Category: Doors & Windows

Bob Vila Radio: Storm Doors

Storm doors offer everything from exterior door protection to insulation and security. Consider the range of styles available today.

Storm doors are the unsung heroes of our entryways. They protect our exterior doors from the weather and add a layer of insulation in the winter. In summer months, their screens let in cool breezes. And year-round, a locking storm door offers a little extra security.

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Listen to BOB VILA ON STORM DOORS or read the text below:



Most storm doors these days are made from aluminum, fiberglass, or vinyl. Wood doors offer a nice period touch, but beware—they’re bears to maintain. In general, look for smooth hinge operation, sturdy construction, and welded corners in metal and vinyl doors.

Before you shop for a new door, figure out the appropriate size for your opening and which side your door needs to be hinged on. Storm doors are usually hinged on the same side as the entry door, but in some cases doing so would create an awkward traffic pattern. Evaluate your entry layout and choose accordingly.

Then consider your design options. Full-view doors have a large window panel, so they’re great for showing off an entry door, but you’ll need to switch out the entire glass panel for a screen in warmer months.

Ventilating storm doors have a smaller opening with glass panels that slide up or down to reveal the screen. Some designs have retractable screens that roll down when the top glass panel is lowered.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 75 stations around the country (and growing). You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.

Entryway Blues? 5 Ways to Dress Up Your Front Door

Your front door is the centerpiece of your house. If it's more lackluster than blockbuster, consider one of these five easy updates.

Front Door Updates - Exterior

Therma-Tru Entry Doors

Ostensibly, a home’s front door is there for one reason and one reason only: to let people come and go while keeping the inside environment secure and separate from the outside. But a front door is so much more than that. It is often the first thing that draws the eye of a passerby or visitor. It also sets the style and mood of your home, welcoming guests with an air of elegance, friendliness, whimsy, or warmth.

If your front door is not setting the tone you want, here are some fun, easy, and rewarding upgrades to make it the arresting centerpiece it deserves to be.

1. Decorate It
There are nearly limitless possibilities for decorating your front door. You could simply paint it a different color (or colors), hang a wreath on a nail in the center, or add a dramatic house number above or to the side of it. Other options include installing long shutters on either side, or adding a playful, historic, or decorative specialty door knocker. Online retailer Architectural Depot sells a wide range of knockers, from chili peppers to poodles, that are sure to make you smile when you come home at the end of a long day.

2. Replace It
A study commissioned by door manufacturer Therma-Tru found that replacing a home’s front door can increase the perceived value of the home. In the study, enhancing an entryway upped a home’s perceived value by as much as five times the cost of the new door.

When replacing your door, don’t think only about swapping one door out for another—although even that switch could dramatically increase the appeal of your entrance. Instead, look to enlarge the entryway by installing a door with windows to either side or above it. This adds a sense of grandeur to the front of the house and creates a more pleasant atmosphere inside, thanks to the added natural light.

Front Door Updates - Outdoor Wall Sconce

Arroyo Craftsman Mission Outdoor Wall Sconce.

3. Light It Up
If you don’t already have lights at your front door, installing them can be a big presentation booster. If you do have lights, consider replacing them to update the look of your entry. Wall sconces are available in myriad designs, from traditional lanterns to sleek modern steel models; you can find thousands of sconces at online retailer Destination Lighting. If you have a porch, install a hanging fixture to cast a welcoming pool of light at the front door. Finally, to add dramatic flair, place outdoor spotlights on the ground and aim them at the door so that it can truly take center stage.

4. Add Planters
One of the quickest ways to enhance your entryway is to set a planter containing a variety of different colored and textured plants and flowers on either side of the door. You can create a Old World look with vase-like cement planters, go Zen with simple geometric glazed pots, or strike a whimsical note with old tin or wooden buckets. A common approach is to place a tall plant, such as a grass, in the center of the pot, then surround it by a low-grower like ivy. If you live in a cold climate, after the growing season has passed, use the planters to display seasonal decor, such as pumpkins for Halloween or painted white branches with twinkle lights for Christmas.

Front Door Updates - Video Doorbell

VTech's 2-Handset Audio/Video Doorbell

5. Go High Tech
The front door isn’t necessarily the most technologically advanced part of the house, but with the new IS7121-2 Audio/Video Door Answering System, a doorbell and phone combo from VTech, you can change that. You simply install a doorbell module beside the front door, then indoors, plug in the two video phone receivers wherever you’d like. When someone rings the doorbell, the module automatically snaps his picture and sends it to the handset. You can then choose to stream video and have a conversation with the visitor, or go answer the door in person, or—if you’re not feeling very social—pretend you’re not home. The system stores up to 100 images, so at the end of the day or a week later, you can review who’s stopped by.

As a phone, the IS7121-2 includes Voice Announce caller ID, HD audio, speakerphone, last 10 number redial, caller ID for both the current call and call waiting, and many other features. It’s a system that’s sure to banish the phrase “dumb as a doornail” forever!

While style and budget will be considerations, any improvement you can make to your home’s most prominent feature is certain to be worth the investment of time and money.  Remember, your front door sets the first and last impression of anyone you comes knocking.


