Q. I need no-maintenance replacement windows that tilt in for easy cleaning, don't sweat, and will cut my utility bills. I thought about vinyl windows, but I hear they are cheap and low quality. Is this true?
A. As with all products, other than gold or a Mercedes, perhaps, there is a tremendous range in quality and price. Vinyl windows are no exception. For what it is worth, I have vinyl replacement windows in my own home. They have performed flawlessly for 14 years, and my utility bills are very low.
Although you can probably find inexpensive, flimsy vinyl windows, there are high-quality vinyl windows that cost about the same as other high-quality replacement windows. Of all window-frame materials available, vinyl and fiberglass frames are the most energy-efficient.
Reduced outdoor noise is the first thing you will notice with new vinyl windows. This results from the airtight construction and the new efficient glass panes. Over time, you will also notice less fading on your furniture and carpet.
Signs of quality: There are significant differences in the cross-sections, material quality and thickness, and assembly methods between high-quality and cheap vinyl windows. One of the first design features to look for is welded corners, especially in the sash frames. They are usually thermally welded together.
Better vinyl windows are often more attractive than others. The extrusions used to make the frames are heavier and have more profile details. Some even have a realistic-looking wood-grained indoor surface finish.
Vinyl itself is a fairly good insulator, but vinyl windows derive most of their energy efficiency from the many dead-air spaces inside the hollow frame. The interior ribs, not visible in an installed window, that create these insulating chambers also add to the frame's strength and rigidity.
Several window manufacturers inject low-pressure insulating foam into the dead-air spaces. This increases the overall insulation value of the frame and adds even more rigidity. My vinyl windows have foam-filled frames. Injecting foam in the frames does not increase the price significantly.
Another unique and efficient vinyl window uses a solid cellular foam window frame instead of the more common multi-chambered hollow frame. It is very strong and has the solid feel of a wood window. It can also be painted.
For convenient tilt-in cleaning, double-hung windows are your best choice. After five or ten years, you may have to adjust the counterweight springs a little, but that is the extent of the maintenance required. Vinyl casement windows are the most efficient design and provide better ventilation.
Q. We have baseboard electric heat and a ceiling fan that we run year-round. I just noticed dark areas on the ceiling under the attic trusses. They are difficult to clean off. What is causing this?
A. Your baseboard heat has nothing to do with the dark areas; it would be even worse with forced-air heat. Those marks result from the ceiling temperature's being lower in the winter where the joists touch it.
When one area of the ceiling is cooler, it has a slightly higher moisture content. This causes more dirt in the air to stick to it. Add some attic insulation over the joists to keep them, and the ceiling, warmer.
X Write for Update Bulletin No. 577, which gives a buyer's guide for the 14 highest-quality, most efficient vinyl window manufacturers, listing frame and glass options, styles, colors, features and a glass selector chart. Please send $3 and a business-size SASE to James Dulley, The Vindicator, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, Ohio 45244. For an instant download, visit James Dulley online at www.dulley.com.