The Argument for Great Windows and Doors

People often ask me “Why good windows and doors?”

They go on to say, “I can get windows and doors at much less expense, and energy costs being what they are, it isn’t costing us that much to heat or cool our home per year. The additional cost of good windows and doors does not justify the expense, as it would take years for us to make up the difference.”

Aha! Well let’s look at a typical scenario: Let’s say a person is building a 2200 square foot home here in Durango, Colorado. An average building cost in our area, given site work, foundation, building and materials is at least $250 per square foot. That comes to $550,000.

Let’s say the home called for 25 windows, 3 entry doors, and one sliding patio door. Let’s say the windows were good windows, wood with aluminum cladding, and the doors and sliders were similar. A typical high-quality window package would cost the home owner $700 per window, $2000 per entry door, and $2200 for a pair of sliding doors. The total window and door package would be $25,700.

What would the same window package cost made by Schiavone Woodworking? An average window cost for our Tilt and Turn window would be around $1000 per window. Our average sized door price varies between $2800 for a full light door, to $3600 for a fully custom artisan door, so we will call the average $3000. Our sliders are quite a bit more expensive, because they are Lift and Slide Doors, the highest functioning premium sliding door system in the world. They run $1000 per linear foot in length, so we could estimate our slider at $6000 for a six foot slider. This brings our window package for the same number of doors and windows to $40,000.

That is a $14,300 difference. At first glance, that seems like a lot, and not justifiable to most home owners, so let’s take a closer look.

Let’s first look at the actual effect the high-functioning windows have on energy usage, and see what kind of payback time would be required to make up the expense.

These figures are just speculative, as there are so many other factors that come into play in a discussion like this. There is the level of insulation the house was built with, the heating and cooling systems themselves, the solar gain the house makes use of, the materials used in construction, the practices of the inhabitants themselves, the climate and weather of the home location; but again, we will speculate about a home built here in Colorado. Looking up data on-line for heating and cooling costs of average homes with winter climates, I come up with $2800 per year. This is using standard windows and doors.

How much different would our doors and windows be? For one, let’s look at the thickness comparison of each of our systems: Our windows are four inches thick, have three comprehensive gaskets that encircle the entire perimeter of the unit, are completely air-tight, and are triple or even quadruple pane ready. This compares to 1 3/4 inch thick standard double hung, or out swing casements, with a single gasket seal. Our doors are 2 1/2″ thick, have panels constructed for thermal value, have double seals, including around the entire perimeter of the door, eliminating the standard leaky floor sweep on most doors. This compares to the 1 3/4″ thick standard door with one gasket, and a non-functional floor sweep on the bottom edge of the door. Finally our Lift and Sliding Door is 2 3/4″ thick, has double gaskets, and a sophisticated interlocking system for an air tight fit between panels and in the frame. Your standard sliding door is going to have air penetration over the top of the unit, between the panels and is 1 and 3/4″ thick with a single seal.

Manufacturing values given by door and window manufacturers put the standard R values of common doors and windows at R3 at the higher end. German window manufacturers of the same type of windows we build put the R value of the Tilt and Turn window with thermally broken cladding (like ours) at R12. A standard Entry door could also expect around an R3 performance, whereas a Schiavone door could easily expect twice that Rvalue at R6 because the insulating materials that we use in the door amount to R5. The sliding doors would have a similar comparison.

What does this mean? Rvalue is the ability for a material to inhibit the transfer of heat through that material. For the average homeowner, there are too many factors and variables in the science of R and U values, for it to be interesting. For example, there is the Rvalue for the center of the glass pane, versus the Rvalue of the frame surrounding either a window or door. Rvalues are usually averaged out over the expanse of the item being evaluated. It is difficult to verify values, and tests are conducted through multiple labs. My point is that R values do indicate performance in insulating, but there are many variables to the equation.

Most importantly in doors and windows are two questions: 1. How much air infiltration is there through the unit?, and 2. What kind of restriction does the material composition of the unit offer against thermal penetration?

Anyone can look at a window or door; can see how thick it is, can see how many gaskets it has, and can see how well the hardware functions to operate, and to seal the unit. Let’s just say because we have at least twice the number of gaskets as the average, our thickness is at least 30% thicker, and our hardware is higher functioning, that our doors and windows are simply far more efficient than the average.

