New tech means more panes with less pain
As large expanses of glass have become architecturally acceptable, new technology is making living in a fishbowl more practical.
© Steve Henke
Anita and Bob Dethlefs wanted the Portland, Ore., home they were building to really let the sunshine in. So they installed 2,700 square feet of Marvin windows — about $300,000 worth.
And then they put up 12 security cameras.
"We're getting about as much light as you can in the Northwest, but with so many windows, safety was the No. 1 concern for me as a mommy with kids running around the house," says Anita Dethlefs, 43, the mother of five. The family's 13,000-square-foot, $5 million Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired home even has a glass front door, letting visitors on the front stoop see through the living room out to Mount Hood.
Forget about a room with a view; homeowners want views from every room. As large expanses of glass have become architecturally acceptable for modern and traditional homes, new technology is making living in a fishbowl more practical — albeit sometimes challenging. (Bing: Energy-efficient windows)
Homeowners' desire for more open floor plans with combined kitchen and living-room spaces has paved the way for bigger spreads of glass. A growing appetite for more energy-efficient windows has supported the trend, as have associated tax incentives and rebates.
"The open floor plan is predominant in almost everyone's design now," says builder Tim Wilkinson of Great Falls, Mont. "They want more light and bigger windows to take advantage of views."
Today, thanks to technological advances, nearly all windows installed in new homes have special, invisible coatings that block heat and keep ultraviolet rays from fading furniture. Many also use double or triple panes with argon or krypton gas sandwiched between, which helps insulate in cold climates. Now standard on Andersen Windows glass is a titanium dioxide coating that the company says sheds dirt and virtually eliminates water spots. Some glass makers are even marketing windows for residences that can tint and untint with the push of a button.
And for those put off by the prospect of raising and lowering so many blinds, companies such as Lutron Electronics sell window shades that can be controlled with an iPhone application.
"Across the board, people want more light," says Mike Rogers, senior vice president of GreenHomes America, a company specializing in energy-efficient home renovations that has been incorporating more glass in its projects.
Beyond privacy and safety — Anita Dethlefs' chief worries — there are maintenance issues, such as how to keep so much glass spotless. (The Dethlefs pay $850 to $950 for professional cleaning at least three times a year.) And despite technological improvements, glass still doesn't typically insulate as well as a wall packed with insulation.
While manufacturers such as Andersen and Marvin Windows and Doors say overall window sales have slowed amid a sluggish new-house market, the companies say they are seeing more and larger windows going into new homes.
In modern homes, "they are filling space between floor and ceiling with as much glass as they can," says Jay Sandgren, an architectural representative for Andersen. He says builders are being "a lot smarter" about positioning a home and the roof overhang to capture the most sunlight in winter and to block much of the heat from the sun in summer.
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Building with glass isn't cheap. Wilkinson, the Montana builder, estimates the price is about double the cost of installing regular walls packed with insulation. His own 4,800-square-foot home has $85,000 worth of Andersen glass, giving him a 240-degree view of three mountain ranges and the Missouri River. Even the deck railings are glass panels.
Tempered safety glass is installed according to local building codes in areas of homes where breakage might be of particular concern, such as windows and doors close to the floor or near a stairway or landing. Glass can sometimes attract vandals in the construction phase, a headache for builders, Wilkinson says. But breakage for homeowners "is rarely a problem," he says, although he cautions that people mowing the lawn should look out for rocks that the mower can kick out to crack a pane.
Architect Thomas Roszak took the fishbowl aesthetic to the extreme in his own Northfield, Ill., home, which features commercial curtain-wall glass around the entire building. The walls are constructed from two argon-filled glass panes covered with what's called low-emissivity, or "low-e," metallic coating to block heat flow through the window, keeping the home cooler in the summer and warmer in winter.
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With little traditional wall space, art is suspended in front of windows from a floor-to-ceiling, museum-type wire hanging system, Roszak says. For privacy, he planted trees around his one-acre property and installed $60,000 worth of electronically operated blinds.
One low point of glass-house design: the day his 8-year-old son spied a dead bird that had hit home's glass siding, likely mistaking the trees' reflection for safe habitat. "He said, 'Daddy, I don't think that bird is sleeping, I think it's broken,'" Roszak says.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, anywhere from 100 million to 1 billion birds are killed in window collisions every year.
Owners of homes with large expanses of glass must be mindful of clutter, since the view goes both ways. When Beata and Brad Peters built their 3,900-square-foot brick home in Hawthorn Woods, Ill., they incorporated large panels of glass symmetrically throughout. While most of the windows have wood blinds, the family tends to leave them open for aesthetics.