This post has been brought to you by VTech.  Its facts and opinions are those of

Use Awnings to Reduce Energy Costs in Summer

Reduce air conditioning costs, and beautify your home exterior in the bargain, by adding fixed, retractable, or portable awnings to your windows.


Homeowners looking to reduce air conditioning costs and shield interior furnishings from the sun’s harsh glare may want to consider adding awnings.

Fixed or retractable awnings can significantly reduce a home’s air conditioning usage in the summer, saving an estimated $200 or more annually, according to a study from the Professional Awning Manufacturers Association (PAMA).

“The sun’s rays through glass are responsible for almost 20% of the load on your air conditioner,” says Michelle Sahlin, managing director of PAMA. “Awnings reduce direct solar gain through windows.” The study found that awnings not only save money for homeowners but also contribute to a reduction in demand for energy, making them an environmentally responsible choice for homeowners concerned about greenhouse gas emissions.

Related: Beat the Heat with These 10 Cool Outdoor Umbrellas

“People don’t realize that there are more eco-friendly ways to stay cool,” points out Byron Yonce, chairman of PAMA. “While turning up the air conditioner results in higher energy bills, awnings and shades work with the air conditioner to keep your home cooler and reduce the need for additional energy.”

The American Society of Heating and Air Conditioning Engineers recommends that homeowners use “optimized and/or moveable external shading devices, such as overhangs, awnings, and side fins” to minimize a building’s heat load. A fabric awning reduces heat gain by 55% to 65% during those hours when the sun shines directly on southern-facing windows or glass doors. That figure jumps to between 72% and 77% for western exposures.

Photo: awninginfo.cocm

Several different types of awnings are commonly available, including portable, fixed, and retractable designs. One important benefit of the latter is that they can fold up in winter, allowing the sun’s rays to penetrate through windows and glass doors, reducing energy usage by contributing to the temperature indoors.

Some retractable awnings are motorized and can be retracted or extended with the push of a button. Manual styles use a simple pulley-and-cord system. Most awnings have variable settings, so they can be opened partially, fully, or halfway.

Awnings can be aesthetically pleasing, especially as homeowners may choose among an array of fashionable fabrics (woven, coated, laminated and mesh) and trendy colorations (solids, stripes, and patterns).

Most awning fabrics are treated with water-repellent, plus soil- and stain-resistant finishes. Some are treated with a flame retardant. Awning frames are typically constructed of either galvanized steel or aluminum.

If you are looking to cut down on air conditioning costs and beautify your home’s exterior, add an awning… and beat the heat!

Replacement Windows 101

If you are thinking about new windows, here's everything you need to know from glazing options to installation requirements.

Replacement Windows

. Photo: Andersen Windows

Windows come in all styles, types, shapes and sizes, but unless you’re building a new house, all of the above are largely predetermined. There are of course some exceptions. Perhaps a previous homeowner replaced the original windows with units that are historically inappropriate or inferior. (Today, historic window styles are readily available from manufacturers like Andersen.) Or maybe you’re adding a family room at the back of the house, where it would be okay to deviate from the double hung windows in the front; in this situation, you might decide to use casements. Sometimes a homeowner will want to increase or decrease the size of the window being replaced, but if you’re like most homeowners, the real decisions will have more to do with energy-saving features and ease of maintenance.

Replacement WindowsWINDOW GLAZING
With regard to energy saving, the first thing to focus on is glazing. Efficient windows typically have two layers of glass and are called dual-pane or double-pane. The small gap between the glass layers creates a barrier to heat flow, which may be enhanced with an additional layer of glass (two separate insulating chambers), in which case it’s called triple-glazed. The gap or gaps between layers of glazing are often filled with a gas that further reduces heat flow by conduction. Argon and Krypton, or a combination thereof, are commonly used gas fills.

Reflective films, tints, and low-emittance (low-E) coatings are some of the other ways window manufacturers are improving window performance. Reflective films block much of the radiant energy striking a window—keeping occupants cooler—but they also block most of the visible light. In addition to giving windows a mirror-like appearance, they often cause occupants to use more electric lighting to compensate for the loss of daylighting. Bronze- and gray-tinted glass reflect radiant energy and reduce cooling loads without reducing as much the visible light entering the home. A visual transmittance (VT) of 60% (versus 90% for clear glass) is common.

Replacement WindowsLow-E coatings are more versatile than either reflective films or tints and are virtually invisible. Microscopic metal or metallic oxide particles suppress radiant heat flow out of the window and can be formulated to allow varying degrees of solar radiation in. In climates where heating is the dominant concern, low-E coatings may be used to prevent radiant heat transfer out of the house while allowing high solar heat gain. In climates where both heating and cooling are required, low-E coatings can reduce radiant heat loss while allowing moderate heat gain. In climates where the dominant concern is cooling, low-E coatings are primarily used to reduce solar heat gain. It’s even possible to fine-tune solar heat gain by choosing a low-E coating with a high solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC) for south-facing windows and a lower coefficient for other orientations.

The material with which the window frame is built will also significantly affect its efficiency. Insulation-filled vinyl frames and fiberglass perform better than wood, wood-clad, and vinyl that is not insulated. Aluminum and steel perform worse than any of the above.

