There are plenty of reasons why a co-op or condo association board may want to replace some or all of the windows in their community. Noise reduction, saving on energy costs, aesthetics and safety are usually chief among them. Even with the significant expense a window repair or replacement project entails, it's not so important that a board know everything about windows, but rather that they express their needs and expectations to a window company they can trust.
When to Replace
Window specialists say that regular inspections and maintenance can help preserve the life of windows, and minimize the expense of repairs when they're necessary. In general, experts say an inspection should be done every 18 months, making sure that operating hardware is properly lubricated and hasn't been damaged or painted over, and that the weather stripping is in good condition.
According to Rick Christenson, a vice president with Frost Christenson & Associates, an engineering consulting firm in Bound Brook, sometimes it's easy to tell if a window needs repairs or replacing: If you feel cold air coming in or excessive noise is keeping you up all night, it's time to think about replacing, or improving your windows.
"If the seal in the glass has failed, you'll notice condensation," adds David Skudin of CitiQuiet Windows in New York City. "So one typical repair in windows is glass replacement, or what's called re-glazing. Another major issue is if a window is no longer operating safely. If it's a double-hung window that movies up and down, a lot of times the windows don't stay up when you lift them. They need to repair the balance."
Neglect of windows can be a problem, especially in older buildings. In some buildings, windows are painted shut, hardware is broken or rusty, and drafts abound. Some associations don't repaint the outsides of window frames for years on end, which inevitably leads to deterioration of the frame and sashes, say the professionals.
Yet another option offered by several companies is an interior window, which is a second window that is added to the existing window system, totally separate from the exterior window. The original window remains totally intact, say the installers, and nothing affects it or is affixed to it in any way. Some interior window models claim noise reduction of up to 95 percent and 99 percent elimination of draft and dirt and a 30 percent reduction in energy bills.
Interior windows may also be a boon for homeowners who don't have the financial option of buying all new windows, says Skudin. "People who live in buildings where they're not allowed to replace their windows—who live in a landmark [property], for example, or who don't want to go through the process and cost of replacing the windows—can eliminate the dirt, draft and noise with an interior window."
"Everything is just so much more advanced now," Skudin says. "The manner in which glass is glazed . . . is so much more advanced than it was even five or 10 years ago. Even the guarantees on the products are two and three times the length of what they used to be."
And meeting those specifications can necessitate some shopping around, says John Zoetjes, owner of New Jersey Window Erectors in Sparta. "I recommend getting a second or third quote spelling out, item-for-item, exactly what you're getting: the type of window, the material used, the specific [commercial or non-commercial] rating for the window, and the thickness of the insulating glass."
For larger, more extensive window projects, Zoetjes suggests that boards and managers request installation of a sample window. "It will demonstrate the installation method and the overall quality of the window for that particular project," he says. "The sample becomes the standard for every other window that needs to be installed in the property."
Who's In Charge?
All this innovation and long-term benefit is terrific, of course, but what everyone—board, management, and association members alike—want to know is, who pays for it all in the first place? A window repair or replacement project is a major undertaking, and the question of under whose jurisdiction payment for the improvement lies can be a little tricky, according to Christenson.
In a condominium community or HOA, says Christenson, "Responsibility [for window repair or replacement] goes to the individual homeowners in most cases, and is not an association responsibility. On the other hand, there are some associations where the windows are covered." Christenson notes that sometimes maintenance and repair of windows will be included in an association's governing documents, such as the bylaws or the declaration of covenants, conditions and restrictions (CC&R).
Regardless of who's paying, it's important to have good communication and planning between board, managing agent, and window contractor throughout the process. Managing agents have a particularly important role in making sure the project goes smoothly, says Stan Rothenberg of C&R Realty and Management Co. in Englewood Cliffs. "If the board of a condo or a co-op decides that the windows are inefficient and have to be replaced, the managing agent's role is to put the repair or replacement project together from start to finish."
And that's a big job, says Rothenberg. The manager has to initiate and manage the bidding process, evaluate and recommend engineers and contractors, look at samples of work and obtain references, disseminate information to residents, and forward all that information to the board or association for approval. Even when a condo owner is responsible for the replacement, the managing agent still must oversee the installation to ensure that the project is done to the association's specifications.
Doug Weinstein, a regional director for Wentworth Property Management in Hackensack, agrees that a manager's role is vital. In a total window replacement project, a managing agent serves as sort of a project manager. They must coordinate everything that happens on the site, attend job meetings, deploy personnel, get all the approvals and contracts signed, notify and inform the unit owners and act as a liaison with the board or the association. The manager must verify that the hired contractor is fully insured and that his or her methods are in keeping with recommended practices for the building, according to Weinstein.
If the unit owner is personally responsible for doing the window repair or replacement and hires the contractor, there are some basic things to check for. Every contractor must have liability and worker's compensation insurance. Most professionals suggest that you find a reputable window contractor through referral, and check out examples of their past work. Neighbors, supers, window supply vendors, and other contractors you've worked with in the past and have a good relationship with are good sources for this information
The needs of shareholders and association members have an obvious impact on the bottom line of a window project—and those needs can vary greatly, depending on the nature of the community and its architecture. In an urban area, noise will likely be a primary concern for residents. In a development with lots of ground-level units, extra security features may be a priority for new windows.
It's impossible to determine how long it will take to replace windows in an apartment or building, but in general expect it to take two hours to replace each window. To add an interior window probably takes an hour.
And although it may be easier and more comfortable for everyone to avoid doing window replacement jobs during winter months, new windows can be installed anytime during the year.
"There used to be this myth that people didn't do replacement windows during the winter," Skudin says. "Most of our work is done from the interior, so unless there's severe snow that prevents our trucks from going on the road, we're not inhibited by anything."
Researching brands and products on your own isn't necessary; the window company you hire should be able to handle that. "If a company's track record and history is good, that can only help," Skudin concludes, "but more important are the components and the qualities of the actual window itself. If you know what you want, that's more important than saying, 'I've heard of this or that brand name.' Each manufacturer makes different qualities and grades and offers different options. The best advice I can give people is that they seek out a qualified and reputable window company and insist that they use laminated glass; that's really the most significant factor."
Anthony Stoeckert is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to The New Jersey Cooperator.