What does this efficiency mean in terms of saving money in annual heating and cooling control? Let’s use our own home as an example. Our house is a 2300 square foot Colorado home, standard 2×6 construction, with average insulation. This year we replaced all the conventional windows and doors we had built with, with Schiavone windows and doors. We use both a wood fired stove, and a propane fired boiler with hot water baseboard as our heat. We will save about $1000 in energy costs this year, over previous years when we were equipped with standard windows.

But still, we are talking about the $14,000 difference in cost! That means that it would take about fourteen years in energy savings to make up the difference in cost had we gone with less expensive windows. How can this be worth the expense?

Here is the number one answer: People are living in their homes longer. Fourteen years rolls around soon enough! And here is the difference: In fourteen years, your conventional windows will be 3/4 of the way through their life span. Our windows in fourteen years will be still functioning as brand new, and looking good as well. I know this because my mother has tilt and turn windows on her house that were installed over 40 years ago. They still function as well as they did when they were put in. Also we have doors that have been in use for 23 years, and those too, function just as if they were new.

So the conventional window package suddenly becomes twice the price, which doesn’t include the huge costs of removing the old windows, removing the trim and interior finishes, re-installing the new package, re-finishing and re-trimming the new package. Not only in 20 years are most window installations unattractive and failing, the homeowner will be subject to a huge tab in the replacement. Realistically, the new $25,000 package will include easily $10,000 of additional work. I am purposely keeping my figures conservative.

So by my description, the $40,000 window package is good for at least 40 years. The $25,000 package will cost $60,000 to go 40 years, with repair and remodel work figured in there, higher annual heating bills, and a lot less comfort over all of that time.

There is, however another reason to go with better quality windows and doors.

That reason is the pleasure and compatibility of the units themselves on a daily basis.

I for one, love nice stuff. I am an avid sportsman, and I cherish my time out-of-doors pursuing my various adventures. I spent 40 years rock climbing at a high level, and with that sport in particular, you didn’t skimp on gear. Shoes were functioning well, with good rubber to stick to holds. Hardware was top dollar, with the latest in carabiners and protective devices. And ropes needed to be in good working condition to be safe. Other sports such as skiing, are much more enjoyable with a pair of high-end skis, tuned to perfection. Ski boots are even more important, with a great fit, quality flex, and a dynamic feel. Mountain biking has never been more fun than with a high-end carbon fiber frame, quality components, well tuned, and great tires. You can guess I am from Colorado.

Fun aside, Most of us more fortunate people know what it is like to drink quality coffee, eat a quality meal, look at a quality flat screen TV, or sleep on a good pillow!

We absolutely adhere to quality tools in our shop. The European machines that we buy are four times as expensive as other similar tools, but there is no comparison in performance and pleasure of use.

The same holds true with quality windows and doors. If you own a home, why not surround yourself with fenestration that is inspiring, effective, long-lasting, beautiful and doesn’t present problems? Think of the person who goes for the cheaper package. Within one year, the first service calls are necessary. Within a few years, gaskets are needing replacements. Within a few more years, windows are no longer shutting properly. Ah, but you have 10 more years to live with this underperforming mess. The windows are no longer a factor of inspiration, but an implement of worry.

I would rather spend the time not heating my home as much (or at all, which is another subject I will address in another blog). When I go to open a door or window in my home, it is nice for it to be an item of quality. The lever is hefty and solid, the mechanism is clean and closes like a high-quality BMW door, the finishes in the window hold up well so they continue to be beautiful, the interface between the interior of my home, and the beautiful nature outside is an unencumbered thing. Passing through to, or interacting with out side is a simple joyous thing…every time!

Finally, here is my most salient point: by only an increase in cost by less than three percent, your $550,000 dollar house can have the best windows and doors. Since windows and doors are one of the most used features in a home, why not invest in the best available? Especially since it isn’t really going to cost you that much more, and will save you in the long run!

Well you can tell I am passionate about quality windows and doors, thanks for bearing with me, go out and make a difference! Life is an unbelievable opportunity!