There are three approaches to window replacement: sash-only, insert windows, and full-window replacements.

Sash-only replacement kits include new sash and jamb liners for improved operation. They are easy to install but should only be used in windows that are otherwise in good condition.

Retrofit windows (also called inserts) fit inside the existing window frames. Only the window stops and old sashes need to be removed. Existing moldings, inside and out, are not affected. Installing inserts is only an option if the old window frame is in good shape, rot-free, and square.

Related: Know Your Window Styles: 10 Popular Designs

Inserts can be installed with less labor, less cost, and less mess than full-frame replacements. They are normally custom-built to the exact sizes of your openings and to match the angle of your existing sill. The advantage of retrofit windows is that they are available with tilt-in cleaning.

Full-window, also known as full-frame, replacements typically require the removal of the entire existing window, including the casings, frame, sash, and exterior trim. This method can be used to correct situations where the old window frame has deteriorated, is out of square, or when a different window style or size is desired.

While full-frame replacements involve more labor, cost, and disruption, they will allow you to better insulate around the window frame, a common location of energy leakage. With the trim removed, you can spray closed-cell foam insulation between the window frame and the studs. Full-frame window replacements can usually be done with standard window sizes but can also be custom ordered. Another bonus: With full-frame replacements as opposed to insert replacements, no glazing area is lost.

There are several benefits to replacing old windows with new energy-efficient ones, but don’t expect dramatic reductions in your heating bill. Most replacement windows have R-values of 4 or 5 compared to 2 for single-glazed with a storm window. Given that the window area is a fraction of the overall wall area, it would make more sense to first invest in attic and wall insulation, weatherstripping, and sealants such as caulking, duct mastic, or even insulating window treatments. In all likelihood, more heat enters and/or escapes from your home through attic floors, attic hatches, recessed light fixtures, fireplaces, and other penetrations in the envelope of your house than through your windows.

Wood windows that have deteriorated due to water infiltration and rot are prime candidates for replacement. Or perhaps your windows no longer operate properly, and it will be expensive to repair them. You may also want to upgrade your windows to make maintenance easier. It’s no fun to climb on ladders to wash window exteriors, but today’s new window designs enable you to access exterior glazing from inside your home. Aesthetics can be a factor in window replacement, too. Many homes of historical note have been marred by the installation of inappropriate window styles and storm windows. Replacing them with storm-less windows of the right style will improve the look and value of your home.

What style of window are you considering? For a look at the 10 most popular choices, click here.

Use Windows to Beat the Heat

Window layout is key to taking advantage of views and minimizing monthly utility costs.

Window Layout


Windows bring views, comfort, ventilation, and energy efficiency to a home. Windows also bring large solar heat gains and kick the cooling system into overdrive, not to mention the damaging UV rays that fade furniture, draperies, and rugs. Whether a home is designed to fit your dream site or you are working with a builder to select the best options for a neighborhood home, increased energy efficiency and reduced heating and cooling costs can be achieved by carefully planning window placement.

Protecting against the sun makes big dollar sense. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, an average household spends over 40 percent of its total annual energy budget on heating and cooling costs. In South Florida, consumers may spend that much on cooling costs alone. These costs can be reduced by 15 percent on average just by switching to energy-efficient windows and planning for window placement, shading, and ventilation.

Which Way to Turn
First and foremost, homeowners need to pay attention to which direction their home is facing. The angle of the sun in the summer and the length of direct exposure are extreme on eastern- and westward-facing sides of the home.

California-based energy expert Steve Easley explains how to avoid that beating sun, all while understanding that no one wants a blank wall with no windows. “Orient your glass so that it faces south,” Easley says. “The sun is higher in the summer, so it hits the glass at less of a direct angle. Also avoid large amounts of glazing on the east and west faces where the sun will heat it at a direct angle for long periods of time.”

For a hot-climate home, battling the sun and controlling cooling costs are the critical focus for design and energy calculations. In some areas of the country, design reviews and approvals focus on a building’s ability to control solar heat gain. Progressive review boards want to know the impact of solar heat gain on cooling loads, or how much energy it takes to reduce a home’s temperature. These boards require strategies for reducing heat gain without overly consumptive energy use. Controlling energy use in hot climates means controlling heat gain.

“When we created the Palm Springs EnergyWise House, we designed first for the views,” says Dennis Cunningham, a builder at Palm Springs Modern Homes, “then we did the calculations to see if we could make it work. We were lucky with this project that the views were north-northwest. As a result, we don’t get any beating sun.”

Avoiding Heat Buildup
Solar heat gain is the biggest energy enemy in homes throughout the country. Better to place picture windows, sliding doors, and soaring Palladian windows facing north and south than suffer the extreme heat gain large that windows looking east and west will bring. For a home in a northern climate, this approach has a secondary benefit in that south-facing windows will draw direct, home-warming rays during the winter. No matter where a house is located, good window planning focuses on controlling solar heat gain during the summer months. If that same control can bring added warmth in the heating season, consider it a bonus.

Easley uses a single-pane sliding-glass door as an example of how glass selection and placement can impact a home’s cooling load and energy use. Direct sun on glass will generate 250 Btu per square foot of glazing an hour, the same unit of measurement used to gauge a furnace’s output.

