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Window Replacement in Wisconsin
If you’ve lived through just one of Wisconsin’s long, cold winters, you’ve probably stopped to think a little bit about your home’s heating costs—particularly if you live in a home with old, outdated, or inefficient windows. For homes in the Badger State, energy-efficient insulated windows can help protect against the elements, and work to keep energy expenses low. The goal of this guide is to take you through the ins and outs of window replacement, including options that will help insulate your home and cut back on air leaks and drafts. Meanwhile, you’ll also learn about cost-mitigating incentives available in your area that can help you afford newer, energy-efficient models and features.
Things to Know About Window Installation in Wisconsin
While not the most complex project to take on around the home, a window replacement nonetheless requires a background in replacement and familiarity with area building codes and manufacturer guidelines. That means it’s best to select a qualified, licensed contractor who can ensure that the job is done safely and legally.
Contractors can even provide suggestions for improving the overall insulation around the window, if necessary—a new energy-efficient model won’t work well placed in a poorly-insulated wall. For those concerned about the costs associated with energy efficiency improvements, you may be happy to learn that many local utilities and municipal governments offer rebates and loan programs that can help offset the price of efficient equipment—including, in many cases, the installation of new windows or air sealing. For instance, the City of Milwaukee’s Me2 Energy Efficient Loan program lends city residents up to $15,000 at a low-interest rate to use towards the purchase of energy efficient windows. Other local governments or regional utilities may offer programs as well, so it doesn’t hurt to investigate these options before planning your replacement project.
In most cases, window replacements are fairly simple projects for your experienced contractor—direct replacements may even take as little as one hour or less. But there are a few things that can lengthen the time of the project, including whether or not you’ll be expanding the wall opening around the window, and if you have storm panels installed over the window that will need to be taken down first.
Hiring a Contractor for Wisconsin Window Installation
When hiring a contractor, don’t just go with the first name you hear. It’s best to obtain at least three estimates so that you can ensure that you’re getting a rate that’s fair for your area and the amount of work you require. Likewise, when making your final decision, it’s best not to choose one worker over the other based on their rates alone—your instincts should inform your decision, including whether or not you feel as though you and the contractor will be able to communicate well.
To verify your contractor’s legitimacy, ask to see their credentials, like their Wisconsin state general contractor’s license and any references they may have. You can also verify a license yourself using the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services Credential and License Search tool
When asking for quotes, request that your contractors break out the estimates into different expense categories—namely, the labor costs, material expenses and miscellaneous fees. That will help you understand why you would be charged the amount the contractor quotes, ensuring that they’re not just picking an arbitrary amount.
Once you’ve selected your contractor, they should provide you with a final contract. Don’t sign it without verifying that the details match those listed in your estimate, and if your contractor requires a down payment as a deposit, be clear on what portion of the work that deposit covers. After finalizing the contract, request a copy signed by both parties for your records.
Permits for Window Installation in Wisconsin
Specific regulations on permits vary from region to region, so your local permitting office will have the best information about whether a permit is needed. However, many building departments do require permits for window replacements, especially if you’ll be making structural changes to the wall area surrounding the window. As part of the permitting process, you may be required to submit additional information along with the application, including proof of your homeowner’s insurance or affidavits certifying your property ownership, as well as plans or designs detailing the changes you plan to make, or copies of the manufacturer’s brochure.
If you have questions about the application, your local building office should be able to help. Your contractor should also be able to assist you with any more technical portions of the contract. Building departments may require a completed project to be inspected, as well.
Preparing Your Property for New Window Installation in Wisconsin
You can help your window replacement project proceed smoothly by taking care of a few items before your contractor arrives on installation day:
- Remove wall hangings and window treatments on or near the window to be replaced.
- Trim back overhanging or obstructive foliage from trees and shrubs near the window.
- Move furniture, rugs, and other items away from the window, and clear a path from the window to the front door.
- Place drop cloths over furniture and floors to protect them from dust during the installation.
- Deactivate security systems, particularly any window sensors.
- Place pets in a closed off room or confined area to keep them from disrupting the workers.
Wisconsin’s Climate Concerns for Windows
Long cold winters with plenty of snow mean that Wisconsin’s windows need to do more than just look pretty. Homeowners looking to install new fenestration in their Wisconsin homes need to consider the window’s impact on the home’s overall energy efficiency, and that means taking a close look at the industry ratings on the products they consider. In particular, one rating, known as the U-factor, will make the difference as to how well your window insulates your home. The National Fenestration Ratings Council (NFRC) tests new products and determines these values for a window.
