Posts Tagged 'windows'

Why Architects Hate Curtains

While researching turn-of-the-century decorating, I came across a chapter on windows in Edith Wharton’s “The Decoration of Houses” that finally put into words what I wished to be able to explain so well. Edith, who became known as an accomplished novelist, began her writing career with this treatise, co-authored with Ogden Codman in 1897. Interestingly, although this book became a manual for interior designers, her position is in support of architecture-as-ornament rather than decoration-as-improvement.

As a normal part of my professional service as a residential architect, I help select everything from doors and windows to tile and carpet.  To me, these items are part of the architecture of the building.   They are as much a part of how the room feels and functions as its size, volume, and orientation.

I do not, however, “do” curtains.  Those, along with movable furnishings, I consider to be the domain of an interior designer, and I limit myself as an advisor to the homeowner and/or their interior designer as to the “jobs” those items have in complementing the architectural style while fulfilling their desired function.

It is true, though, that most architects hate curtains.  Well, certain kinds for certain reasons… and, Edith explains it well:

The “Job” of Windows

  1. …”light-giving is the main purpose for which windows are made…ventilation, the secondary purpose…”
  2. Windows should not be so wide that they are not opened easily.
  3. The height of the window sill should consider both the view, the need for privacy, and whether or not there is a desire to have a piece of furniture, such as a window seat, in front of the window.  Lower sills offer more view, while sills placed at 3′ above the floor afford more privacy from “persons approaching the house”.
  4. Although the sill heights may vary “for practical reasons…the tops of all the windows should be on a level.”
  5. “…the old window with subdivided panes had certain artistic and practical merits…serv[ing] to establish a relation between the inside of the house and the landscape…”

The Purpose of Curtains

  1. “The real purpose of the window-curtain is to regulate the amount of light admitted to the room, and a curtain so arranged that it cannot be drawn backward and forward at will is but a meaningless accessory.”
    blinds down

    These curtains are on rings that slide easily to provide maximum privacy and block window drafts.

    blinds up

    Bottom-up blinds are easy to operate and add privacy while filtering light.

  2. “The better the house, the less need there was for curtains.”
  3. “…the curtain…was regarded as a necessary evil rather than as part of the general scheme of decoration.  The meagerness and simplicity of the curtains in old pictures prove that they were used merely as window shades or sun-blinds.”  (note:  This book was written in 1897 and refers to artistic representations of feudal architecture, such as paintings.)
  4. “Fixed window-draperies, with festoons and folds so arranged that they cannot be lowered or raised, are an invention of the modern upholsterer.   …they have made architects and decorators careless in their treatment of openings.”

Edith’s Preferred Choice, circa 1897

“The solid inside shutter…formerly served the purposes for which curtains and shades are used, and combined with outside blinds, afforded all the protection that a window really requires.  These shutters should be made with solid panels, not with slats, their purpose being to darken the room and keep out hte cold, while the light is regulated by the outside blinds.  The best of these is the old-fashioned hand-made blind, with wide fixed slats, wtill to be seen on old New England houses and always used in France and Italy:  the frail machine-made substitute now in general use has nothing to recommend it.”

paris shutters

Shutters in Paris

In Summary

“…the beauty of a room depends chiefly on its openings, to conceal these under draperies is to hide the key of the whole decorative scheme. …The more architecturally a window is treated, the less it need be dressed up in ruffles.”

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What Everyone Should Know about Windows

Whether you’re building a new house, remodeling, or considering window replacement, windows are an important decision, with a large price tag.  As an architect, I have seen dozens of brands of windows installed and have observed the lifespan and customer service factors as well.  Here is what you need to know in order to make an informed decision about your window purchase.

