Window Options: Glass Type, Cladding, Dividers etc.
By Bud Dietrich
This special round window is in the sitting room of Sarah Susanka's Plan 454-12.
Let’s say you’re ready to build that new home. You’ve purchased a set of drawings from Houseplans.com and you’re ready to start ordering materials. One of the things that you’ll be ordering early in the process will be the windows for your new home. So you go to a local window dealer and, low and behold, there’s a whole bunch of options that you’ll have to decide on. And these won’t be the basic options, like color or size or function because the drawings you have already give you all of that info. The next level of options is about what glass to use, what types of grids (or grilles) you want, what the screening material will be and more. So let’s take a look at what some of these options will be and why you’d select one over another.
Selecting the glass isn’t just a matter of saying “I want some energy efficient, insulating glass.” In the process of selecting your windows you might get asked “what color would you want the glass to be?” Ever notice how glass tends to have a slightly greenish hue? [See the modern example above from Plan 496-21.] That’s because of the iron content in the base material that goes into making the glass. If you want your windows not to have this greenish hue, you’ll want to specify “low iron” glass, sometimes also referred to as “white” glass.
Another consideration is the impact resistance of the glass, especially where hurricanes and other storms are prevalent. The local building code may require that your windows have a certain impact resistance (the window will hold up to flying debris). Even if the local code doesn’t require this, you may want to have impact resistant windows if you’re in a location that is subject to flying debris from storms. Glass made to resist flying debris is, like a car windshield, strengthened to prevent puncturing and the like.Lastly, a glass insulating unit can have a Low-e coating that helps to block ultra-violet (UV) light. Because UV light is harmful to fabrics, can fade colors and is generally not welcome indoors, making sure that the window as a Low-e coating is important.
Grids and Grilles
You’ll have three options when selecting the grids or grilles for your windows (unless you choose none). The first is the “snap-in-grid” that became very popular in the 1970’s. These grids sit on the inside face of the glass and can be easily removed, which makes cleaning a window easier. The disadvantage of these snap-in-grids is that they tend to be flimsy, so easily broken, and don’t give a very authentic look to the window, especially from the exterior where all one sees is the flat pane of glass. To overcome these disadvantages, manufacturers started making “simulated divide lites” or SDL’s. These are grids that are permanently adhered to the glass on both the interior and exterior so have an authentic look, especially when spacer bars are inserted at the grid lines. The advantage of SDL’s is that these are less costly than the traditional authentic divided lite, or ADL, because the glass pane is one large piece in lieu of many smaller pieces. It’s rare that we use ADL’s today due to cost considerations. Certainly where a historical authenticity is called for a window with ADL’s is appropriate.
From raw wood to aluminum to vinyl to fiberglass to composites, a window can be made of or clad in a number of materials. While raw wood is the traditional material, it will probably require a bit more maintenance than most homeowners want to give. For that reason, a window clad on the exterior with a low maintenance material is favored. Each material will have its advantages and disadvantages. For example, aluminum cladding can come in a range of colors and even be finished with a custom color. This isn’t the case for vinyl, fiberglass and composite clad windows, which tend to have a limited palette of colors to select from. If you opt for an aluminum clad window you’ll want to make sure that the finish is durable. For example, a Kynar finish will be more durable than a polyester or acrylic finish. And an extruded aluminum cladding will be stronger than a roll formed one. I also prefer the extruded cladding as the edges and corners are sharper and more distinct, giving the window a crispness that it would otherwise lack.
Will you want full screens or half screens on your double hung windows, roll-up screens for the casement windows? Will you want the new screening material that virtually disappears or will you opt to save some money and have the traditional screen? These are all questions to ask and decisions that you’ll have to make when it comes to selecting your screening. While these are all personal preference issues that have a cost component, I tend to prefer full screening on double hung windows so that the top sash can be lowered and the bottom sash raised, allowing full air movement. And, since the screens can actually hide the window, taking them down and storing the screens away during the winter is something I do.
A nice option that’s come about in the last few years is screening that is virtually transparent. Made of very finely woven mesh, these screens have a tendency to disappear, so don’t interfere with the view out. While requiring an upcharge, these screens are certainly something to consider when the view out is too nice to mess up with a screen.
From hardware finishes and styles to interior finish options and more, there are a host of decisions you’ll have to make to finalize your window selection. Of all of these options, the two that I always opt for are to have folding hardware on casement windows and to have all of the wood factory primed when I know the interior wood trim will be painted. I select these options because the hardware on a casement window, specifically the hand crank, can get caught on clothing and drapes if it doesn’t fold down and rest semi-flush. And for the priming, while that can be done by a painter after the window is delivered, a factory applied primer will cover all of the wood and likely cost less in the long run.