Windows 101: We Answer Your Most Essential Questions
Materials, panes, cleaning, and more.
Published Nov 9, 2018 7:30 AM
They say that the eyes are the window to the soul. What they don’t tell you is that your windows are the soul of your home. Good windows are crucial: they ensure a room is bathed in adequate natural light and provide a framework for decorating. No matter your decor style (maybe you’re the no-fuss type with a thing for painted trim, or the dramatic kind that prefers a puddle of drapery), there’s no disguising a poor window job.
Here to address our most common concerns, two seasoned pros from Marvin Windows and Doors—Christine Marvin, director of corporate strategy and design, and Kris Hanson, senior manager of product management—have answered every basic window question we’ve ever had. Like, what exactly is “mullet home”? Or, how do I get rid of distracting streaks? Consider this windows 101: a complete guide to the most underrated part of your home.
What are the different types of windows?
Gliders, awnings, casements—oh my! Windows deserve their own dictionary. To help us navigate this new world of vocabulary, Hanson breaks down the most standard window styles and common terminology.
Awning: These windows have hinges at the top of the frame that allow them to swing upward and outward.
Bay and Bow: Although very similar, bay windows feature a fixed or non-operating center window with venting windows on either side. Bows feature a series of windows connected to create a gentle curve or semicircle.
Casement: Hinged on the side, casement windows can either swing inward or outward, depending on the style you’re looking for. These windows open through the use of a crank or a handle that you lift and push, leading some people to call them “crank windows” or “push outs.”
Corner Window: Occupying the corner of a wall with glass on both sides, this unique architectural accent makes a strong design statement, while also maximizing your view and exposure to natural light.
Direct Glaze: These stationary and non-operating windows feature glass set directly into a frame, providing a large and uninterrupted view of the outside.
Double Hung: One of the most popular types of windows, double hungs have two moveable sashes. Homeowners have the ability to lower the top sash or raise the bottom—or both—to achieve multiple ventilation and privacy options.
Glider: These user-friendly windows slide open from side to side. They are a perfect choice for indoor/outdoor living, as they offer an easy way to pass items from the kitchen to outdoor entertaining areas, and don’t obstruct any walkways when open.
Hopper: Ideal for adding ventilation and light in a lower level or bathroom, this window opens at the top and swings inward to your room.
Round Top: Also known as an arch top window or radius window, this style is rectangular on the bottom and rounded in an arc on top. In addition to making an elegant design statement, a round top window will allow extra light to enter your space.
Single Hung: Although this window may look similar to a double hung window, the top sash doesn’t move—only the lower sash can be opened for ventilation.
Tilt Turn: This window has two ways of opening—both of which use the same handle. It can either tilt into your room from the top (like a hopper window) or swing inward along the side like a door. Its flexibility makes it a great option for multipurpose rooms, balcony access or basement egresses.
Window grids: Also referred to as “grilles” or “divided lites,” these are the thin bars you see dividing windows into various patterns. This creates a beautiful look, but comes at the expense of energy efficiency. Today, you’ll most often see a “simulated” divided lite, meaning one pane of energy-efficient glass with spacer bars and grids that create the appearance of individual glass panes.
Window pane: Commonly confused with sashes (or the operating part of a window that forms the frame that holds panes of glass), window panes (also referred to as glazing) are the actual sheets of glass within a window.
Are there different types of panes?
“Although there are different types of glass you can use—tempered glass, wired glass, water glass—for the average home, the biggest difference to be aware of is how many layers of glass your windows have,” explains Hanson.
Whether you’re in the midst of a taxing renovation or are simply curious how your current windows measure up, it’s important to understand how your panes may (or may not) be insulating your home.
Single-pane windows: These windows feature one layer of glass and are very common in older homes. They may be paired with an additional and removable frame of glass called a storm window, which provides additional insulation and weather protection.
Double-pane windows: Comprised of two sheets of glass, often with argon gas between the layers. These additional layers can help you save on energy costs and boost your home’s protection from the elements.
Triple-pane: Also called tripane windows, these feature three layers of glass with two layers of insulating material, offering enhanced energy performance.
What do people need to consider before choosing windows for their home?
Just as you would with any other major design dilemma (kitchen tiling, hardwood floors, statement lighting), you’ll have to put in the work and research before you go out window shopping. While your budget should certainly be a priority, here are three equally essential factors to consider:
“From a purely aesthetic standpoint, you’ll want to make sure that the style of window and its trim options match the overall look of your home,” suggests Marvin. “For example, a cottage-style home pairs well with traditional double hung windows in a bright and classic white, while a contemporary home may call for the expansive glass of direct glaze windows and scenic doors framed in a bold black.”
That said, don’t be afraid to mix things up! If you live in, say, a historic farmhouse, give your home’s wholesome character a contemporary edge by introducing a glass-dominant rear addition—a blended trend that has earned the endearing term “house mullet.”
No matter what type of windows you choose, you’ll have to be prepared to compromise. While larger panels of glass can infuse a space with natural light and provide uninterrupted views of the outdoors, they may not be the best fit for someone who likes to regularly open their windows for fresh air.
