Windows and exterior doors

Windows and doors are not only necessary for the proper functioning and livability of your home. They can add a great deal to the beauty and architectural interest of any building.

The variety available in window design, functioning and construction is huge, and largely limited only by your imagination. In some cases, you may even want to design a portion of your house around a window or group of windows.

The front entry door can make a statement about you and your house, and suggest what a visitor may find inside. An entry can be large and ornate, suggesting a palatial interior, or it can be warm and inviting, suggesting a cozy space inside.

Doors are often of glass, or partially so, and often have windows surrounding them as an integral part of the entry.

The purposes of doors and windows need to be considered ,when designing your house, and before purchase. Doors are usually chosen and placed with utility in mind, with appearance as the secondary consideration. There may be several motives for choosing and placing a window.

Interior and exterior appearance is always a factor for windows. Ventilation should be considered. Is a window placed to take advantage of a pleasing view, or do you want to watch your children in the yard? Is light a part of the equation? What about security, or safe egress, from bedrooms in an emergency?

windows

Lots of windows

Windows can open or be a non opening “picture” window or a combination. There are also bay windows, bow windows, skylights and garden windows. Picture windows may be used in garages, outbuildings, in places where they are hard to reach, or if the shape of the window is unusual. Windows that open can save some of the energy used for cooling, if placed to provide cross ventilation. A Window that opens widely enough to provide an escape route from bedrooms are required by most building codes. Removable screens should be provided to prevent insects, birds and animals from entering.

Windows that open are normally rectangular, but there are different types. A common and inexpensive type is the slider, which can be horizontal or vertical. They can be double hung, as in a vertical slider that opens from either the top or the bottom, or single hung in which only one half opens.

They can be a casement window which opens similarly to a door, awning which swings open from the bottom, or hopper which opens from the top. These three may have a crank mechanism for opening and closing, and locks which tighten them. They provide a better air seal than sliders which need to be a little loose to operate. An awning type window can afford a little better protection against the elements if inadvertently left open.

Casement window

A casement window

Material used in making the window frames is varied.

Vinyl has become quite popular in recent years. Economy, low maintenance, and low thermal conductivity are some of the reasons. Vinyl is not damaged by moisture which is an important consideration in cold climates where frost may form on the inside of the glass and later melt. Voids can be incorporated to provide thermal breaks. Expansion and contraction is minimal which can mean a window will remain easy to open in different conditions. Paint does not adhere well, so choose your original color carefully.

Wood is another popular choice, which gives more interior decorating options. The exterior should be clad with metal or vinyl to reduce maintenance. Painting or staining is possible with wood. Moisture is the bane of wood, and causes rot and mold problems. Wood will swell when damp, and may make it difficult to open windows.

Metal is seldom used anymore, except for structural reasons. The main disadvantage is its conductivity, which can create thermal bridging.

The thermal qualities of windows will vary by a wide percentage, but no matter how good, their insulating value is still pretty dismal.

It is quite expensive to achieve an R rating of over 4, and more common is a rating of less than 3.5. A double glass window sealed with an inert gas inside and with a low E coating is probably the best you will get at a reasonable payback. The low E coating is inexpensive and very worthwhile. This will give a rating of about 3.2. Compare this to a normal 2 x 6 wall, which has a rating of about 22 when properly insulated. This is a compelling argument for keeping window space to a minimum. Building codes may require that 10% of the wall space be devoted to window. Most people would want more than this. I don,t believe in spending large sums on extra window efficiency. The percentage gain on the window may be quite large, but the overall energy savings are quite small. Better options may be lined window treatments, or wide eaves to block the sun. Your motives , however, could be quite different from simply looking at the best value.

Note: R values can be confusing and are expressed differently in much of the world. Please use this link for an explanation which I hope doesn’t confuse you more.

Doors can be purchased in many styles and materials, and at costs ranging from a couple of hundred dollars up to several thousand. Most people would spend the most attention and money on a front door, and use more utilitarian doors in other locations.

A door may be mostly of glass, and as such, is similar to a window. It can have various sized and shaped openings with glass, often called lites, which may be decorative. Stained glass can give interesting effects. There can be one or more side lites, and there may be a transom window over the door, which may or may not open.

Double doors are a possible choice, and are commonly used for a patio entry, as well as for a front entrance. There are several different styles.

Sliding glass doors are popular for the patio or deck, and can open from either side, or both sides. It is possible to have blinds built in between the glass panels on sealed double glass doors. Maintaining a sliding door free from air leaks is more difficult than with other types.

When ordering doors, you must specify left or right swing and in or out opening. An in swing is not as easy to make secure, and their use is uncommon in exterior doors. All exterior doors should have a deadbolt lock, and if there is glass within reach, it should be keyed from both sides.

Material besides glass for exterior doors include, wood, metal and fiberglass.

An unusual front door

An unusual front door

Wood can be one of several species, and can be finished in different ways. There are craftsmen who make hand carved wooden doors to order, which can be beautiful and distinctive. One way your front entry can really make a statement.

Metal doors for residential use usually have a wooden frame, and are composed of a sandwich of wood and an insulating material between two sheets of steel. They require painting for protection against moisture. These are likely the most economical door.

Fiberglass doors may be superior for energy efficiency and maintenance, but are more costly in most cases.

A door like a window, is not great as far as insulating values are concerned. Keeping them well sealed requires regular maintenance. Storm doors may be a help, but the jury is still out on their insulating value. I think they have value beyond simple energy efficiency, such as reducing freeze ups and as a screen door if so equipped.

Careful window and door selections can greatly add to the appeal of your home and its eventual evaluation.

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