This is a guest blog post by Ryan Carey, of My 3 Quotes.
Time for window shopping? Get ready for the product that was absolutely made for the kitchen table sales pitch. Windows are a salesperson's dream, chock full of parts and pieces that can be handed to the homeowner, moving sashes to display operation, and a light kit to show the effectiveness of the new glass, featuring a heat lamp powerful enough to singe your corneas!
Early in my career, a sales manager once told me, "You sell the sizzle, not the steak." Windows certainly have a lot of "sizzle" terms that sound pretty impressive, like Constant Force Balancer, Block and Tackle, Low E, Argon Gas, Krypton Gas, Triple-Fin Nylon Pile Weatherstrip, Warm-Edge Spacer, Neat Glass, Fusion Welded Corners, the list goes on and on... Let's navigate around this "sizzle" and see what actually makes a good "steak" when replacing your windows.
If you decided not to use My 3 Quotes (bad idea) and you are on your third 3-hour window presentation with all of these terms swimming around in your head, how do you know which features are the most important? The one measuring stick that cuts through all of the subterfuge is the window's U-factor. U-factor measures the amount of heat transfer, which tells you how well the window insulates. The lower the number, the better. A U-factor of .30 or less was required on the last round of window tax credits and that is the minimum I would recommend in our Minnesota climate, however, .35 is the minimum Minnesota Energy Code requirement.
Ask for the NFRC sticker verifying the window's U-factor from your contractor. The NFRC is the National Fenestration Rating Council. For those of you who would like to learn a new word, "fenestration" is a term that means "the openings in the walls of a structure." Those openings get filled with windows and doors, thus the NFRC rates windows and doors. Got it? Good. So, if one window has a U-factor of .27 and the other is .34, the .27 is significantly better. But what if the .34 window has "triple fin nylon pile weatherstrip?" It doesn't matter what amazing bells and whistles that window has; it's not as good in the efficiency department, which is one of the main reasons we replace our windows. DECEPTIVE MARKETING WARNING: Some windows have brochures showing windows with really low U-factors, but when you read the fine print, it says that the U-factor is being measured from the center of the glass. The full unit U-factor is the only one that matters, so if a salesperson tells you their double pane window has a U-factor of .23, ask them, "Is that full unit or center of the glass?" The salesperson will then know they are dealing with an educated homeowner that they can't B.S. Tell them what "fenestration" means and they may run out the door!
The glass pack is not the only factor that determines U-factor, but it certainly is the biggest. Most glass packs are double pane, with an air space of anywhere from 1/2" to 1". The panes are attached to each other with a "spacer" that runs around the perimeter, and it is a topic of much discussion in a window presentation. The first spacers were all aluminum and if you have wood windows from the 70's or 80's, chances are you will see the silver aluminum between the glass panes. Aluminum is a huge conductor of heat and cold, so it contributes to the condensation that forms on a window in the winter, especially on the bottom edge where the moisture starts to turn the wood black. No window can completely eliminate condensation in a humid house, but the aluminum spacer makes it that much worse.
Today there are warm-edge spacers, made out of non-conductive foam polymers. This greatly decreases the heat (and cold) transfer along the edges of the glass, cutting down on the amount of condensation. However, keep in mind that new windows sometimes cause condensation for the first time! How can that be? It's because the old windows were so drafty that the moisture simply passed through to the outside. With the tight seals from a new install and new windows, the moisture is better sealed in your house and will condense on the coolest surface, being the glass. You will get less of it with the warm-edge spacer. If you can lower humidity levels in your home, that will also help with the condensation issue.
The other technology that cuts down dramatically on heat transfer and condensation are Low E coatings and Argon gas. Yes, better weatherstripping and improving on the window's draftiness has helped as well. However, the majority of your window is glass, and Low E/Argon filled windows have the most dramatic effect on your windows' efficiency and your energy bills. The '70s, '80s, and most '90s windows simply had two panes of clear glass which is really not much better than a single pane unit with a storm window on the outside. That, along with the aluminum spacer, is why the wood around the glass decayed so quickly.
Low E (which means low emmisivity) is a layer of silver oxide particles in the glass that reflects radiant heat back to its source. Therefore, it bounces heat away in the summer and bounces heat from your furnace back into your house in the winter (as opposed to escaping through the glass). It also filters out around 90% of UV rays, which slows down fading to your wood trim, furniture, flooring, pets, etc...
Argon gas is a very heavy gas that goes between the two panes of glass, making heat transfer even harder. If your house was filled with argon gas, you could walk but it would be like walking through water. Heat transfer requires the molecules between your glass panes to become excited and start spinning around, and the heavy gas makes that more difficult. Krypton gas is also available and even heavier, but it is quite a bit more expensive. In case any arch enemies of Superman are wondering, Kryptonite is not available.
