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    2-30. Avoid the fancy windows. - Electronic Edition

    2-30. Avoid the fancy windows. - Electronic Edition
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     Our friend Richard S. came over one day with a copy of his construction estimate from a general contractor. He asked if we could find somewhere to save him money. His new estate home was specified with Andersen windows at a cost of $125,000. We sent him to Wenco-Pozzi, the distributor who provided our Wenco vinyl windows for the Riverbottoms house. He selected Pozzi wood windows, to match the Andersen ones he canceled, and he saved $50,000. When we toured the completed house, he was happy with nothing except those windows…

     Now, after going on 20 years in the Riverbottoms house, I feel differently about windows. I spent much more money on replacement windows for the west side of the house than I spent originally for those windows. There are 8 windows on the west side, and I spent about $200 each for builder-grade single-hung double-pane vinyl windows there when I built. Last year, I replaced those 8 with triple-paned double-hung vinyls at about $400 each, installation included manufactured by Ply Gem. The original windows had become difficult to operate, and a few had broken at the corners of the vinyl frames. The 10-year warranty had expired on the originals. On the replacement windows there was a lifetime warranty.

     These new windows are a dream. I like operating the upper as well as the lower sashes in the summer. In the evenings, we let the cool Utah mountain air flow through the house, which lightens our daytime AC load. As a result, we rarely go over 75 days of AC per summer. The triple panes help to quiet the house, and the sophisticated low-E coating on the windows keeps summer heat out and winter heat in. The one-hand operation is a pleasure if you use the windows a lot, and tilt-in cleaning is a breeze.

     Most of the original windows are still in place in the house. We have more than 30 windows, but the 8 single-hungs on the west side really broke down in the intense summer sun we experience here. So, I conclude that it was all right to economize on most of the windows, but the ones I operate all the time needed to be of a higher quality. I tried to research the Ply Gem window model I chose on the NFRC.org site, but they had tens of thousands of windows rated, and I couldn't find the model I was looking for. The salesman provided me with the magic key, the CPD number (pwg-m-155-00736-00001), and I found my window model here. I learned that it had a very good U-factor, .25, and a not-so-great SHGC, also .25. The SHGC is the Solar Heat Gain Factor.

     I was able to compare these numbers to several other windows I considered. They tended to have higher U-factors, and lower SHGCs (lower is better). For example, Champion Windows offered me a model with a U-factor of .28, and an SHGC of .21. Advanced Window Products had .30 and .21 respectively. But these other companies I considered were not offering a triple-paned window at all, which might explain their inferior U-factors. The weak point seemed to be the Solar Heat Gain Factor. Then it dawned on me that my issue was not just air conditioning savings, but also winter heating savings. Where I live, the AC needs to be on about three months a year, and in our specific case, only 75 days. The heating season is bigger for us, about six months.

     That meant that it was better to let in a bit more solar gain for winter optimization. So we settled on the Ply Gems and have loved them. Ply Gem is the "best little manufacturer you've never heard of." They are big enough, with 25 manufacturing plants in the U.S., but they aren't a Pella, a Kolbe & Kolbe, or an Andersen. For triple-pane, those fancy guys came out well over $1,000 apiece, about $1,500 per window with installation. And they are fancy in terms of image, not in window performance. That part is made clear by an apples to apples comparison at the NFRC site.

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