pane or triple pane) and you’re still not done yet! Along with the number of panes to choose from, there are also other insulation options such as gas-filled (argon and krypton) and low E glass; both are designed to increase energy efficiency. Argon is an inert gas that is injected into the dead space between the panes to enhance the insulating properties. Krypton is injected along with argon to serve the same purpose in triple pane windows since it is more effective when the glass panes are close together (www.efficientwindows.org/gasfills.cfm). Low E glass is engineered to reflect heat before it passes through the window.

Once the window choice has been made, it’s ready to be installed. Installing a window is not as simple as putting it in a rough opening – the interface between the window and the framing that houses it is just as important as the type of window itself. For instance, sealing and insulating the gap between the window and the rough opening is crucial in reducing energy usage as heat, and conversely, cold air can leak out from the building, driving up energy costs in order to maintain a comfortable interior environment. There is also the issue of preventing water from getting into the building from around the window. This is accomplished by properly flashing around the window. During forensic investigations of existing buildings there are many instances in which there is no flashing of any type around the windows. More often than not, the lack of flashing creates or contributes to the problem that the building owner contacted CBI about in the first place.

When considering replacing your windows, think about the work involved in creating and installing the perfect window. A window is not just to allow light in, or for ventilation, but rather to allow the soul of the building to be revealed.