DEAR TIM: I'm about to start a window-replacement project. My husband wants replacement vinyl windows because of the easy maintenance, but I'm not a big fan of those. There seem to be many home-replacement windows, which is making it hard for me to decide which to install. What do you feel are the best replacement windows? What should I know about how to replace windows? Laura B., Orlando, FL
DEAR LAURA: Window replacement is a huge industry. Not only do windows tend to be one of the largest energy thieves in the average home, but they also can be a time sink with respect to care and cleaning. New technology is available that can make you spend more time enjoying life than painting windows or caring for them.
It's easy to see why replacement vinyl windows are so popular. They never require painting, and with minimal care, they look like new for many years. Many houses have white windows and trim, so a standard white-vinyl window replacement project can be completed with minimal work required to make the windows match the existing house. Installation costs can be kept to a minimum.
Visit a local home show where businesses display their goods and services and you'll discover there are indeed many home-replacement windows. It's possible to get them in aluminum, wood, fiberglass and vinyl. What's more, you can get hybrid window replacements where different materials are used for the interior and exterior of your home. For example, you may want the warmth of wood for the inside of your home, but your husband desires vinyl outdoors. You can get those replacement windows with little effort.
Regarding the best replacement windows, that question will most certainly cause lots of debate among replacement-window manufacturers. Years of my own research lead me to believe that windows that have been independently tested and certified are the best. One of the top organizations that does this is the American Architectural Manufacturers Association (AAMA). They have a certification process where they test windows for air and water infiltration, structural integrity and how well windows resist forced entry by bad people.
A window-replacement manufacturer can have their windows tested to see if they meet these rigorous AAMA standards. If they do, they get to apply a special gold AAMA label to each window. This label tells you that the window is a top performer.
You can also get windows that carry a different certification from the National Fennestration Rating Council (NFRC). This label tells you all about the energy characteristics of the window. The NFRC also tests for resistance to interior condensation. The closer that number is to 100, the better job the window does at preventing condensation. In my personal opinion, the best replacement window you can get will have both labels on it.
When you or a pro gets ready to install replacement windows, there are certain things you should do. Water is one of the primary arch enemies of homes. Water leaks are common when installing replacement windows. Pay attention to voids at the base of the window frame when the old window is removed. It may be a smart idea to fill any voids with caulk before the new window is installed. If the window frame happens to be wood, it's a great idea to paint any unsealed wood that was hidden by the old window.
Air leaks that happen as part of a window-replacement job are very common. Both homeowners and rookie installers think that just caulking the exterior will stop air infiltration. This is not always true. Air can be moving through the wall cavity behind siding, brick and stucco in many instances. This air can be stopped from coming indoors by installing an expanding foam sealant around the window after it's been installed. Be sure to use a foam that's rated for use around windows. You want one that will stay flexible.
Excellent caulking should also be on your replacement windows how-to checklist. Caulking needs to be installed where the window touches up against the window frame both outside and inside your home. The exterior caulking is a mission-critical component to prevent water leaks. Be sure to use an approved caulk that's mentioned in the written instructions that come with the replacement windows.
Home window replacement doesn't have to be stressful. The most important part is to take your time and do the necessary research. If you plan on being in the house for a long time, it really pays to buy the best replacement windows. Windows are a major component in a home, and it's one of the last places you should try to cut corners.
Wood replacement windows are available that will allow you to match the look and feel of an historic home that could be over 100-years old. These amazing kits allow you to do window replacement without removing the interior casing trim or the exterior trim. Once you get the hang of installing these, you can install a new wood window set in less than an hour start to finish.