Q We've moved into an older house that seems to have drafty windows. I've enjoyed your advice about hiring general contractors, but I expect window contractors' qualifications might be different. What do you advise? -- Carl Chilly
A Dear Mr. Chilly: I appreciate your loyal readership and also congratulate you for being one of many new homeowners who see great potential in older homes. And while contractors as a whole comprise the overall umbrella and sometimes perform all kinds of work, the spokes that hold it together equal the various types. But are you absolutely sure windows are the main problem? If not, specialists such as those found at www.energyauditchattanooga.com can perform a full audit of heat loss/transfer in your home. On the other hand, to prove your suspicion concerning window drafts, you'll need to check the following:
* The window sash doesn't seal properly to the frame and/or the frame isn't sealed properly to the wall.
* The window unit isn't properly insulated.
* In the winter, the glass surface's temperature becomes lots lower than the room itself. In more scientific terms, when the temperature differs like this, the air closest to the glass cools and, because cold air is heavier than warm, gravity pulls the cold air down. When this occurs, the room's warm air replaces the cold which creates a draft.
* If a person's near a cold surface, his body heat is drawn to that colder area; thus, the conduction creates cool feelings (i.e. a draft).
OK, so you've figured out the aged drafty windows are the culprit and must go. In my research, I found that experts agree replacing windows save as much as 25 percent yearly on heating and air conditioning costs; this can mean hundreds or even thousands of dollars saved.
And when a homeowner goes a step further and replaces them with energy-efficient windows, they not only add beauty and value to your home, but also save on energy bills, especially if the house is more than 10 years old.
When searching for professional window replacement installers, be sure their qualifications include providing a complete evaluation and listening to your needs, finding solutions to your window problems, measuring window openings, delivering materials, removing existing windows, installing new windows, cleaning up the mess, and following up to ensure quality control.
As a final aside, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, or the stimulus bill, offers very nice incentives for improving a home's energy efficiency.
For 2010, the tax credit for qualified energy efficiency improvements increased to 30 percent. For example, if you purchase $5,000 worth of upgraded-glass windows, you may get the maximum 30 percent tax credit of $1,500 -- making the real cost of your windows only $3,500. Can't beat that with a stick. (Well, I guess you can but you might break one of your new windows.)
Ellen Phillips is a retired English teacher who has written two consumer-oriented books. Her Consumer Watch column appears on Saturdays in the Business section of the paper. An expanded version is at www.timesfreepress.com under Local Business. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.