How to pick the perfect window (© Emma Lee/LifeFile/photolibrary.com)Click to enlarge picture

© Emma Lee/LifeFile/photolibrary.com

What kind of window is best for you? Here's what you should know if you're judging on cost, energy efficiency or material.

It's about cost
Below are the national average costs for installing 10 double-hung windows measuring 3 feet by 5 feet, including installation, according to Remodeling magazine's 2009-10 "Cost vs. Value Report." All windows are double-paned with inert gas between the layers. (Bing: What is a double-pane window?)

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Here are the types of windows:

  • Midrange vinyl: Vinyl frame
  • Midrange wood: Wood frame with an exterior clad in vinyl or aluminum
  • Upscale vinyl: Simulated mullions and wood-grain interior, custom-color exterior and low-emittance, or low-E, coated glass.
  • Upscale wood: Simulated mullions; hardwood interior; custom-color, aluminum-clad exterior; and low-E glass.

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Here is what they will run you. The cost is the total job cost, including materials and installation. The resale value reflects how much of the job cost homeowners can recoup if they sold their home.

  • Midrange vinyl: $10,728 (cost), $8,217 (resale)
  • Midrange wood: $11,700 (cost), $9,044 (resale)
  • Upscale vinyl: $13,862 (cost), $10,601 (resale)
  • Upscale wood: $17,816 (cost), $12,738 (resale)

It's about energy efficiency
To compare the energy efficiency of all window types, regardless of differing components, you must know two critical ratios.

  • U-factor: The lower the number, the better the window insulates, and the more energy savings it will produce in climates where heating dominates home-energy bills. U-factors usually range from 0.25 to 1.25.
  • Solar heat-gain coefficient. The lower the SHGC, typically 0.25 to 0.8, the better the window blocks heat from sunlight and the more savings in climates where cooling dominates.

Energy Star-qualified windows have a label indicating to which of four U.S. climate zones —northern, north central, south central or southern — a window is best-suited, based on its U-factor and SHGC, which the label also shows.

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It's about materials
Costs are for a 3-by-5-foot, double-hung unit, excluding installation.

  • Vinyl ($200 to $800): Pros: Maintenance-free, these windows provide good insulation, especially when air cavities in the frame are filled, and are moisture-resistant. Higher-quality vinyl windows are more stable — they swell and shrink less with temperature extremes — and resist yellowing, cracking and warping. Cons: Colors and textures may be limited. Look for paintable or stainable surface treatments and hybrids with interior, wood-veneer finishes.
  • Composite ($600 to $1,000): Pros: This type of window frame is made of wood and polymer, which resembles wood in terms of strength and insulating value but resists moisture and decay better. It may be textured, stained or painted. Cons: None.

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  • Fiberglass ($750 to $1,200): Pros: Strong, durable and dimensionally stable, it may be painted or made to simulate wood. When air cavities are filled, the insulating value is similar to wood and insulated vinyl. Cons: There are few manufacturers.
  • Wood and clad wood ($800 to $1,500): Pros: These windows are dimensionally stable, naturally insulating and aesthetically appealing. Cons: They are susceptible to moisture and insect damage. Look for treatments designed to increase durability and reduce maintenance, including exterior metal or vinyl cladding.

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