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Outside looking in: a peek into the world of windows

Taking the pain out of replacing the pane



Despite the importance of Windows in keeping families dry and comfortable, homeowners often look right through them. Homeowners may replace windows to update their home's exterior, or because existing windows no longer are functional, but choosing the right window can be difficult without some basic knowledge. CUE asked a few experts to explain, and help take the pain out of replacing the pane.

  Leaks, drafts and foggy windows indicate it's time to upgrade, but one of the biggest reasons people consider new windows is energy efficiency, says Chris Mathes, vice president of Gulf Enterprises, a local supplier of doors, windows and skylights.

  "Windows are part of the whole system of a home," he says. "Modern glass is more insulated than the single-pane glass that came over with the Mayflower."

  Low emissivity (low-e) glass coatings are a recent innovation in window design and maintenance. The coating reflects significantly more UV and infrared radiation than uncoated windows, according to Matt Comeaux of window and door supplier Grand Openings. Emissivity is the ability of a material to radiate energy, and low-e coatings reflect heat and light that otherwise would be absorbed by the glass and radiated to a home's interior. Low-e glass helps protect carpets and floors from fading and keeps the house cool, Comeaux says.

  "Infrared will heat up the objects in your home and the AC will have to cool them down," he says. "(Low-e window coating is) more important down here [in the South] because we're subtropic and get so much sunlight."

  Selecting the right window frame also can make a difference in the energy efficiency of the window. Aluminum window frames can allow heat to seep through the frame because of the thermal conductivity of the metal. However, modern aluminum windows often are "thermally broken," or manufactured with a barrier in between double panes of glass that cuts down on energy loss, according to Comeaux. Vinyl frames are another option, but while these cut down on heat exchange, the seals expand and contract in extreme temperatures and aren't very durable.

  Glass spacers that separate multiple panes of glass in a window also affect energy efficiency. Historically, these spacers had been made of metal, which conducts heat. Modern spacers are made from stainless steel or composite materials that are less likely to transfer heat or contribute to seal failure, Comeaux says.

  The use of argon gas — which has very low thermal conductivity — inside double-paned windows also helps insulate indoor air from outdoor heat.

  "It's denser than standard air, so ... it's more of an icebox effect," Comeaux says.

  While new windows require less care than old designs, regular maintenance is important.

  "Most people don't think about the windows until there's a problem with them," Comeaux says.

  He recommends homeowners look for exterior cracks around windows at least once a year. After heavy rain, check for leaks. Comeaux also suggests annual cleaning, but stresses the need to use ammonia-free cleaners, because ammonia can cause window seals to deteriorate. He also advises against pressure washing.

  "You never want to use a direct spray with a hose because that could force water inside or lead to the breakdown of other materials," Comeaux says.

  Window updates can be both beautiful and functional, but for pure aesthetics, consider installing stained glass window panes. Stained glass is a staple in classic New Orleans design. It adds color and vibrancy to any home, says Paulette Lizano, a glass art designer at Lizano's Glass Haus.

  "A stained glass window is an art piece," she says.

  Kitchens and bathrooms are the most popular locations for stained glass windows in New Orleans homes. Gable and transom windows also are a common place for stained glass, according to Lizano.

  She usually works in traditional mediums, using flexible metal strips called "lead came" or sheets of hammered, adhesive-backed copper foil to bind sections of colored glass together. Sometimes, she favors the more modern technique of fused glass.

  "Fused glass is not as well-known here in the South," she says. "The advantage is there are no metal lines. It comes out as one solid entity."

  Lizano recommends homeowners installing stained glass windows also install clear plate glass on the outside of the pane to protect it from the elements. In new construction, consumers can request their contractor build a window frame for later installation of stained glass, with the plate glass acting as a placeholder. If the glass is installed with molding around the border, homeowners can remove or reinstall it as desired.

  "A lot of pieces are customized and specific to the family and they want to take that with them (if) they move," Lizano says.

  To care for stained glass, Lizano recommends wiping it down with a clean, dry cotton rag (no chemicals or water). A feather duster may be used on more delicate or textured designs.

  "Maintenance can be done by the homeowner unless it's a restoration job that requires additional weatherproofing," Lizano says.

  Heavy restoration work is best left to the experts.

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