Lowest to highest price (in general):

  1. aluminum
  2. vinyl
  3. wood – primed interior and exterior
  4. fiberglass
  5. wood – stain-grade interior with primed exterior
  6. metal clad exterior with wood interior

Pro’s:

Aluminum

  • narrow frame
  • modern look
  • “no maintenance” finish

suggested brands- Marlin

Marlin aluminum windows

Marlin aluminum windows, interior

marlin2

Marlin aluminum windows, exterior

Vinyl

  • “no maintenance”
  • more energy efficient than aluminum
  • inexpensive

suggested brands- Marvin, Pella, Andersen

Wood

  • historic look
  • material is insulative
  • paintable
  • less expensive than some fiberglass windows and all metal-clad windows

suggested brands- Marvin, Lindal, Cherry Creek, Pella, Andersen

Fiberglass

  • paintable, or can leave exterior and interior unpainted for “no maintenance”
  • some are insulated
  • material is dimensionally stable, meaning that it doesn’t expand and contract with temperature changes as much as vinyl

suggested brands- Marvin, Pella, Andersen

Metal Clad Wood

  • “no maintenance” exterior
  • option for primed or stain-ready interior
  • finish weathers well, even in marine exposures
  • return on investment (when compared to painted windows, the price gap is closed after only one re-paint)
  • some brands are susceptible to fading of coating on exterior

suggested brands- Marvin, Loewen, Pella

loewen2

Loewen metal-clad windows

Con’s:

Aluminum

  • not recommended for painting
  • same color exterior and interior
  • most brands do not meet current minimum energy code requirements in Washington
  • some units are not “thermally broken” – meaning that the metal conducts heat and can contribute to condensation
  • some brands/lines have not undergone technological advancement since the 60’s and are still on the market
  • some metals are incompatible with others, and this must be taken into account if you will have other metals in direct contact

Vinyl

  • limited color choices – mostly white and putty
  • not paintable
  • same color interior and exterior
  • material is not as dimensionally stable, meaning that it will expand and contract with temperature changes more than some other materials

Wood

  • more maintenance – need to repaint every 5-7 years in the Pacific Northwest region
  • stain-grade interiors and exteriors are more expensive
  • energy code compliant units typically have vinyl tracks or seals, which are not visually desirable for some applications

Fiberglass

  • same color inside and outside, unless you paint one or the other

Metal Clad Wood

  • higher price

Understanding the Technology

Some basic information about types of windows and doors can be found here:

Window and Door Manufacturer Association, “Window FAQ” and “Door FAQ”

Currently, the Washington State Energy Code requires that windows have a U-value of 0.35 or better if following the prescriptive path of compliance, meaning that the percentage of windows is not limited as long as the U-value meets or exceeds the minimum requirement.

A window’s U-Value is representative of the window’s resistance to heat flow, and the lower the number the better the insulating value. This is the criteria that retailers highlight the most, but it is not a comprehensive evaluation of the window’s performance.  It is also important to know that different operations of windows will have different U-values.  Although one manufacturer’s fixed window may meet the minimum code-required U-value, it’s operable units may not.  This does not necessarily mean that you will not be able to use them, but it does make it more difficult to achieve and demonstrate compliance.  More information about selecting energy efficient windows in Washington can be found here:

Efficient Windows Collaborative, “Fact Sheet: Selecting Energy Efficient Windows in Washington,” Sept. 2007.

National Fenestration Rating Council, “Questions About Buying New Energy Efficient Windows?”, Nov. 2002.

You should also be considering window’s structural performance rating, particularly if your house is exposed to high wind speeds and/or driving rains. The structural performance rating is a measure of the amount of air pressure, or wind load, a window can resist before failing.  Homes with significant exposure would benefit from a higher than minimum structural performance rating, as those windows are more resistant to wind-blown water intrusion.

The different structural classifications are defined and certified by the American Architectural Manufacturer’s Association.  To read more, visit www.aamanet.org and review their brochure.  More information about the values associated with the ratings can be found here:

Excerpt from the AAMA/WDMA/CSA “Standard/Specification for windows, doors, and skylights”

Proper Installation is Vital

Consider your windows as important to your home’s health as the condition of your roof.  Windows should be installed by qualified contractors, able and willing to identify and remedy any rot and flashing issues.  You should anticipate and budget funds beyond the quoted cost of the windows and simple installation to be able to correct any deficiencies that are discovered as well as replace interior trim and casings, repaint, and/or touch-up drywall.

“Replacement windows” are NOT the same as replacing windows with new units that have a nail flange and are properly flashed. You may be better off keeping your old windows and considering ways to reduce infiltration, rather than allowing “replacement windows” to be set into a bead of caulk which will be prone to failure.