Triple pane windows with Kryton gas can get a window down to a .19 U-factor in some cases. I'm not a huge fan of triple pane because of the extra weight that strains the hardware and the extra opportunity for seal failure. When a glass pack's seal is broken, condensation forms between the panes of glass and you can't get to it to clean it off. However, most glass packs are guaranteed for at least 20 years so if you want to pay the extra for triple pane to get the lowest U-factor, you sure can. For my money, using a double pane window with Low E 366 from Cardinal Glass (which is available through many manufacturers) gives you nearly triple-pane efficiency. Watch the heat lamp demo below (every salesperson's favorite part of the pitch) to see how much better your new windows will perform over your old ones. Every company does some variation of this in your house.
This concludes part 1. In the blogs ahead, we'll talk about the different materials windows are made of; wood, aluminum, vinyl, fiberglass, composite, etc... We'll differentiate between retrofit installs and full frame replacements, and we'll talk about the BIG 3 window manufacturers (Andersen, Marvin, and Pella) and how they differ from their thousands of competitors. What's in a name? Stay tuned!
Author: Ryan Carey has 15 years of experience in exterior remodeling for Twin Cities Homeowners and Property Management Companies. He is the owner of “My 3 Quotes,” a company that provides the free service of collecting 3 competitive home improvement bids for customers. For more information, visit www.getmy3quotes.com for free home improvement estimates.
While having lunch during a recent all-day continuing ed seminar for home inspectors, we home inspectors all did what home inspectors do when they get together; we talked about home inspections. We're out inspecting houses with new clients every day, our wives are tired of hearing about home inspection 'stuff', and we get very little peer interaction unless we participate in online discussion forums.
So anyways, we're talking about home inspection tools. Oh boy, can we talk about tools. I asked one of the guys at my table, a relatively new inspector, about what type of moisture meter he uses. His answer drove me nuts.
"I don't use a moisture meter, because I've heard other home inspectors say that this only increases your liability."
I've heard this repeated by nail-biting home inspectors countless times over the years. I knew exactly what he had heard, but I encouraged him to elaborate.
"If you use a moisture meter to investigate one area but don't use a moisture meter on every wall surface and you end up missing something, you could be held liable for negligence. A prosecutor would say that because you used a moisture meter in one place, you should have used it everywhere."
Sorry, but I don't buy into that. He was given weak advice from a home inspector who spends more time worrying about getting sued than they spend trying to identify problems with a house.
If a home inspector wants to provide a great service to their clients, get referrals, stay busy, and be proud of their work, here's some stuff they ought to do:
If a home inspector advertises that they're going to use a moisture meter on every square inch of the house and then they don't... well, they didn't deliver on their promise and I suppose they might get sued. On the other hand, if a home inspector uses a moisture meter to scan specific areas that they're concerned about and they happen to miss an area that was wet (and I'm sure I've missed hundreds), have they done anything wrong? Lets use a little common sense.
Back to the seminar. I went on a small tirade about all of the above during the seminar lunch, and I convinced my colleague to go get a good moisture meter. He actually sounded relieved and eager to do so. That made my day.
Author: Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections
I still remember when I decided I was done with cold toes; it was about five years ago in January with the high temperature of the day below zero. I had several Truth-in-Sale of Housing Evaluations scheduled back-to-back; all were bank owned properties, and all were unheated.
The thing about unheated houses is that the temperature is much lower inside the house than it is outside. The inside of these houses never sees the sun, and the basements are usually the warmest part because they're somewhat insulated from the cold by the earth. It's weird to experience.
At any rate, my first two inspections were typical run-down single family homes in need of a lot of repair, and my toes froze during each inspection. I just did what I always did before I had super-warm boots; I took my boots and socks off in-between inspections and held my toes up to the heat registers in my truck to un-thaw my toes.
My third inspection that day was a huge run-down duplex that was in especially bad shape. I was only able to get through about half of the inspection before I couldn't take it any more; I had to stop mid-inspection and go out to my truck to un-thaw my toes. As I sat there getting some feeling back into my feet, I thought about how ridiculous it was to waste this kind of time every day, and decided to put an end to all of this silliness by getting some B.A. boots.
I went to REI and bought some Baffin Endurance boots rated to -148°F. They're big and mean looking; enough to scare small kids that are easily scared by big boots. They have big knobby treads on bottom, they're tall enough to get through most snow without getting your pant legs wet, and they have a cinch at the top to keep snow out. Oh, and a carabiner ring with no apparent purpose.
At first when you put your foot into these boots it feels like the boot is too small, but then you realize they're super-padded and super-insulated; they're supposed to feel like that. They're almost too big to drive with, but not quite. It feels great to put these boots on, cinch the top, then go trudging around in deep snow. It's a lot like driving through deep snow in a four-wheel drive truck.
I did a buyers home inspection on an unheated bank-owned property earlier this week, and I was just a little disappointed that there was no snow to trudge through.
