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Window Replacement in Minnesota
With lows plunging below freezing for weeks at a time, Minnesotans pride themselves on their self-reliance in the face of harsh weather. Still, a few measures to keep homes warm, safe, and comfortable is advisable, and when you replace your home’s windows with insulating, energy efficient models, you can cut back on drafts and save money on your energy costs at the same time. There are many options and features, in fact, that windows employ to reduce heat loss through window glass and frames. This guide will familiarize you with the basics of window installation in your area, from efficiency features to locating and hiring a contractor, to securing a permit, and selecting your window model.
Things to Know About Window Installation in Minnesota
Window replacements are not unusually complex jobs. Still, unless you’re familiar with window repair work, you probably shouldn’t attempt to do this project without professional advice. A licensed contractor can verify that the job is done in accordance with local building codes and is consistent with manufacturer guidelines, and can guarantee the safety of an installation.
If you make your window selection with your home’s energy efficiency in mind, you stand to save a lot on your utility bills—however, you may also be eligible for a number of different incentives in your area from local governments and utility providers as well that can offset the price of efficiency features. Offerings like the Alliant Energy Residential Energy Efficiency Program, Owatonna Public Utilities Conserve and Save Residential Rebates Program, and Austin Utilities Conserve and Save Rebates Program all help mitigate costs through cash rebates, while programs like the Stearns Electric Efficiency Loan and the Minnesota Valley Electric Cooperative Financing Program allow customers to acquire low-interest loans to use towards the purchase of energy-efficiency improvements, like new windows. Such programs can put a real dent in your efficiency equipment purchase, so it’s a good idea to check with your local provider to see what they may have available.
Thankfully, a window replacement won’t take a qualified contractor long to complete—a few hours should usually be sufficient. However, if the project includes adjustments to the wall opening surrounding the window, or if you have storm panels that need to be removed before the work can commence, it can extend the length of the job.
Hiring a Contractor for Minnesota Window Installation
If you’re going to a contractor cold, without recommendations from friends or acquaintances, then it’s best to gather at least three different estimates from various installers. A variety of quotes will give you a sense of what’s a fair asking price for this kind of work for your area, and it will also let you gauge your contractor’s professional demeanor and communication skills. You should ultimately select a contractor based not just on their rates, but on how well you feel you’ll be able to communicate and work together.
You can also perform a few checks to verify that your contractor is above board. First, ask to see their license to operate in your area. Next, request a list of references to use to verify the contractor’s past work. A good contractor should happily provide you with both. You can also check your contractor’s license yourself using the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry License Lookup tool.
Once you decide on a contractor, they should provide you with a full contract. The amounts mentioned should match your first estimate—if something is off, do not sign, and instead ask for an explanation. Your contractor should be able to help you understand this, and any questions you have about specific clauses in the document. Ask for a completed copy after both parties have signed. If the contractor asks for a deposit before beginning the work, make sure to clarify which portion of the project this deposit covers.
Permits for Window Installation in Minnesota
Many local building departments require permits for window replacements, especially if you will be making structural changes to the wall, like increasing the size of the window’s opening. The best idea is to check with your local permitting office before beginning the project or purchasing materials. Local governments may have requirements for the type of windows you need to purchase to be compliant with energy codes or weatherization regulations. Additionally, they may require you to submit additional materials, such as the window manufacturer’s brochure, plans showing the intended changes, or proof of your homeowner’s insurance, along with your completed application. If you need help completing the technical sections of the permit, ask your contractor for assistance—contractors often help residents pull permits and are used to these kinds of requests.
Preparing Your Property for New Window Installation in Minnesota
There are a few preparations you can perform around your home to make life easier on installation day:
- Remove window treatments like blinds, shades, and curtains. Take down photos and artwork surrounding the windows.
- Trim trees and shrubs surrounding the window to clear obstructions from the worker’s path.
- Clear a path from the front door to the window by removing all furniture and rugs in the area. Place drop cloths on the floor to catch flying dust and debris.
- Deactivate security systems temporarily, especially window sensors.
- Close pets away in a room or secure area so they aren’t accidentally let out.
Minnesota’s Climate Concerns for Windows
Minnesota winters are no joke, with lows dropping to the single digits regularly. Windows here need to be well insulated and fortified to withstand both winds and freezing temperatures, and newer more energy-efficient models can offer just that.
