Here’s a lesson in window smarts: location may be real estate’s best friend, but the view is the home’s soulmate. Windows frame our vision of the outside world. As more people are looking for the best possible perspective, they are also hunting for smart ways to increase the value of their homes.

Windows are a good starting point.

Newer, bigger, wider, taller, more efficient windows are a hot upgrade for homeowners. Now there are more options than ever.

Christopher Simmonds, one of Ottawa’s leading architects, works on the premise that, aside from providing shelter, a house is primarily a place to experience nature from within.

“For me, windows are all important. So when we are designing a house, we are always thinking, what are the views trying to capture? Is it a tall tree? Is it a horizon? And how wide should we take the window to capture the view (but) screen out what we don’t want to see, like the side of a neighbour’s house or the road.”

In the past, windows were the absolute weakest link in the home, says Simmonds, who has crafted a reputation for connecting inside and outside spaces by using a lot of glass.

In the early years, when log cabins were the house of choice, people built small windows for structural reasons and because they let in the cold.

Technologies have vastly improved, even if winters are still raw, and many Canadians are attracted to a Mediterranean concept of living with lots of light.

“There is such a desire to open up to the outside to create this integration,” says Simmonds. “Fortunately we have the technology to go along with it.”

It’s common to see triple-glazed windows with low-e coatings and argon gas, says the architect.

“The thermal performance of these windows is significantly better, three or four times better, than windows used to be 25 or 30 years ago.”

Manotick Windows and Doors owner Bob Milne has also seen a lot of changes in the past 20 years, with owners of older homes and those building new homes looking for the best windows to stop drafts, resist mould and rot and provide added security.

Typically, they choose from four types of frames that carry their own strengths and weaknesses. These include PVC, fibreglass, wood and aluminum.

PVC windows

PVC, or polyvinyl chloride, are well suited for buyers looking for extremely low maintenance. These windows require no painting inside or outside; and are popular for starter homes right up to million- dollar properties.

“You don’t have to paint against weather stripping,” says Milne, adding the frames come in trendy colours, including shades of brown, grey, and green. “You don’t have to paint against handles or cranks. You just clean your windows.”

Milne notes one of the downsides to PVC is its tendency to expand.

So why would you want it?

“PVC is the most economical product on the market right now,” says Milne. “So say windows are $10,000 in PVC, they may be $14,000 in fibreglass.”

Given PVC is extremely cost efficient, they are the current industry standard — which is why most companies that make the cranks and the hardware for window companies are designing them mostly for vinyl windows.

The price: A 60- by 60-inch picture window costs between $900 to $1,100, installed.

Fibreglass

Fibreglass has been around for years, but it’s still a relatively small player in the world of windows. Its big advantage is that it expands very little, allowing the caulking that holds the seal to outlast other installations.

“Fibreglass does not expand any differently than glass,” says Milne. “It’s made of glass. It’s glass fibres.

People concerned about having the highest energy efficiency will search out fibreglass products. But they come with a higher price tag, and there are some limitations, such as it’s hard to get them made into circuar shapes and curves.

The price: A 60- by 60-inch picture window costs between $1,300 to $1,500, installed.

Wood

Wood is the original window frame material, but these days it’s usually used for high-end jobs and comes with regular maintenance.

“It’s usually someone who appreciates a wood finish on the inside,” says Milne. Given Ottawa’s weather extremes, it’s hard to keep paint on a wood window. Wooden windows usually have aluminum cladding on the outside and wood on the inside.

“Some people forget the wood and then let it go. Then it peels inside and it’s not as good a look as the vinyl window. They are not great in this climate.”

The price: Wood windows have a bigger price range, just like wood furniture, because there will be different qualities of wood. Prices range between $900 and $2,000 for a 60- by 60-inch picture window, installed.

Aluminum

Aluminum has been widely used in highrises for its strength and longevity, which is of utmost importance when dealing with high winds several floors up.

They are light, strong, low-maintenance and easily formed into complex shapes. However, they conduct the cold, so it will tend to be a chillier window.

“You go on the balcony of a 17th- floor apartment building and feel the wind blowing. You want a window that’s stronger to hold that glass,” says Milne.

He says aluminum expands a certain amount too. “It’s less than vinyl, but more than wood or fibreglass.”

The price: Similar to vinyl for a 60- by 60-inch window, ranging between $900 to $1,200, installed.

Styles & budget

The next step is to consider the style and your budget, says Chris Danko, manager of the Vinyl & Aluminum Warehouse at 1903 Merivale Rd.

Unlike Milne, Danko’s company is strictly wholesale. He says if a customer wants the windows installed by a reputable company, he suggests they double the price of the window and add about 15 per cent.

The spectrum of cost ranges from the picture window, which is the cheapest, to a double operating casement where the two windows both crank out.

Most customers are looking for Energy Star products, which can range from double pane up to quadruple pane for enhanced thermal efficiency, with heat reflective coating. The best way to check a manufacturer’s rating while shopping around is by visiting:

www.energystar.gov.

Windows with argon gas help insulate against sound, heat and cold penetration. And heat reflecting coating, or low emissivity (low-e) is applied to the inside surface of one or more panes to prevent heat transfer from escaping from the inside out, and from the heat cooking your home, says Danko.

Some low-e versions also helps protect against ultra-violet light, which can damage furnishings.

Danko’s most popular window product is vinyl. He says a 72- by 60-inch vinyl picture window is $495 wholesale; single, side sliders are $504.75; while a double operating encasement, where both windows crank outwards are $741.46, which are the most efficient.

“The casement and awning windows have a better energy rating overall in the frame,” says Danko, adding the sliding versions are less structural and technically less efficient.

“You are getting better insulation in the frame, and there is less air/water filtration because they are a tighter seal with the modern versions. It’s not like the old fashioned ones that wouldn’t shut all the way, the wood warps and the hardware is the pits. There’s more to the frame.”

The crank style is the most popular, however, they are also the most expensive. If people are building new and are in a budget struggle they are usually going to try to put the casements on the front face of the house for increased resale value.

“It has more curb appeal,” says Danko. “Then if they are going to budget themselves, they’ll put sliding windows or vertical slides, in the basement, sides, and bathroom.”

WINDOW TRICKS

GO LOWER FOR BETTER VIEWS, HIGHER FOR FEELING OF SPACE

New windows are lower, delivering bigger and better views, says Bob Milne, owner of Manotick Windows and Doors. Back 40 to 60 years, windows in bungalows and split-level homes were placed higher on the wall, robbing many women of being able to look out from the kitchen and into the backyard.

The average Canadian woman is 5’3″ and they weren’t able to see out the window, says the 20-year veteran of the window industry.

Milne installs a windowsill around eight to 10 inches closer to the counter, and their world opens up. Milne has also noticed elaborate trims on vinyl windows and the return of windowsills.

“It is looking more like a traditional wood window,” says Milne “When (vinyl windows) first came out, they looked like a commercial window, and now they are looking more like a wood window, nicer details.”

And while it’s the norm to build a new home with nine foot ceilings, there are ways to cheat expand inside spaces if you can’t afford the extra expense of higher ceilings. Milne installs windows high up to give the appearance of a higher ceiling. “The transom’s will give the look that (they’ve) got the higher ceilings inside.”

— Paula McCooey