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What to know when shopping for windows

Updated on June 11, 2015

Beautiful Bow Window


Type and style of Window

What type of window - Double Hung, Single Hung, Casement, Awning, Gliding, Picture window, Bay and Bow window units, octagon or specialty shapes.

Material window core is made from - Wood, Vinyl, aluminum, Fiberglass or a Fiberex composite

Aluminum windows fast becoming obsolete these days. They can still be purchased, but not as easy to find as they once were.

Wood windows normally are vinyl or aluminum clad on the exterior and either clear wood or also clad on the interior.

Vinyl windows are not produced in as many colors as wood, fiberglass or Fibrex. Often they can be ordered to size at no additional charge and the least expensive windows on the market.

Fiberglass windows are not as common as you may think, but can be well made and come in many colors and styles.

Fibrex or composite windows are high end windows are out perform all other materials. They can come in many color choices and hold dark colors the best without fading. They are virtually maintenance free, as are vinyl windows..


No standard window sizes.

There is no standard sizes for windows like there is for doors. Most windows are different sizes. Window manufacturers make a range of sizes and some windows are ordered to custom sizes within a specific range.

Some manufacturers offer custom sizes up to 101 UI (united inches) for the same price. United inches = width plus length. Windows and doors are always measured width first by height. A window 30" x 48" means 30" wide and 48" high and may be called either a model 3648 or model 3040 (3'0"/4'0"), if the window is mass produced and sold at that size. Wood windows are many times manufactured to only certain sizes. Vinyl windows can usually be ordered to any size within a range of max widths and heights.

Windows can be ordered with grills to make it appear as a series of smaller windows. Grills can be ordered several ways. Between the panes of glass for easy cleaning, permanently on the outside and inside of the glass. Or snap on grills for the inside, with or without permanent grills on the outside of the glass.

Egress fire code measures 5.7 square feet of glass to allow a person to exit through the window during a fire. Egress is measured by adding the width and height of unobstructed glass together to find the sum of square feet. In Egress measures you do not count the grills, just the overall glass of the window sash.

Vinyl Double Hung windows


Types of windows

Double Hung windows are the classic rectangular window with both the top sash and bottom sash operating. The best of these windows will tilt inward for easy cleaning.

Single Hung window appear the same as double hung, but only the bottom sash will operate and may also tilt inward for easy cleaning.

Casement windows will crank out and to the side, either right or left swing. They are viewed from the outside of the house to decipher right or left hinged.

Awning windows also crank, but open upwards and towards the outside.

Hooper windows open inward and down and are usually used in garages or basements.

Sliding or gliding windows slide to the side and are viewed from the outside to decide the direction of operation.

Octagon windows can be either operating or stationary.

Specialty shapes can be custom designed and can be almost any shape imaginable These windows are very expensive and also can be very beautiful in many different sizes and dimensions.

Jalousie windows have vertical louvers that open. They were popular in the Northeastern US back in the 1960s and 1970s. These windows are virtually impossible to get in the eastern US. They are still available in a few western and mid-western states.


My personal favorite window is Andersen brand.

5 stars for Andersen Windows

Bay and Bow windows

Bay windows are usually a stationary picture window in the center with two or more flanking windows each side. The flankers are usually double hung windows or casements, but could potentially be a specialty shape or different type of window. The flankers are normally aligned at 30 degrees, or 45 degrees from the center window. The center window can also be an operating window, but usually is not. There is also a box bay with the flankers aligned at 90 degrees from the center window.

Bow windows are a set of several windows placed on an angle of 10 degrees and can be three or more windows in a single unit. It is possible to custom create a bow unit to a different degree, but normally they just adjust the size of each window to project the bow out further.

These types of windows can be combined with specialty shapes or other types of windows to create a beautiful atmosphere in your house. These units can be very heavy and difficult to install, it is wise for at least two to three people to work together when installing these types of window units.

These types of projecting windows will come with a custom made roof to cover the unit, unless they are installed under a portion of the house roof. They also come with seat board custom designed from several types of wood or materials to add beauty and function.

Casement windows

Beautiful Arch top twin casement with grills.
Beautiful Arch top twin casement with grills. | Source

Glass insulating factors - Low-E glazing

Glazing is the type of glass on the window and regulates its insulation factors, tint, etc. Low- E means low-emissive glass and is glass treated with invisible microscopic particles of silver or a metal oxide coating applied to the glass that reflects heat back to its source, while allowing light to pass through. low-E reflects heat back to its source and can be applied as several coats, such as low-e3. In the winter low-e reflects heat back into the house and in the summer it reflects it back outside towards the sun.

Each surface of glass can be applied with low-e glazing giving up to four coats of low-e on standard dual pane window glass. The first coat is applied on the outside surface of the glass. The second and third coats are facing each other in between the panes of glass. The fourth coat is applied on the surface of the glass facing inside the house. So obviously the first three coats of low-e are most important, the fourth coat inside the house is just an added insulation factor. Obviously on triple pane windows there can be more coats of low-e added. But, we must ask ourselves when does it become over-kill and just a marketing ploy? I would think three coats of low-e is sufficient, as the fourth coat borders on a needless expense unless you live in an area with extreme cold or heat.

There is also window glass manufactured by Andersen called SmartSun is has the best overall ratings of all their glass. This glass has better ratings than Low-E4 and also has ultraviolet protection to keep your furniture and carpet from fading without any visible tint in the glass. Personally I am a big fan of Andersen products and their SmartSun glass.

In southern or very warm climates there may also be a need for what Andersen calls Sun Glass which is designed to block heat caused by the sun and called solar heat gain coefficient. This glass blocks heat very well, but has a slight tint. and so is mostly only used where needed. All of these types of glass are used both in windows and patio doors.

Windows can also be order with tinted glass of various colors and tempered glass to help avoid harm in the event the glass breaks.

Energy Rating label

Photo of American Craftsman vinyl double hung window
Photo of American Craftsman vinyl double hung window | Source

Energy or performance ratings label on windows

ER - Energy rating used in Canada for product comparison. Higher numbers mean better ratings.

U-Factor indicates how well the product prevents heat loss. Lower numbers are better.

Visible Transmittance refers to how much visible lights shines through the glass. The closer to 1.0 the more light is transmitted.

WDMA Hallmark Certification verifies the performance of this window was tested by a third party laboratory.

Energy Star climate zone map is based on U-fator and solar heat gain coefficient for specific Energy Star climate zones within the US and Canada. Shading of map shows which climate zones a particular product and glass type is Energy Star qualified in. Energy Star can be used for tax purposes in the US.

Solar Heat Gain Coefficient measures how well a product blocks heat caused by sunlight. The lower the number the more it will help reduce the use of air conditioning in summer time.

PG is performance grade signifies glass strength in a storm.

DP is design pressure also signifies glass strength.

This white label will be stuck onto the glass of a new window. It may also appear on the outside of the box the window is packaged in.

© 2015 Randy Hirneisen


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