For an average 6-foot by 7-foot sliding glass door, that makes 10,000 Btu an hour from the door alone. It would take nearly one ton of air conditioning power to compensate for this heat increase. Since an average home uses three tons of air conditioning per hour, the slider would be using one third of that cooling energy per hour. Solar heat gain happens everywhere, Easley points out. “Even in the Midwest you can still have air conditioning bills that cost as much as your heating bill, so never underestimate the impact of your glass,” he says.

Design Solutions
Take measures to reduce solar heat gain in the summer. First, create shade wherever possible and provide overhangs for windows that receive great amounts of direct light in the summer. “Out here we need to avoid the western beating sun,” Cunningham says. “The western sun here is such a glaring, heating, candle-melting sun that it burns up the furniture inside, fades it.”

To compensate, Cunningham and architect Dan Thornbury faced the EnergyWise House to the north, with its side angled to the northwest, which allowed the home to cast its own shade on the east- southeast side of the home. Thornbury placed a stair tower on the west-facing facade, which is peppered with a mix of various sized windows to provide teaser views of the mountains without added glass and the accompanying heat gain. A number of the small stair-tower windows are also operable and function to provide ventilating cross breezes when the pocket doors are thrown open to the east.

Smart Windows
Another way to cut the solar heat gain from windows is to install high-efficiency coated windows that are designed to block heat transfer in the winter and the summer. Selecting a double-paned, low-e coated glass unit can save hundreds of dollars on yearly utility bills. Moving to a spectrally selective low-e glass in a double-paned insulated glass unit (IGU) will bring the greatest savings and efficiency of all. These windows have a microthin layer of metal that reflects heat back toward the source. Spectrally selective coatings deflect the rays that cause heat buildup and UV degradation, while allowing visible light to penetrate.

“On average standard glass lets in 90 percent of the sun’s heat. A standard low-e glass lets in about 70 percent. A spectrally coated glass lets in just 40 percent of the sun’s heat,” Easley says.

Blocking heat gain in the summer is a smart strategy. Easley encourages building cantilevers above western and east-facing facades to shade windows below. Plant shade trees, add overhangs or awnings, and use the National Fenestrations Rating Council label. The NFRC labels indicate how much light a given window will let in (VLT), how much heat loss it is likely to incur (U-factor), and how much solar heat gain it permits (SHGC). The Energy Star label additionally matches windows to their climates.

Green Homes—Windows

Windows affect comfort, health, and energy bills. New green windows perform better than ever before.


Today’s advanced materials, better science, and new manufacturing processes make for high-performance window units. Those building new or wanting to replace inefficient windows with improved units have a lot of information to digest.

Window Components
A window’s performance is determined by three parts: the glazing, the sash and the spacer system. Measuring performance means looking at such factors as how the window conducts heat and transmits light. Follow a few simple steps to increase your windows’ energy efficiency.

1. Look for an Energy Star label
Energy Star is a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy. Its label confirms a window’s energy efficiency based on its impact on heat gain and loss in cold weather and heat gain in warm weather for a given climate zone. The labels pertain to four climate zones: Northern,mostly heating; North/Central, heating and cooling; South/Central, cooling and heating; and Southern, mostly cooling.

2. Review the label from the National Fenestration Ratings Council (NFRC)
The NFRC is an independent organization that rates and certifies energy performance in all windows. Its label lists several performance rankings. Understanding the ratings is key to making the right choice.  While some rating scores are clearly beneficial, others have to be interpreted to your specific needs.

  • U-factor. This measures how a window conducts non-solar heat flow. Ratings usually fall between 0.20 and 1.20. The lower the value, the greater the energy efficiency.
  • Solar Heat Gain Coefficient or SHGC. This measures how much solar heat gain is admitted through a window and then released as heat into a home. The lower the SHGC, the less solar heat it transmits.
  • Visible Transmittance or VT. This measures how much visible light comes through a window. Expressed as a number between 0 and 1, the higher the VT, the more light transmitted.
  • Light-to-solar gain or LSG. This rating, not always provided, is the ratio between the SHGC and VT. It gauges the relative efficiency of different glass or glazing types in transmitting daylight while blocking heat gains. The higher the number, the more light is transmitted without adding excessive heat.
  • Air Leakage. This rating is optional so you may not find it on some products. The lower the number, the tighter the window and the less air that will pass through cracks in the assembly.
  • Condensation Resistance. Another optional rating, it measures the ability of a product to resist the formation of condensation on its interior surface. Shown as a number between 0 and 100, the higher the CR, the better the product at resisting condensation formation. 

NFRC‘s chief executive officer, Jim Benney, says, “It is important for consumers to understand the impact that windows have on their energy bills. By choosing the right windows for their climate, homeowners can save more than 30 percent on their annual energy costs.”

“The two most important measurements are the U-factor, which indicates the rate of heat lost through a window, and solar heat gain coefficient, which measures how well a product blocks heat caused by sunlight,” Benney says. For example, he says dual-paned windows with low-e coatings are typically 20 to 25 percent better than uncoated dual-pane windows. Using gas-filling and warm edge spacers (low-conductance spacers to reduce heat transfer near the edge of insulated glazing) along with the top-of-the-line low-e coatings can reduce U-factors to 0.30, a 40 percent improvement.

