When it comes to building or renovating, windows are one of the most crucial (not to mention, biggest) investments a homeowner can make. And in a place like Maine, where the climate is as extreme as the views, the decision carries even greater weight. The options in today’s window market may feel endless. But what makes a good window? We asked Pella architectural consultant and recent University of Maine architecture graduate Charissa Randall McCarver to share her insights.
Q: Why are windows one of the most important CHOICES a homeowner can make?
A: The type of windows a homeowner chooses affects the thermal performance of their home significantly. In Maine, the biggest consideration is keeping the most amount of heat in your home during the winter and blocking the most amount of heat in the summer. Maximizing views is essential, maximizing southern sun exposure is necessary, and retaining that heat is key to lowering heating costs. It usually proves smarter for a homeowner to spend a little more money in upfront costs of the windows and later pay much less in maintaining the building’s heating costs.
Q: What role do windows play in architecture in terms of fenestration, natural light, solar gain, etc.?
A: Windows should not be thought of as frames onto the world’s scenery but as a connection to the world itself. If a homeowner wants to feel a connection to their natural surroundings, an occasional hole in the wall will not provide that connection. Window walls and ribbon window configurations create that connection by making the occupants feel as if they are part of and experiencing the outdoor space. Fenestration plays a key role in determining the scale of space, both in and outside a home. Appropriately sizing the windows to match the space, determining site lines, controlling views, and creating a datum line are all roles fenestration can play in architecture. Natural light makes one comfortable in the space one occupies. Natural light also reduces the need for non-natural lighting, once again reducing energy costs. It is important to capture northern light while reducing the amount of heat loss to the north. Equally important is capturing the southern light and heat for Maine’s harsh winters while reducing summer exposure. This is controlled through proper sizing and glazing of windows. Different glazes allow different amounts of solar heat gain into the building while keeping that heat from escaping. A standard low-e glaze will deflect the sun’s summer heat while keeping winter heat trapped in the home. Other glazes allow for more heat and light into the home, trapping it in the building, and can be used for passive heating and lighting applications.
Q: What are the most important factors a homeowner or architect must consider when it comes time to deciding on windows?
A: Thermal performance, size and scale of the building and spaces, natural light, views and site lines, the overall look of the window, how it sheds water outside, the long-term maintenance of the window, and the strength of the material it is made of. It is equally important that the windows are installed correctly with high-quality installation materials (flashing tape, foam, caulk) to ensure proper performance and to maintain the water barrier of the overall structure. They should also consider the level of service provided by the window supplier to give them peace of mind that their investment is protected.
Q: What options does an eco-conscious consumer have these days in terms of windows?
A: There are many more options for an eco-conscious customer these days: Windows with triple panes and foam inserted into the frame cavity, like Pella’s 350 Series, create almost double the standard thermal performance of many windows. Pella manufactures its windows in the United States, keeping the jobs and dollars in the U.S. And Pella is committed to being green, reusing even the smallest bits of wood during the manufacturing process. Wood windows, like those in Pella’s Architect, Proline, and Designer series, are made of the most sustainably replaceable material available. Pella’s Designer Series has the option of adding blinds or shades between the glass, adding to the potential thermal performance by blocking or reducing southern summer sun. It also reduces allergies by containing blinds within the glass that would normally attract allergens and need cleaning. The amount of cleaning chemicals needed to clean normal external blinds is thereby reduced as well.
Q: Are there any common pitfalls homeowners/architects run into when selecting windows?
A: Too often a customer focuses on price alone without considering the long-term effects of an inexpensive window. If it has to be replaced sooner than normal, doesn’t contribute enough to the thermal performance of the home, or is not quite the look the homeowner or architect was originally intending, perhaps the purchase is not as wise as it appears.
Q: What is the back-and-forth like between an architect on a project and someone like yourself?
A: My job is to provide the architect with any information, drawings, and structural details they will need to choose the correct fenestration for their project. I can assist them with suggestions on window combinations, which product has the correct sizes or performance needed for the structure, and positioning of the building on the site. Pella provides value engineering to the architects through our Architectural Services Department. Every architect is different in both their needs and their project’s needs. I truly enjoy the challenge of working on so many varied projects and with so many different people.