Outside Looking In

Curb appeal starts with windows and siding

Nothing boosts curb appeal like new windows and exterior materials. Replacing windows can also cut energy bills and increase interior comfort, while new siding can eliminate or dramatically reduce necessary upkeep. These are big-impact projects that don’t disrupt livability in the process. Even windows can be replaced in the winter with minimal interruption. But do expect a big price tag if you plan to change either or both.

Window World

If the windows in your home are more than fifteen years old, you could consider replacing them, says Jeff Grundahl, owner of JG Development. Replacement windows can make your home dramatically more comfortable. Newer windows are better insulated and don’t allow as much heat loss in the winter. New coatings can eliminate glare or help regulate temperature. That means there are fewer drafty areas or hot spots in rooms.

“Engineering and design also allows for windows that are larger but still airtight,” Grundahl says. He notes that other design improvements include operational architectural windows of unusual size or shape.

Ease is another factor to consider. Replacement windows often operate more easily than existing windows, particularly, for example, in older homes with double-hung windows that are painted shut or casement windows with broken cranks. New mechanisms allow for smoother opening and closing, and design improvements allow for tilt-in cleaning. You won’t have to muscle a window open in the summer or balance precariously on a ladder to wash them in the fall. New built-in screen technology keeps screens nearly invisible when not in use, but also easy to position on breezy spring days.

Another boon: you can get just about any look you like as manufacturers add more exterior cladding choices as well as interior woods, finishes and hardware. Homeowners can easily customize their windows inside and out.

While replacement windows can make your home look and feel better almost immediately, the price tag for an average home can easily exceed $10,000. So while you can see major savings on your energy bills, don’t expect to recoup those savings quickly. However, Grundahl notes that many manufacturers have recently eliminated charges for custom window sizes, so homeowners who priced replacements a few years ago might be surprised at new estimates now.

There is additional benefit to new windows’ increased energy efficiency. Improved insulation and glazing allow homeowners to use more and larger windows in Wisconsin homes regardless of exposure. This opens up new and exciting design opportunities.

So homeowners who might have shied away from a wall of glass twenty years ago now can incorporate moveable window panels that open homes to inviting patio rooms in warm weather and yet still protect against chills and frost when the snow flies.

Craig Patchin, owner and president of Window Design Center, says products such as Marvin’s lift-and-slide or bi-fold glass doors are popular among homeowners looking to extend their living areas in the warm weather. When open, they disappear and create the seamless indoor-outdoor living spaces that were previously challenging to incorporate into designs in northern climates.

“A lot of these products started out in southern California, as well as the Caribbean and South Florida, where they had to perform with wind and water issues,” Patchin says. “Now they are designed to perform well in winter extremes so they can deal with the cold as well.”

The Other Siding

Maintenance is still the primary concern with siding materials, Grundahl says. He notes that homeowners often mix natural materials such as brick or stone with maintenance-free vinyl siding to create individualized exteriors that require some but not constant upkeep. Other options, such as cement board siding, are minimal-maintenance siding options that come in rich colors and require far less upkeep than wood but are not quite as worry-free as vinyl siding.

Wood siding and architectural elements are also experiencing a renaissance thanks to new paints and stains that offer better and more lasting protection than did their predecessors. “When it is wood it needs maintenance,” Grundahl explains. “Yet people are realizing that they don’t need maintenance-free products. They are willing to do some maintenance.”

Overall, quality, Grundahl adds, is winning out over quantity as homeowners mix materials, colors and textures to create
distinctive exteriors.

– Jennifer Garrett


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