Benney says that today’s window frame materials that are more energy-efficient and low-maintenance include fiberglass, wood/fiberglass composite, other wood composites, vinyl windows, and vinyl and aluminum cladding, as well as thermally broken aluminum.

3. Visit the Efficient Windows Collaborative (EWC) website
Check out the EWC web site, developed by DOE’s Windows and Glazing Program at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of Minnesota’s Center for Sustainable Building Research. The EWC is a coalition of manufacturers, research organizations, government agencies, and others interested in expanding the market for high-efficiency fenestration products.

Fact sheets provide details about different classes of windows for hundreds of locations across the country. A Window Selection Tool allows you to compare costs for a typical house by window type, city and more.

4. Download a simulation program
Get more information about window efficiency by downloading a simulation tool from the Berkeley Lab. While it does operate with some presumptions, you can personalize it with such factors as housing type, location, orientation, utility costs and characteristics of the windows you are considering. The software calculates approximate energy use and costs to help you compare windows.

5. Check with the American Architectural Manufacturers Association (AAMA) and Window and Door Manufacturers Association (WDMA) 
While Energy Star and NFRC labels look at energy efficiency, two other labels look at window performance. The American Architectural Manufacturers Association (AAMA) and the Window and Door Manufacturers Association (WDMA) each offer a window product line certification process. Their programs are based on their harmonized standards and those of the Canadian Standards Association.

The WDMA’s Hallmark Certification Program and the AAMA Gold Label Certification Program certify that a sample of that product met performance standards for air and water infiltration at the specified pressures, structural integrity and resistance to forced entry. Directories of certified products are available on their web sites.

WDMA Vice President of Technical Services Jeff Lowinski says that at times energy efficiency and strength are trade-offs. “The more air tightness in a window, the harder they might be to open,” he says. “Increasing the strength of a framing unit tends to make them more energy conductive.” He says consumers need to realize that whatever windows they choose, they must still comply with state and local codes.

Proper Design
Placement and size figure into how much benefit you will get from your windows. It’s important to properly position them to let in enough daylight to reduce the need for artificial lighting, yet it’s vital to recognize the needs of the various rooms and the local climate. Energy Star, for example, suggests the cardinal directions—north, south, east and west—be considered in locating windows rather than how their placement will affect your home’s street-side appearance.

A U.S. Green Building Council spokeswoman, Jennifer Easton, says glazing techniques should be balanced with size and layout. “The tendency to ‘over-glaze’ with large windows, especially in kitchens, may increase a room’s energy load,” she says. “Kitchen windows have different protocols than bathroom and bedroom windows, for example. Kitchen windows tend to be expansive and with little curtain cover, so energy performance is a priority.”

Bathroom windows should seal out moisture—a challenging task considering the moisture generated from daily shower regimes,” she adds. “Windows in wet bathroom areas, such as the tub or shower surrounds, are problem areas. Sills in these windows should be pan-flashed/sealed as if they were exterior sills. Two people taking one shower each day for 8 minutes is equivalent to approximately 1,000 inches of driving rain per year!”

The USGBC’s REGREEN handbook, she says, notes that “if different glazings are used on different orientations, as many green designers recommend, the optimal solar heat gain coefficient may be higher for south-facing windows, particularly in more northern climates. Many green designers also recommend selecting even higher-performance windows with triple glazing and two low-emissivity coatings in northern climates, in which case the U-factor could be as low as 0.20. Visual transmittance (VT) numbers should always be as high as possible.”

Building a Smarter, More Efficient Window

Advancements in technology have improved heat and light control for today's homeowners.

Window Technology


Homeowners love windows — the light they bring, the views they frame, the feel they give to homes. Energy experts hate windows — the heat they bring, the heat they drain, the added energy consumption they cause. The race is on to develop the technology that will allow homeowners to place windows wherever they want without fear of skyrocketing energy costs.

Low-e Coatings
Windows have continued to improve over the years, first with insulated glass units that provided a buffer zone of air between two panes of glass to reduce the heat loss incurred by single pane units during cold weather. Improvements continued with the advent of low-e or low emissivity coatings. These microthin metallic coatings reflect heat, sending it back where it came from. Low-e coatings significantly improve the thermal quality of insulated glass units, helping homes to stay warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. Adding argon or krypton gas fill between these coated panes adds to the insulative properties of the window unit.

At the high end of available window technology is spectrally selective coatings. The coatings are applied to the panes of glass to reduce heat gain by blocking selected rays from entering the home. This enhancement to low-e coated glass helps further reduce heat loss from inside and heat gain from outside. It also serves to protect furniture and fabrics within from sun bleaching. With gas-filled, spectrally selective coated glass in a well-constructed insulated glass unit, the R-value of a window can approach that of a well-insulated wall. Still, short of drawing the shades or awnings, beating sun challenges all windows and causes solar heat gain that can compromise any energy budget.

