Houston Window Buyer’s Guide
Maybe you have just received the first electricity bill for your newly purchased home. Or maybe you have decided that you have had enough of the hot and cold spots in your home. Whatever brought you to the decision to replace the current windows in your home this article will help you in deciding which are the best replacement windows for you.
Compared to other parts of the country, Houston has a relatively unique climate. Houston gets about 45 inches a year and high temperatures that average in the 70s from March-November, so it is safe to say that keeping the heat and water out is our number 1 priority. But Mother Nature has more in store for replacement windows in Houston, we also have to do deal with the high winds that hurricanes and tropical storms bring.
In deciding which replacement windows in Houston to use you have to consider more than the environment. You also need to find a suitable window that can conform to the special shapes and large sizes of windows that probably reside in your home. Unlike other parts of the country that historically used wood as their window material of choice, Houston ’s climate proved to be too much for traditional building materials. Manufacturers soon learned to turn to aluminum because it didn’t rot and could hold a relatively tight seal compared to wood. Manufacturers also realized that they could make their single pane windows to ever increase sizes, so windows 6 feet and taller windows became the norm. Then manufacturers bought some benders and started getting creative with the shapes, so 6-foot tall windows with arches also became commonplace.
You have a lot of things to consider when deciding what is the right window for your project. It may seem overwhelming but we will take the mystery out of the process and point you in the right direction throughout the whole window buying experience.
Window Material Types
At Vizion Windows & Doors, we take a consultative approach to sales to get you the results that you are looking for within a budget that works best for you.
During your in-home consultation, you will want an inspection of the environment and operation of existing windows to make educated decisions on the best fit for your style, operation, and budget. Some building materials lend themselves to larger or smaller sizes. Others building materials really knock down the hot and cold spots of your home. So different building materials have advantages/ \differences compared to one another so you need to be aware of those attributes to achieve the result that you desire.
Vinyl is the most common material used to build replacement windows in Houston today. It has that distinction because it is more energy efficient than aluminum framed windows and is able to accommodate most shapes, sizes, and styles in existing openings.
Vinyl windows got a rough start in Houston though. The first generation of vinyl windows turned brittle and discolored in the harsh Houston sun at a high rate. But with time, experience, new technology and an updated vinyl recipe that has all changed. The vinyl windows that Vizion Windows & Doors provides is made from virgin vinyl, which means that it isn’t recycled from used materials. It was made specifically for new windows. Our vinyl windows are formulated with a higher concentration of titanium dioxide, which helps them keep their color, as well as keep them from becoming brittle or chalky.
Vinyl’s advantages over aluminum are that it is an insulator against heat and not a conductor like original aluminum windows (without a thermal break). In the summer it stops the transfer of heat and in the winter it doesn’t radiate the cold nearly to the extent of your original aluminum windows. That’s why they make pots and pans out of aluminum and coolers out of vinyl.
Also, through the advances in technology, we are able to offer vinyl replacement windows in a lot of colors. White, tan and clay still hold #1, 2, and 3 spots in popularity respectively. They match most house’s trim, but there are also many different options available for different colored exteriors. You can now choose from green to red to black and even silver painted exteriors. Or you may decide that you want something a little more durable than a painted exterior, which typically has a 10-year warranty. In which case you should consider a co-extruded vinyl (AKA cap stock) color which will offer a lifetime warranty but doesn’t come in as many colors.
Vinyl replacement windows also try to offer you many interior color choices as well. Of course, you will have the standard white, tan and clay colors. If you would like to mimic the look of wood on the inside you may choose light oak, dark oak, cherry, or even white painted wood.
Vinyl windows now also come in a wide range of sizes to fit almost any existing window opening. You can get small side lite picture windows next to a door that measures 1 foot wide and 6 feet tall to massive picture windows that measure 8 feet wide and 6 feet tall (or vice versa) to capture a wonderful view. Although usually considered one of the weakest building materials, most high-end replacement windows now come with the option of having aluminum reinforcement in the sashes that boost the structural integrity.
Fiberglass, on the other hand, is considered to be a very strong building material, especially for the sizes of the sash and frame profiles that make up the windows. Because of its strength, you tend to get more viewable glass area with fiberglass window vs. a typical vinyl window.
Replacing your existing windows in Houston with fiberglass windows is also a good choice because fiberglass is a very energy efficient material. Unlike aluminum windows (even thermally improved) it doesn’t conduct heat or cold through the frame to a noticeable degree.
Replacement fiberglass windows can be painted either using a wet application which is then baked or a powder coat finish for dark colors. Each finish is extremely durable to the extent that it comes with a lifetime warranty by the manufacturer.
There are many more style choices and designs when it comes to grids or bars or muntins with fiberglass windows because they are a popular choice for historical restorations. You can choose from a couple of styles of grids between the glass or several simulated divided lite styles.