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"I don't put a lot of stuff in front of the windows," Beata Peters says. In the kitchen, appliances like toasters get packed along a wall with no glass.
Window-treatment companies are pushing to make shade operation less of a chore. Hunter Douglas, based in the Netherlands, this spring added a solar-energy sensor that raises and lowers blinds based on the amount of sun detected. Despite the slump in the housing market, the company's North American sales rose almost 5% last year. An electronically controlled Lutron shade sells for about $900 more than manual ones and can be controlled via remote control or an app for Apple or Android devices.
Some glass companies now make windows that reduce the need for blinds. One is Sage Electrochromics Inc. of Faribault, Minn., whose product consists of clear panes that morph to a grayish-blue tint when a user flips a switch to send a low-voltage current across the window. The tint reduces glare and heat but not visibility. Sage began selling the glass for residential applications around 2005, though they are typically found in high-end homes due to cost. An installed window costs between one-and-a-half to two times as much as one with typical low-e glass.
"If you're on the West Coast facing the ocean when the sun is beating on the glass, what people do is pull their blinds and shades to block the glare," says Helen Sanders, Sage's vice president of technical business development. "What that means is you've just lost your view you paid a huge amount of money for."
I bought a house in the mountains last year, wonderful views, but a few too many windows. The skylight was the first to go as it blasted me with a spotlight that moved around the living room all day. There are two others on a landing that serve no purpose other than to heat the house more during the day (not helpful in a house with no a/c). I'd prefer a couple of the windows on the east side were smaller. Can't say I'd object to a little more wall space either.
Windows are important, but you can overdo a good thing.
Maybe if you didn't wallow in your money and flaunt it, you wouldn't need 12 security cameras.
(edit: sorry, didn't notice that this was first published in the Wall Street Jihad ... erm, "Journal." Carry on, nothing to see here ...)
I must agree with the two gentlemen that stated that windows are not energy efficient at all. And though I do feel for the window manufacturing industry, the facts are 1) windows aren't necessary 2) they increase your utility bill for heating and air conditioning 3) they allow complete strangers to see your life and what it contains...so windows make your home less private and less secure too. And contrary to the extreme weather claim...anywhere you live...having windows increases the costs of living there.
For bedroom security install a door to exit in case of fire instead of a window. What are windows good for? Burglars and window manufacturers. I estimate that an average home costs a hundred dollars extra per month to heat in the winter monthes where the temp drops below the 40's. Because of windows alone I pay more during the winter monthes--3 1/2 monthes per year--for electricity to run my electric heater than the rest of the year for all my electric needs combined. I can afford to pay the extra amount but I figure why live with 'holes' in your walls? In the winter when I stand in front of any of my windows while inside my house it's like standing in front of an open refridgerator. I built interior storm doors that replace the missing wall sections that windows occupy.Huge difference.
I will add to what the window engineer has stated. I used to be a contractor for 20 years and now find the market to be quite dead and no longer contract from all of the US Congress' and Bankings horse droppings they tossed upon us.
When you put replacement windows in your house is is for appearance and improvement upon the existing windows in relation to their poor insulation qualities. As good as they are a wall is superior. In a state such as California or Florida, where the temps almost never get below 40 degrees for days on end this may be fine. In other typically colder climates it is stupid to think this makes any logical sense.
People even thinking about this should also know that any windows you put in your house may increase your chances to sell it, but they will in no way what so ever increase the value of the house itself. In this current economy it would be foolish to spend 3-10K on a small house for replacement windows and get nothing in return other than a more presentable house with no increase in it's value for such an expense.
Save your money unless you have it to spend without return on your investment. This is the sad truth and it may hurt, but quite often the truth isn't what we want it to be, Don't let mouth pieces and salesmen trick you into un-needed improvements for aesthetic reasons alone.
I worked as a design engineer for a major window company and am very familiar with window and insulated glass efficiencies (or lack there of). Therefore, I can tell you all the claims of glass energy efficiencies, although greatly improved over the years, are misleading, and far from efficient, compared to an insulated wall. For example, a typical 2X4 wall is around a R19, while a window with insulated glass filled with argon is only around a R2, no matter it be a Marvin or an Andersen window. Krypton, filled is slightly better and much more expensive.
This article just boils down to what the rich can afford and what the glass & window industry can promote by manipulating words to make it seem as if windows are more energy efficient than walls. This is simply not the case and contributes to the waste of energy and higher prices for us all.