Particularly, a window’s glazing and its insulation system can have a massive effect on the overall comfort of your home. Window glazing is rated according to industry standards put forth by the National Fenestration Ratings Council (NFRC), a group that tests products for various measures to indicate how they will perform once installed in your home. In particular, you’ll want to pay attention to the window’s U-factor, or the measure of its insulative properties. Window U-factors will fall somewhere between 0 and 1, but in Minnesota, ideally, you should purchase a product that has a U-factor of 0.30 or lower. A rating of 0.25 or lower will ensure that your windows exhibit the maximum efficiency.
U-factor will usually be listed on the product’s label, or on the brochure accompanying the window. Meanwhile, in these same locations, you’ll be able to check if the product bears the ENERGY-STAR logo. Windows that have this logo have been reviewed by the EPA and determined to demonstrate the maximum energy efficiency. Purchasing these products can also make you eligible for a variety of incentive programs, as well.
Understanding Minnesota Window Ratings
U-factor is one way to measure a window’s performance, but there are other ratings you can use to determine how the window will interact with your area’s climate. They are:
- Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (SHGC): A rating between 0 and 1 that indicates the level of solar radiation a window allows through its glass into your home’s interior, or in other words, how well it shades your home. In Minnesota, a SHGC above 0.37 can be used to offset heating costs using passive solar heating from sunlight.
- Air Leakage (AL): This measure lets you know how much airflow is allowed through the window. In Minnesota, an AL of 0.30 or lower is ideal.
- Visual Transmission (VT): This measurement determines how much light is allowed into your home.
Window Styles and Frames for a Minnesota Property
Windows also come in a variety of styles and frames, which can bolster your home’s curbside appeal or protect and insulate the interiors. Here are the details of the most popular styles:
- Arch top: Composed of a tall rectangular window topped with a decorative rounded pane.
- Bay window: Several panes form a unit that projects outwards in this window, ideal for a window seating area.
- Box windows: Groups of three to five panels of small box-shaped panes are the usual way to use these decorative windows.
- Double hung: An upper and lower sash in this window can be opened independently of one another.
- Elliptical: A long half-circle or quarter-circle shape, elliptical windows make the perfect decorative accent for a large area.
- French casement: These windows operate similarly to a French door.
- Picture windows: A large, single pane of glass dominates these low efficiency windows that are ideal for homes with a view.
- Single hung: Single hung windows are a classic frame type, composed of a stationary upper sash, with a lower sash that can be pushed above this to open the window.
A window’s frames can reinforce the glass in your windows, making a home more secure from flying debris, wind, and chill. Here are the popular materials to choose from:
- Aluminum: Durable, low-maintenance, and perfect for homes that experience high levels of wind and cold.
- Composite: Ideal for homeowners who desire the classic look of wood, composite frames are made of wood fibers mixed with vinyl for a frame that is much more durable and low-maintenance.
- Fiberglass: Sturdy, durable frames can be combined with insulation for maximum comfort.
- Vinyl: Natural insulators, as air pockets in the vinyl capture drafts and slow them. They’re also durable and UV-resistant.
- Wood: While wood can bring a natural, authentic feel to a home, wood frames need to be replaced frequently due to warping and moisture damage.
Glass Options for Minnesota Windows
Insulation systems and window coatings can be combined to maximize a window’s energy efficiency. These include the following options:
- Single-pane windows: A single pane of glass, without insulation, forms these windows, which are not energy efficient and make a poor choice for Minnesota homes.
- Double-pane windows: A layer of inert gas trapped between two panes of glass make double-pane windows a great option for insulation.
- Triple-pane windows: Homes in very cold areas, like Minnesota, may prefer to choose triple-pane windows, which offer an extra layer of insulating gas and between a third layer of glass.
- Low-E glass: Low-emissivity glass is not an insulation measure, but is a thin coating added to windows that reflects back infrared heat into a home, keeping both heating and cooling more efficient.
Benefits of Installing New Windows in Minnesota
A new window in your Minnesota home can increase your home’s curbside appeal, which in turn can ramp up market values if you’re thinking of selling soon. Additionally, the right kind of window can increase the overall comfort level throughout a home, and lower your utility bills—plus you’ll use less energy, helping the environment and lowering your carbon footprint, to boot.