In addition to considering how you use your space, your windows should make sense from a weather perspective as well as a safety standpoint. Homes that are privy to harsh winters, blazing heat, or tropical storms will require windows with stronger performance capabilities.
“You’ll want to make sure you aren’t blocking any exterior walkways or cutting into a patio space once those windows are open. Similarly, you’ll want to consider how a window functions on the interior of your home. For example, a double hung over a kitchen sink might make it difficult to operate, and a window that’s high up and not within easy reach might not need to be operable at all,” explains Marvin.
Window frames come in a variety of shapes and sizes—but, it’s their makeup that really counts.
“The most popular frame materials for windows and doors are vinyl, rolled or extruded aluminum, fiberglass, wood, and wood clad with a more weather-resistant material on the exterior—either rolled or extruded aluminum, fiberglass, or vinyl,” Hanson tells Domino.
While each material has its pros and cons regarding price point, quality, and durability (wood and fiberglass are two resilient options that require a fair amount of upkeep, while vinyl is a less durable, low-maintenance pick that tends toward the cheaper side), it’s important to understand how each one’s inherent performance will affect your space.
How does the quality of a window affect insulation in a home?
The biggest giveaway you’ve invested in bad windows? Take a peek at your utility bill.
“No matter how many panes of glass there are, or what the window might be insulated with, if they’re poorly constructed or improperly installed, your windows will drive up energy costs and possibly cause bigger problems in your home,” shares Hanson.
So how do you know if your windows are up to par? The quality and craftsmanship should be reflected in the product’s energy efficiency and performance ratings. Because every home has different needs when it comes to efficiency (this largely has to do with your local climate and environment), there are certain numbers every window shopper should pay attention to.”
“You want a window with a U-factor under 30,” says Hanson. “U-factors are a measurement of the heat flow from the inside to the outside of your home, and the lower the score, the better your windows performance and insulating capabilities will be.”
Proper installation is also key to keeping soaring utility costs at bay. Amateur renovators: This is not the time to test out your first DIY. Instead, bring in a certified dealer to finish to job.
What’s the best way to clean windows?
Whether you’ve decided to spend the day admiring a budding rose bush in the backyard or spying on your neighbors, an obstructive streak can really put a damper on your plans to longingly gaze. Picking the right windows for your home is one thing—keeping them clean is an entirely different undertaking.
“For the deepest, sparkling clean, soak the glass in a mixture of water and mild soap before scrubbing with a piece of terry cloth,” he suggests. “If you have hardwood floors, you may want to try a citrus-based cleaning product for the interior to avoid any stain-inducing spills. Lastly, to prevent deterioration from dampness—not to mention, the clinging of stubborn little fibers—use newspaper with soy-based ink to wipe both sides of the glass dry.”
Clean your windows top to bottom. It’s best to tackle this chore on a cloudy day as to avoid streaks and drips from the sun. For our type A readers out there, you may want to consider windows with a “wash mode”—a feature option that lets you clean both sides of the glass from the inside of your home. The Marvin Ultimate Casement window, for instance, includes a small button on the arm of the window which will release the frame.
What are the newest window trends worth knowing?
From floor-to-ceiling walls to interior partitions, our need for light and love of glass has meant big things for windows. Architects and industry purveyors are increasingly blurring the lines between high-design and function. Here are three of the latest movements in the window world.
Windows that Boost Natural Light
We spend the majority of our time indoors, so it’s only natural to want to bring outdoor splendor. According to Marvin, that’s why more and more homeowners are designing their spaces around increased access to natural light.
“We’ve seen a significant uptick in the creation of massive window walls where many windows are mulled together to create a wider swath of glass, as well as the use of multiple large scenic doors to connect interior and exterior spaces,” she says.
Move over, high-tech doors and touch screen refrigerators—windows are experiencing a new wave of savvy ingenuity, particularly when it comes to home security.
“Knowing people are always looking for ways to connect their various devices and appliances, we recently launched the Marvin Home Automation Lock Status Sensor. This tiny device is completely concealed within a window or door frame, and integrates seamlessly with almost any home security system to let you know if your windows are open or closed, locked or unlocked to provide peace of mind while you are out or away,” says Marvin.
Interior windows isn’t necessarily a new or groundbreaking concept. However, more homeowners are beginning to push the boundaries of transparency within the home, using glass to recreate the same feeling of a greenhouse.
“This rising trend sees windows and doors being used in the interiors of homes to create transparent rooms-within-rooms,” explains Marvin. “Homeowners are using scenic doors, like the Ultimate Corner Multi-Slide or Ultimate Bi-Fold, to carve out lounge areas, home offices, meditation spaces and personal gyms. Constructing these spaces with large panes of glass maintains connectivity to the larger home and distribution of natural light, while also offering you a sense of escape and increased privacy.”
Suddenly seeing your space a bit more clearly? The view looks infinitely better when you know what you’re getting into.
See more home improvement guides: Read This Before You Pick Out Your Kitchen Counters 10 Paint Mistakes That Make You Look Like a Rookie 7 Things to Know Before You Renovate