A lot of people don't think twice about their homes' windows—as long as you can see through them and get some air and natural light, what's left to think about? But windows are structural openings after all, and without proper installation and maintenance, they can be a silent enemy of household comfort. No matter how hard your furnace or air conditioner might be working, a compromised window can leave you exposed to the elements—and paying way too much on those energy bills.
Anyplace there are connections in a building’s envelope, whether they are seams in the roofing material, the area where a window penetrates the structure, or elsewhere, there is the potential for that connection to break or wear down. Windows are a frequent spot where the weatherproof seal fails, but knowing the signs of deterioration can tip both residents and building staff off before a minor fix becomes a major problem.
Sometimes windows just need to be replaced outright, especially if they are outdated and no longer perform their function well. But how do you tell? With a bit of knowledge, co-op and condo residents can be aware of the money being saved or lost as a result of the type of windows they have, and can plan accordingly.
As far as windows are concerned, New Jersey's diverse housing stock runs the gamut. Many older high-rise buildings in New Jersey’s Gold Coast area have large single-glazed windows, with small operable portions at the bottom for ventilation, or curtain wall window systems. Other Garden State condo buildings are low-rises between two and eight stories, many of which have double-hung windows.
Windows in low-rise buildings often can be improved with new vinyl or aluminum replacement window frames. Due to the robust competition between manufacturing companies, the cost of those windows is relatively low and replacement is a fairly straightforward process that doesn’t create major disruptions for residents. Residents should check their governing documents or with the manager to see if replacing windows is their responsibility or the association board.
It might get a little more complicated when it comes to historic or landmarked buildings in places like Hoboken and Jersey City. If your building is a designated landmark or is located in a historic district, often special permits and clearances must be secured from the municipality or local landmarks commission in order to legally carry out exterior work, and there are frequently strict guidelines as to what worn-out architectural elements may be replaced with, so as to not compromise the historic look of the facade. These buildings generally have the old-school double-hung windows and large wood-frame picture windows that cannot just be replaced with an off-the-shelf prefabricated unit.
Windows like these have to be restored while maintaining the woodwork, replacing the glass with custom manufactured modern insulated glass units, and in many cases installing replicas of original hardware. Replacement elements don't necessarily have to use the same materials as the historic originals—oftentimes it's more economical and energy-efficient to use modern vinyl or aluminum replicas, as long as their design and outside appearance are the same as the old windows you replaced.
“The average consumer doesn't realize the complexity of all of the components that make up a window,” says John Hufcut, owner of Windows and Doors, Inc. in Wayne, “particularly the areas that have to be addressed for historical landmark applications. In order to go through that process quickly and accurately, they really have to go with someone with many years of experience.”
Aside from aesthetic issues, energy efficiency standards continue to rise almost with each passing year, and historical restoration projects are no exception. The largest window manufacturers have come up with ways to keep up with federal and state guidelines while maintaining an architectural space’s integrity. “The manufacturers have to make sure their weather strippings are concealed, so it appears as though it's older, and the balance mechanism that supports the weight of the sash is concealed,” says Hufcut. “In older windows there were no balances, or they were hidden. At first glance, the [new] windows look as though they're a hundred years old.”
Experts also recommend applying temporary, removable caulking to weatherize windows before winter. The material allows the sealing of all gaps and openings to prevent cold air infiltration, and is then easily removed from the windows in the spring to allow them to open and close again. The process must be repeated each year.
Any time of year is good for installing windows, though in late fall, winter and early spring, the process could be inconvenient for residents, and inclement weather conditions can slow down the pace of the project. That being said, some replacement methods don't require the removal of the existing glass, and those companies can install their window weatherproofing materials and components in the dead of winter without much disruption.
Materials commonly used to improve efficiency of windows include double- or triple- glazing, utilizing Low-E, and filling the gap between doubled panes with a heavy gas, such as argon, to improve insulation. Applying solar film to existing glazing will eliminate most ultraviolet radiation and prevent hardwood floors, wallpaper, carpeting and furniture from fading. “There's so many different types of coatings that are available, and the window already comes with it right from the factory,” says Hufcut.
In some cases, a window contractor can customize their designs to to match nearly any architectural style, says Stacy Einck, a spokesperson for Andersen Windows, in Saint Paul, Minnesota. To prepare a building’s windows for the winter, experts recommend that the property manager provide cheap solutions to all unit owners in the form of either a pre-winter newsletter addressing the topic, or through a meeting with unit owners and representatives from firms providing these types of services. Teaching unit owners about simple measures like the application of removable caulking, installation of new weatherstripping and repairing hardware, can help a lot.
Knowing when to replace your windows isn't always as obvious. If your home is 15 years or older it's a good time to check and make sure your windows are still operating efficiently. If you have trouble opening or closing your windows, or the glass fogs up from the inside of double pane windows, chances are they need to be replaced. Obviously, air and water leakage into the home through the windows also is another indicator that replacement is needed.
Repairing vs. Replacing
Sometimes, a resident can get a few more years out of their windows, which can be a good thing, especially if the building doesn't have the money to replace them. A treatment that retrofits old single-pane windows to make them double- or triple-pane windows is one way to get the most out of a window without replacing it (and cheaper than replacement, too). Andersen offers ways to convert older windows to newer models. “Installation is quick and the results are fantastic. Conversion kits install easily with less mess than ordinary window replacement. Plus, it matches your existing window inside and out and is backed by our full warranty,” Einck says.
Maintaining windows so that they perform well is important for both comfort and energy efficiency. But another aspect of window upkeep often is forgotten by residents: installing window guards.
Many high rises in New Jersey require window guards for safety, but it varies by municipality. “There are codes where [guards] have to be used, and some use them even though they're not required,” says Hufcut. “Some are mounted to brick outside the window, and lots of times those will stay right in place [even though residents may move.]”
Annually, 2.3 million children aged 14 and younger require emergency room care for fall-related injuries, according to the National Safe Kids campaign. Industry experts say the best course is to be safe and install the guards in windows in co-op apartments or condo units in which children age 10 or under live or visit. “I’ve had plenty of people ask for window guards even though they don’t have kids,” says Josh Koppel, president of HSC Management, a property management firm based in the Bronx, New York.
Installing window guards where needed is one thing. Keeping them intact is another. Residents should keep an eye on their window guards and have them checked by the superintendent or in-house maintenance staff, or replaced if they are damaged and don’t work properly.
In New York City, where window guards are serious business to city officials, some buildings keep a stockpile of new window guards on hand to install for residents.
No matter whether you live in a historic building or a brand-new high-rise, keeping your windows properly sealed and weatherproofed is key to both energy efficiency and resident safety.
Jonathan Barnes is a freelance writer and a regular contributor to The New Jersey Cooperator.
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