New Window Technology
Companies are now researching technologies that will allow maximum visible light to enter the home while blocking the rays that cause heat buildup within the home. Enter switchable windows that respond with a flick of the switch to darken, lighten, or almost completely block the sun from entering living space. Technology already exists to bring switchable privacy glass (SPG) to homes, but these windows don’t block heat gain or ultraviolet (UV) light penetration. SPG changes from clear to milky white when switched, which allows light to enter the interior space while the view is blocked from outside. Marvin Windows brought this technology to the residential market, but was forced to abandon it due to quality problems.

The prize will be to discover a switchable tinted window that responds to light and heat gain by absorbing rays while allowing light to penetrate. The only problem is that any such technology must clear a number of hurdles before making it to the marketplace. Many companies are in competition to develop an electrochromic or chemical window solution that can darken and lighten windows at the flick of a switch or by automatic sensor.

Building a Better Window
The key stumbling blocks are threefold: durability, thermal stability, and reliability with regard to switching. Gentex Corporation, a Zeeland, Mich., company, known for its electrochromic automobile mirrors that automatically darken and lighten to eliminate glare, is undergoing its own tests for electrochromic windows.

“We’ve made increases in durability, fairly significant ones,” says Tom Guar, Vice President of Chemical Research for Gentex. Still, the goal has to be to produce a window that can stand up for 20 years. “When you think about it, it’s a pretty tough environment,” Guar says of the stresses a window designed to absorb heat must endure. “If you think about your glass pane absorbing great amounts of light and heat, it will get very hot, maybe even crack the glass,” he says.

Add to that susceptibility to water penetration, which is a problem for all insulated glass units (IGUs), and oxygen penetration, and there’s a lot to overcome. Marvin struggled with making sure the film adhered to the glass and the seal remained undisturbed. Any future product will need to address the same issues.

Sage Electrochromics, the Faribault, Minn., makers of SageGlass, has developed an electrochromic window technology that has passed all four levels of testing by the Department of Energy. Electrochromic coatings are much like low-e coatings in that they are comprised of a series of inorganic layers applied to glass. A storage layer holds lithium to power the transition while the electrochromic layer changes from clear, to tinted, to dark. The entire reaction is set off by an electronic signal received from a switch. Sage is now seeking to partner with glass and window manufacturers to create a product that will be available to consumers for home use.

Making Window Efficiency Affordable
“I think their technology is very good,” admits Guar. Still, as he sees it, the key will be to produce a window that is affordable, reliable, and durable. The manufacturing implications are huge, he says. “Handling large sheets of glass is non-trivial,” Guar says. Covering that glass with a chemical film is even harder. “It’s not an easy thing to accomplish,” Guar says. Still, the right partnership would make the glass available to window companies who feel they could provide a dependable seal for this technology. The fact that Sage is partnering with Honeywell to provide the switching capability gives a great boost to their product.

Granted, there are technologies available that use advanced chemical solutions to address energy efficiency. Heat Mirror, from Southwall Technologies in Palo Alto, Calif., is an excellent product that was developed to insulate glass from heat loss and heat gain. Heat Mirror windows have an insulative reflective barrier that is suspended between the panes of glass. It is spectrally selective and allows visible light to enter while blocking near infrared rays that cause heat buildup. It functions like a third layer of insulation and greatly increases the R-value of walls with windows. But, while the R-value with Heat Mirror windows is exceptional, the cost for insulating windows of this caliber is very high. And they’re not switchable.

The key to winning the high-efficiency-window race, most experts agree, is the development of an affordable technology that can be mass produced and last for the lifetime of a standard window warranty.

For consumers, electrochromic technology may revolutionize window placement and home design, allowing designers to place windows on west-facing facades without sustaining the incredible burden that a beating western sun places on the air-conditioning system. It may also mean designing for the glorious morning sun that so many homes currently avoid. Better yet, since this technology is device-controlled, it can even be programmed to darken or lighten automatically so that indoor climates can be effectively controlled even when the homeowner is absent.

How To: Select Storm Shutters

Select the right storm shutters for your home and be sure to install them properly.

Photo: Flickr

There are growing number of businesses in coastal areas selling and installing storm shutters. As all shutters are not alike, it’s critical to get the product best suited to your needs — and equally important to be sure that your shutters are properly installed. The following are a few tips to help guide you.

• Storm shutters offer two kinds of protection. They can be designed to protect against wind pressure, debris impacts, or both. It is important to know what kind of protection you are getting.

• If the shutter is designed to withstand debris impact, look for the Dade County, FL, standard. It is a very tough standard developed for the extreme wind conditions found in South Florida. It is also appropriate for use elsewhere along the Southeast and Gulf Coasts on barrier islands, other highly exposed sites, or locations with a particularly high potential for airborne debris. Shutters designed to a lesser standard may be sufficient for locations without these high risk factors and be a more cost-effective alternative.

• Shutters should be attached to the structural framing of the house and the window or door frames. Window and door frames may themselves be inadequately attached to the structural framing to withstand extreme pressures caused by severe winds.

• Make sure all exposed metal fittings (including screws, embedded anchors, etc.) are weather- and corrosion-resistant.