With their combination of strength, energy efficiency, beauty, and variety of styles of operation fiberglass windows have almost all of the boxes on your checklist marked, except for maybe affordability. On average they will cost more per window but for the right project, they are definitely worth every penny.
Thermally Improved Aluminum Windows
Aluminum windows sometimes get a bad rap for their abundance here in Houston, but for the time in which they ruled the market, they were the most cost-efficient solution. But now time and technology have passed them by and you need an upgrade. Well for some window buyers a thermally improved aluminum window is still the right choice.
If you value strength and rigidity then a thermally improved window is your choice. A thermally improved aluminum replacement window can obtain a design pressure of +/- 50 psf in a window as large as 44” X 80”. If you aren’t an engineer you might not be so impressed. But engineers and the people in the high wind load areas of South Houston know that these numbers are comforting. Our thermally improved windows are basically residential windows with commercial ratings.
I keep using the term “thermally improved” and what that means is that they are not your standard windows that probably reside in your home now. What makes them energy efficient is that aluminum extrusions in both the mainframes and sashes are separated by a high-density polyurethane resin. That resin breaks the thermal bridge from the inside of your home to the harsh exterior climates. These windows have the same sun related insulating performance numbers, otherwise known as the solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC), as a vinyl or fiberglass window. Thermally improved windows are less energy efficient at keeping your home’s heat in though, which is measured by the U-factor. But since Houstonians experience summer basically 8 months a year then the SHGC is a much more important number to consider.
The color choices for aluminum windows are much more limited than that of vinyl or fiberglass. There are 5 basic colors: bronze, white, black, silver and tan. There are also no 2 tone options. The same color on the exterior will be the same color as the interior. With such a limited color palette you hope that there is a tradeoff and there is. These colors available are very durable and scratch resistant because they are applied using a powder coat process.
Many people in the past have chosen to use a wood replacement window for their home improvement projects and regretted it several years down the line. If you think that this is where I jump in and say a lot of great things about wood windows then you are wrong.
What can I say about wood windows that is positive? They are unmatched in their beauty and for many many people that is enough. There are many standard colors (over 50), which is far more than in any other window material category. The interiors come in a wide range of species and stains & finishes and are also extremely beautiful.
Now, what are some critical thoughts about wood? If not inspected, maintained and caulked periodically the frames can rot. You will need to refinish the wood interior periodically. The frames and sashes are bigger, bulkier, and less energy efficient than almost any other window that I can put against them (but the others are not as pretty). Their warranties pale in comparison to other window categories but who really cares because the windows aren’t as pretty. Wood replacement windows also cost much more than any other window category, but who really cares when your windows are SO BEAUTIFUL.
Even more than the frame material, the type of glass that you use is the single biggest factor in determining the energy efficiency of your replacement window. This is because glass can comprise up to 90% of the total area of the existing opening (depending on window style). And there are several things to consider when choosing the right glass options for our South Texas heat.
Low E is a term that is short for “low emissivity” and it refers to the reduction of emissivity of the glass. The lower the emissivity the lower amount of radiation (heat) is allowed to pass through the glass. There are several types of Low E glass available but in Houston or any other Southern climate, we need to use a triple silver low e like Cardinal Glass’ Low E 366. Most people actually refer to this type of glass as Low E 366 but that is kind of like referring to all soda as Coke. A triple silver low e reflects the most amount of heat while letting in a large amount of visible light. If you were in Minnesota then you would want a double silver Low E so you could capture as much of the sun’s heat in the winter.
During the window buying process, you will hear a lot about spacers, which are the component that joins the interior and exterior panes of glass. In regards to thermal performance, the spacers do not really affect the SHGC, the most relevant insulating number for our Houston climate. They do affect the U-factor which is more important in northern climates. As long as you stick with any of the spacers below you should be fine because the difference in choosing the highest performing and the lowest performing of this group is only dollars a year.
As for the ranking of energy efficiency in high-efficiency spacers, the order is this:
#1 Duralite – thick butyl substance with a clear plastic backing that creates air pockets of insulation
#2 DuraSeal – same as above but with metal backing
#3 Super Spacer – foam spacer
#4 Intercept Ultra – stainless steel U shaped spacer
#5 Intercept spacer – tin plated steel U shaped spacer
What is most important is that you stay away from a particular spacer type, and that is a box-shaped metal spacer. The reason to stay away from is that type of spacer has been known to fail the most. When a spacer fails then moisture enters the dead air space between the panes of glass, the glass becomes discolored and you will become angry and frustrated. Luckily for us, those have mostly gone by the wayside.
So now you know what to expect with the components of the most typical window types. I hope you feel more confident about what you should be on the lookout for when it comes to Low E glass packages.