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window buying guide

Window Buying Guide

Windows are a key element of home décor, often taken for granted. They affect light, ventilation and temperature as well as the comfort of the home's occupants. Windows also contribute to architectural identity, conveying period and style. When you're choosing new windows, be sure the styles you select suit your home both practically and aesthetically.


What's the difference between a "replacement" window and a "new" window? Aren't they both new? Yes, but there is a difference. Normally used in new construction, "new" windows have a nailing flange used to attach them to the rough opening in the wall. They're attached with nails driven into the exterior sheathing around the window opening.

A replacement window has no nailing flange and fits into an existing window frame. Replacements are easier to install and preferred unless the existing frame is damaged and needs replacing or additional insulation is needed between the frame and the wall.


Windows come in many shapes, sizes and types and are made from a variety of materials. So how do you select the right ones? There are several things to consider: your budget, your home's style and how you want the window to perform. Think about the relative importance of ventilation and security and how easy it should be to maintain. And decide whether you want to emphasize the window as a focal point or have it serve a more practical purpose.

Windows are either fixed or operable. Fixed windows are stationary units mounted within a frame. They're great for letting in light and exposing views but provide no ventilation. Among the more visually interesting choices are octagonal, half-circle or ellipse windows. There are several different types of operable windows. All operable windows come equipped with hardware for opening and closing the sash, latching and locking.

Sliding Windows

Sliding Windows

These work well at sealing in energy. They may have one or more fixed panels and one or more panels that slide in horizontal tracks. Only half of the total window may be opened for ventilation at one time.

Double-Hung Windows

Double-Hung Windows

Classic in style, double-hung windows have an upper, outside sash that slides down and a lower, inside sash that slides up. Hidden springs, weights or friction devices help lift, lower and position the sash. With certain types, the sash can be removed, rotated or tilted for easy inside cleaning. If only one sash slides, the window is called vertical sliding or single-hung.

Casement Windows

Casement Windows

Hung singly or in pairs, a casement window is operated by cranks that swing the sash outward or inward. It opens fully for easy cleaning and offers excellent ventilation because it can scoop in breezes. Casement windows are popular for both new construction and replacement windows.

Accent or Picture Windows

Accent or Picture Windows

Style and variety are the key features of this group. Choose a unique shape such as round or octagonal or perhaps a traditional rectangular, bay or bow window.

WINDOW materials

Windows are made from a variety of materials, including wood, aluminum, steel, vinyl and fibreglass - or from a combination of these materials. In general, those that offer better weather protection cost more, but they pay off in low maintenance and energy savings.

Wood - Wood tends to be the most popular window material, particularly for the parts of a window that are seen from indoors. Wood doesn't conduct cold or allow for condensation as much as other materials. Wood windows typically come unfinished unless you order them otherwise. If you intend to paint them, save work by purchasing them already primed on the exterior or interior surfaces of the frame and sash. You can eliminate painting altogether by buying them pre-painted in some standard colours.

Clad-Wood - You'll find that many of today's windows are wood inside and clad on the outside with a tough, attractive exterior jacket of extruded aluminum or vinyl. The cladding, available in a few stock colours, covers both sash and frame; it'll keep windows virtually maintenance-free for years. With vinyl, the colour permeates the material so scratches don't show. Aluminum may scratch, but it's tougher, available in a wider variety of colours and easier to paint. (Vinyl and aluminum shouldn't require painting.) Neither type will rust or rot.

Aluminum - Aluminum windows are more durable than bare wood, thinner, lighter and easier to handle. They're insulated with a thermal break of extruded vinyl and sometimes also foam, which reduces heat loss and condensation.

Vinyl - Vinyl windows are made from rigid, impact-resistant polyvinyl chloride (PVC), with hollow spaces inside to make them resistant to heat loss and condensation. Vinyl windows are popular for the replacement market.


Most wood windows come pre-hung in complete frames that fit into a rough opening in the wall. They are attached with nails driven through the exterior wall sheathing around the window opening.

Vinyl or aluminum windows and some wood windows with a vinyl or aluminum cladding have a factory-installed nailing flange on the outside that you attach to the perimeter of the window's rough framing.


All operable windows come equipped with hardware-the mechanisms used for opening and closing the sash, the latches and so forth. Here is a closer look at key types:

Cranks - Casement, awning and hopper windows utilize cranks for opening and closing. (Older types used push-bar operators.) Some manufacturers offer cranks in nonmetallic finishes (notably white) and some new types have fold-down handles that make them less conspicuous.

Latches and Locks - Latches on the frame are used to hold the window tightly closed. On hinged windows, two are recommended on tall or wide frames. On double-hung windows, sash locks pull together the upper and lower sash to minimize drafts. Keyed sash locks can improve security.

On sliders, look for security locks to keep the operable sashes from being jimmied open.

Counterbalances - On double-hung windows, the sash is counterbalanced on the sides by weights or other counterbalancing mechanisms, such as torsion screws. In some replacement windows, friction may be all that holds the sashes in place.

Sliding Mechanisms - Most sashes of aluminum and vinyl windows are lightweight enough to slide in the sill tracks. But large, door-height sashes must be supported by rollers.


The view out the window is as important as how much light and ventilation the window provides. Windows connect us to the outdoors and enhance the sense of interior space. For this reason, the placement and size of your windows - and what you'll see from them - is no small consideration.

Where your windows are placed, how large they are and what type they have a significant effect on the amount of light and ventilation they provide.

A south-facing window lets in the most light and is desirable in all but the hottest climates. A north-facing window provides soft, diffused light. Because of the low angle of the sun in the morning and late afternoon, light from east- and west-facing windows may be intense.


Unfortunately, glass isn't nearly as good at conserving energy as an insulated wall, so glazed doors and windows can be responsible for a major part of a home's energy loss if they're not well-chosen. Storm windows and doors and window coverings help retard heat movement, but the surest and most effective way to save energy is to utilize high-performance glazing. Look for windows that are Energy Star compliant.

Check two important ratings when buying windows and glazed doors: the R-value and the overall U-factor. An R-value measures a material's resistance to heat transfer; the higher the R-value, the better the insulating properties of the glazing. The U-factor measures overall energy-efficiency. It tells you the rate at which heat flows through the entire window, door and frame. The lower the U-factor, the more energy-efficient the window or door.

Insulating glazing typically has two, or sometimes three, panes of glass sealed together with either air or argon gas trapped between them to act as an insulator. Some units have a plastic film suspended between two glass panes. If the unit is properly sealed, condensation shouldn't occur between the panes; sometimes a drying agent (called a desiccant) is used in the spacer (the strip inside the panes, which helps keep them apart) as added insurance against condensation.

WINDOW glass options

You'll discover that there are also a number of glass products available for special uses, including safety glass and stained glass. Here's a closer look at both high-performance and specialty glazing:

Low-Emissive (or low-E) Glass - Low-E glazing has a film applied to one of the glass surfaces or suspended between the panes. This coating or film allows light in, but it prevents some solar rays from being transmitted through the glass. A Low-E coating can help keep your home cool on a hot day by blocking longer-wave radiant heat from entering. On a cold day it can prevent the radiant interior heat from escaping through the glass. Tinted Glass - Usually given either a bronze or gray cast, tinted glass reduces glare and limits the amount of light and heat from the sun (solar gain) in your home.

Safety Glass - Safety glass is a good choice if there's any risk of a person walking through a window. Tempered glass is heat-treated during the manufacturing process and crumbles if broken rather than shattering. Laminated glass has a film of plastic that holds the glass together if broken.

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