In the five years I've had these boots, my feet have never been cold wearing them. These boots are also very rugged; I wore my first pair for a couple of hours every day during the winter for over four years. They're still great boots, but I was quite tough on them and they're not too presentable any more. I got a new pair last year, and I expect them to last for just as long.
I did a little shopping around online while writing this post, and found these boots in stock for $160 at VermontGear.com. They have a women's version available as well. If you're someone who spends a lot of time outdoors during the winter and you don't mind wearing comically oversized boots, get yourself a pair of these.
You'll smile every time you put them on.
Author: Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections
This is a guest blog post by Ryan Carey, of My 3 Quotes.
Having new siding installed is the one chance any homeowner has to completely change the exterior appearance of their house. It’s “Extreme Makeover: Your House Edition.” The fun part comes in the design phase as colors, accents, styles, and profiles are examined.
However, before we dive into the fun stuff, what do we want this siding to be made of? The most popular options are vinyl, steel, and composite materials. Many salespeople that come to your house for a “free in-home estimate” (translation: high pressure sales pitch), will go on to tell you that their product is the best and show you “kill pages” on all the rest.
For example, someone trying to sell you vinyl might show you pictures of all the other types of siding failing miserably: paint peeling off composite material, steel siding rusting and dented, wood-pecker holes in wood siding. Those pitching against vinyl will show pictures of faded, warped, chalky, and cracked vinyl siding.
Every type of siding can be shown as awful by the competition. Now, before you give up and start getting quotes on brick like the third little pig, let’s break this down a little further in the interest of keeping the price from going through the roof.
Not all vinyl is created equally. “Builder-grade” vinyl popped up in many of the neighborhoods being mass built during the building boom. It was lower thickness, faded horribly, cracked easily, and gave vinyl a bad name. Vinyl can still be a great option for a long-term siding solution as long as you go with a minimum .046 thickness. Those panels are considered premium, so not only are they stronger, but they also get treated with much more fade protection. I’m still leery of very dark colors on vinyl; those colors just absorb too much sunlight over time. Using dark colors as an accent in the peaks on the front of the house is OK, and very popular; even better if the front of the house faces north and gets no direct sunlight.
Foam-backed vinyl options are really catching on as they add strength to the panel (no cupping), and they add insulation value. Those panels can come in the popular 6” exposure that composite boards come in. Hollow-backed vinyl typically comes in the narrower 4” or 4.5” exposure. Form-fit foam can be added to those panels for an extra cost.
Vinyl is low maintenance and will never need to be painted. Stick with a premium thickness and you’ll be happy with the results.
Steel is vinyl’s sturdier older brother. PVC coated steel also has premium fade protection with a better result on long-term color retention for darker shades. Insulation can also be added, but typically in a flat foam product since the steel is rigid enough to stay straight on its own without the help of a form-fit foam backer.
I’m not mentioning aluminum as an option because it's almost gone from the marketplace. Steel is an obvious choice over aluminum, which will dent if you look at it wrong. Steel is another great low-maintenance choice with prices only slightly higher than premium vinyl.
Cement composite boards and wood composite boards are extremely popular right now. They have the “traditional” look that many homeowners love. They are leaps and bounds above their predecessor, hardboard (aka - Masonite®). Hardboard siding was basically pressed sawdust and glue, which swelled and fell apart over time as moisture penetrated the panel. The new boards have supreme resistance to moisture and are absolutely included in long-term siding solutions for your home.
James Hardie® is the leading manufacturer of fiber cement siding, and has done an excellent job of making their name synonymous with fiber-cement siding, just like Masonite® did with hardboard siding. The other common type of composite siding is a wood composite, LP Smartside®. These products are visually indistinguishable, and are unquestionably the siding of choice on new high-end homes being built in Minnesota today.
They must be painted, however, and you can choose to have them pre-finished in the factory or have them painted once they are installed. Again, darker colors can fade over time but these panels are made to be repainted. Unlike steel or vinyl, you could completely change your house color down the line without replacing your siding.
The pre-finishing or painting costs will make this siding more expensive than steel or vinyl, but many are willing to take the trade-off for the look they want. There is also the added benefit of putting on a fresh coat of paint years down the line when it is time to sell the house.
There are many happy homeowners with all of the above products, so don’t let any salesperson tell you otherwise. All homeowners can be matched to a product and company that uniquely fits their wants, needs, budget, and design specs. All of the contractors I work with at My 3 Quotes have the ability to superimpose new siding on a picture of your house to help with the visualization. For an unbiased viewpoint on any exterior product, I am always happy to take your calls or e-mails.
Ryan Carey has 15 years of experience in exterior remodeling for Twin Cities Homeowners and Property Management Companies. He is the owner of “My 3 Quotes,” a company that provides the free service of collecting 3 competitive home improvement bids for customers. For more information, visit www.getmy3quotes.com for free home improvement estimates.