• For the do-it-yourselfers, design and installation guidelines for plywood storm shutters are available. These shutters provide some level of protection and are typically the least expensive option. However, they often require a significant amount of time to mount, and the process can be difficult and even dangerous. Plywood shutters are heavy, probably require at least two people to mount, and for upper-story windows require the use of a ladder. Even moderate winds exacerbate the danger of working with heavy plywood on a ladder. For these reasons, plywood storm shutters are best suited to lower-story windows.

• Homeowners with garages, especially attached garages, should also ask their shutter dealer about retrofitting their garage doors for high winds. If a garage door fails due to high winds, it can cause the interior of the house to become pressurized and increase the chances of losing all or part of the roof.

While properly selected and installed shutters should add to the performance of a home in high winds, it’s important to bear in mind that nothing is hurricane-proof.

Remember also that every home is unique and there are no general recommendations that are universally applicable to all homes. For specific advice about hazard retrofit recommendations for existing homes or hazard mitigation techniques for new construction, homeowners are urged to contact a licensed, consulting engineer in their area.

These tips were developed by the SC Sea Grant Extension Program in consultation with faculty of the Clemson University Civil Engineering Department’s Wind Load Test Facility.

How To: Install a New Door

To install a new door, take your time, learn the basics—and don't be afraid!

How To Install a Door


Most homeowners are installing a new door to replace a old door that’s been damaged or cut short to fit existing flooring, a simple enough fix if you take the time to measure. If the door is short because you’ve changed flooring, measure from the door top to the new floor height. Write down the height for later reference. Push out the hinge pins with a punch, tapping up from the bottom. Have a helper hold the door as the pins come out. Lay the door on sawhorses or work table. Remove the door knob assembly and hinge leafs.

A new core — a door without holes, hinges, or lock mechanism — can be ordered from a lumberyard or home center. Just measure the existing door for the right measurements. When you have your new core, lay it on top of the old one. Check the tops of both doors to see if they’re grooved or chamfered a bit. Doors are usually beveled from three to five degrees on the “strike” side of the door where it hits the door stops. Make sure both doors have the bevel running in the same direction because it’s imperative that your new door face the same direction as your old door. The hinge mortises must be cut on the correct side and face of the door to achieve this.

Align the doors perfectly to see if the new one will fit into the jamb. If it’s larger than the old door by about an eighth of an inch on the sides, it will have to be cut down using a circular saw and a straightedge — don’t worry about the top and bottom height just yet. If it only needs about an eighth of an inch taken off the sides to make it fit, use either a jack plane or a belt sander to size it. A belt sander is useful to knock the sides down but will make a lot of dust. The jack plane will also trim it to fit and isn’t as messy. Place the door on edge using a portable vise or pipe clamps to act as feet and hold it vertical for planing. Once planed, put the core in the jamb to check for fit.

Cutting to Fit
Once it’s cut to the proper width, it’s time to cut it to length or width. Cutting the bottom is much easier than cutting the sides, so try to get a width that fits to within an eighth of an inch or so on each side. When cutting the length, make sure you know where that beveled top edge is — you don’t want to disturb the bevel that helps the door close properly, so you’ll only want to cut it to size from the bottom. Now refer back to that door height you wrote down before you removed the existing door. The new height is the measurement from the top of the jamb down to the floor minus half to three-quarters of of an inch. You usually want about a half-inch opening at the bottom of the door so it glides over obstructions like carpet. The three-quarter-inch opening gives more clearance if the floor isn’t level.

Before you trim the bottom, wrap masking tape around the door where you’ll cut to keep the surface veneer from splitting. Mark the cut line, then score it with a sharp utility knife. Use a straightedge or a straight 1×4 clamped to the door to guide the cut with the circular saw. Check for equidistance from the edge of the saw guide to the mark across the entire width of the door bottom.

Mark for Hinges and Door Set
Place the new door on top of the old door again and mark the hinge locations. Use a combination square to connect the vertical lines for the top and bottom of the hinge. Also mark the knob holes and the backset hole. Use a utility blade to score where the backset face plate and the hinges will go. Score down as deeply as the hinge. Use a chisel to cut a number of lines in the mortised area. Then chisel carefully to remove the waste, one section at a time, keeping the mortise at the proper depth.

Place the hinge in the mortise, mark holes for a center punch and carefully drill small pilot holes for the hinge screws. Be sure to check packaging first before setting the holes. Most standard door knob assemblies use a 2-1/8-inch hole saw to cut the door knob hole and a 7/8-inch spade bit to drill out the hole for the backset. Place the backset into the hole and trace around the front plate for the striker, then mortise it in with a utility knife and chisel the same way you did it for the hinge leaf. Install the knob and you’re ready to hang the new door.

Enlist your helper again to mount the door, putting the top hinge in first and sliding the hinge pin down part way so it holds. Slide the bottom hinges together and put that pin in. Tap them both into place.

Pre-Hung Doors
If you go the pre-hung route, the steps are the same but much simpler. Carefully remove the trim or casing around the door. If you’re hanging a new jamb, you’ll need to remove all framing parts. The pre-hung door comes with all the hardware and hinges attached.