In Wisconsin, windows should have a U-factor rating of 0.30 or lower— the lower the rating, the more efficient the insulation. Windows with superior performance may have a U-factor that’s even lower than that, around 0.25. These ratings will be listed on the labeling on the outside of the window or in the manufacturer’s brochure. Local building departments may even have their own energy code requirements for a window’s U-factor, or you may have to meet certain rates to be eligible for area rebates. To ensure that you’re compliant, you may want to consider purchasing windows that bear the ENERGY-STAR label on their packaging. These products have been reviewed by the EPA and found to demonstrate the highest energy performance—meaning you’ll save the most money on your heating costs when they’re installed in your home.
Understanding Wisconsin Window Ratings
Beyond a window’s U-factor, there are several other measurements displayed on a window’s labeling that will help you determine how the product will perform once it’s installed in your home.
- Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (SHGC): This measurement indicates how much solar radiation a window allows into your home, or essentially, how well it shades the interior. In sunnier areas, a window with a low SHGC rating can help offset heat gain in home on hot days. However, a higher SHGC glazing can help you use passive solar heat to warm your home during colder weather.
- Air Leakage (AL): This is the measurement of how much air flow a window allows into your home’s interior. A lower AL will ensure that your home is protected from wind and drafts.
- Visual Transmission (VT): This measurement articulates how much light is allowed to pass into a home through the glass.
Window Styles and Frames for a Wisconsin Property
There are several different styles of windows and window frames available for homeowners that will add to your home’s curbside appeal and affect the efficiency of your heating and cooling. Here are some of the most popular window styles:
- Arch top: This window contains a square frame topped by a rounded, decorative pane.
- Bay window: Composed of several panes of glass that project outwards beyond the outer envelope of a home, bay windows can be used for window seats and storage.
- Box window: Generally a grouping of three to five panels, these windows contain many small panes of glass and are generally used only in decorative areas.
- Double hung: Double hung windows look like classic single hung styles, but they have an operable upper sash so that the window can be opened from the top and bottom portion independently.
- Elliptical: A long, half or quarter circle shape makes this window perfect for high, decorative accents.
- French casement: Much like a French door, French casement windows open outward from a vertical center line.
- Picture windows: Made of one large single pane of glass, picture windows are low-efficient inoperable decorative windows ideal for areas with a great view.
- Single hung: The most classic window style, single-hung windows have a double sash, where the lower portion can be lifted above the upper to open it.
Frame materials factor heavily into your window’s efficiency and durability in the face of high winds. The following are the various types of window frames:
- Aluminum: These frames are strong, tough, and wind-resistant, perfect for areas often under threat of strong winds and storms. The metal frames conduct heat readily into a home’s interior as well.
- Composite: For those who favor the look of natural wood, composite frames, made of wood fibers and synthetic materials, give homeowners the classic feel of this natural material without the drawbacks of warping and wear and tear.
- Fiberglass: Durable and can be combined with insulation for a sealed and protected home.
- Vinyl: Naturally insulative, and sturdy and UV-resistant.
- Wood: Adds notes of authenticity, particularly to historical homes, but can be a high-maintenance material because it requires repainting and may warp or decay over time.
Glass Options for Wisconsin Windows
Lastly, you’ll want to think about your new window’s “glazing system”—most modern products aren’t made of a single pane of glass, but are series of glass layers with an inert gas sandwiched between them to help add insulation and form a barrier against the elements. Here are the details of those options:
- Single-pane windows: Contain a single pane of glass and are generally poor insulators, so most homeowners these days do not choose them. If you do install single-pane windows, be sure to select a sturdy frame material, such as aluminum, and add a set of storm panels as well.
- Double-pane windows: Has two sets of glass with gas trapped between, which helps deter air leaks and drafts. Generally, these are the bare minimum you’ll need in your Wisconsin home.
- Triple-pane windows: Homes that need extra insulation may benefit from the installation of triple-pane windows, which have an extra layer of insulating gas trapped between yet another pane of glass, making them ideal for cold and windy areas
- Low-E Glass: Not a glazing system, but window coating low-E glass has a microscopic film that reflects infrared energy, keeping heating and air conditioning more efficient.
Benefits of Installing New Windows in Wisconsin
In addition to beautifying and increasing the value and marketability of your home, windows can do great things to moderate temperatures throughout the interior, and save a potential 25 percent on your heating and cooling bills, if you select an energy efficient model. They can also ensure that you’re warm and comfortable in your Wisconsin home, no matter how fiercely the winds blow.