Open the package but do not remove the cross bracing that holds the door jambs in place. Set the complete door in the framed opening and shim the header jamb and side jambs with wooden shims. Make sure that you place shims behind the hinges. Don’t force the shims in or you’ll bow out the jambs. Slide the shims in gently until they stop.

Check to make sure the door is square in the frame and check both jamb sides for plumb. Check the top jamb for level. If everything is square in the frame, you can nail the jambs to the frame using finishing nails. Countersink the nails after they’re driven in and fill the holes with putty. An alternate method is to attach the door frame with trim screws. The head is a bit larger than a trim nail, but is still easily covered with putty once countersunk. An added benefit is that you can take them out if the door frame shifts during installation. Cut off the excess shim material, and install the trim around the door.

Finishing Touch
If you’re planning on painting rather than staining the door, use automotive body filler. Use this two-part product to fill the trim nail or trim screw holes and any other imperfections in the door or jambs. It’s quick, easy to work with, sets up fast, and sands beautifully for an extremely fine finish.

Hurricane-Proof Your House with Impact-Resistant Windows

Impact-resistant windows offer serious protection.

Impact Resistant Windows


Impact-resistant windows consist of impact-resistant glass surrounded by a heavy-duty frame that is securely fastened to the interior window header and frame. Their construction and anchoring keep hurricane winds and debris from breaching your home’s outer envelope.

The idea for shatter-resistant glass windows for homes came from the automotive field, where laminated glass has been in use for years to protect occupants. There are two common types of impact-resistant glazing for your windows. The first is laminated glass consisting of two sheets of glass with an inner shatter-proof membrane between them. Once the glass receives a significant impact, it may shatter but the inner membrane holds the pieces firmly in its frame so that the barrier is not broken. These windows are designed to handle wind-borne debris hurled at high wind speeds, as well as repeated impact from would-be intruders. In both cases, penetration of wind or water is nearly impossible. Interior lamination varies from .015 inch to .090 inch in thickness and the inner film can be ordered in a variety of color tints helping to reduce or eliminate sun fading and UV damage in your home.

The second, less-hardy variety of impact-resistant glass uses window film applied to the surface of the glazing. With filmed windows, shatter-resistant film is placed over the glass to keep the window shards in place if broken. Since these films are added to the glazing, they may not function as a complete system. Their durability really depends on how well the glass and protective laminate stay in the frame and window assembly.

Protecting the Building Envelope
Windows offer a significant opportunity for combined wind and water damage in hurricanes, but manufacturers originally came up with impact-resistant windows to save structures from destruction. A broken window provides a point of entry for wind, which enters the house, increases pressure, and seeks another way out. “When a building envelope is breached, the difference in air pressures inside and out will cause a building to lose a roof or a wall, and when that happens, the building is done for,” says Brian Hedlund, national product marketing manager for Jeld-Wen Windows & Doors. The only way to protect against damage from wind entry is to keep it out. This means deflecting wind and driving it around the building. This is why hurricane measures have been enacted in Florida for new building in hurricane zones. Residents must install impact-resistant windows or a permanent shutter system.

For homeowners in existing homes, replacing standard glass windows with impact-resistant windows brings peace of mind. “Take Florida for example,” Hedlund says. “Typically you have homeowners living there who will leave the state for periods of up to six months. If they know that a hurricane is coming, they have to return before it hits to either put shutters or plywood over the windows. If they have impact resistant windows, however, they have the peace of mind that they don’t have to take any special precautions and that their windows won’t be breached.”

Frames Add Strength to Glazing
It takes an entire window system to make an impact-resistant opening. Frames for impact-resistant windows or doors may be constructed from wood, metal, vinyl, or any combination thereof. However, frames are generally heavier than for regular residential windows, because although the glass may not break, a strong force could hit the window hard enough to cause the entire frame to give way.

“The frame can be any material, but they have stiffeners and reinforcement inside to help them bear the impact,” Hedlund says. “A lot of the windows have frames that are reinforced with steel, which makes a really solid structure. It takes much more to make an impact-resistant window than just putting in the glass,” he adds.

Testing for Total Security
Not every window on the market can claim to be impact resistant. There are testing standards set forth by the American Society for Testing & Materials (ASTM) that must be met before the window is certified as being impact-resistant. One of the most stringent of the requirements comes from the South Florida Building Code, which has been concerned over the increase in the number and force of hurricanes in recent years. Beginning in July 2001, the South Florida Building Code required that every exterior opening in a house be protected against flying debris either by shutters or impact resistant windows.

Also, according to the code, the windows must meet requirements for large and small missiles. It specifies that for large missiles, the window has been tested with an impact from a six-foot-long 2×4 weighing nine pounds, traveling at 50 feet per second. The test is done in a laboratory setting with the lumber fired from a cannon into the window. The window glazing must remain intact after the impact.

The small missile test exposes the window to a variety of impacts with 30 pieces of roof gravel traveling at approximately 80 feet per second or 50 miles per hour in order to meet the certification requirements. Current tests actually use steel ball bearings for uniformity in test conditions.

The windows are marked and graded according to the South Florida Building Code to ensure that you are getting exactly what you’re paying for. You can rest assured when buying impact-resistant windows that the product will perform as advertised when installed according to manufacturer’s specifications.