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Choosing Windows:
Looking Through the Options

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Advanced triple-glazed, low-e Sorpetaler windows from Germany were used in this newly constructed Passive House in Palo Alto, California, designed by Arkin-Tilt Architects and built by Quantum Builders of Berkeley.

When we poke a hole in the wall and stick a window in it, we strike a high-stakes bargain. We want a visual connection to the outdoors that lets in daylight and that is itself pleasant to look at, both from the inside and the outside. We expect windows to provide fresh air and cooling breezes at times, but at other times we expect them to be completely airtight and provide good thermal insulation. Insects should be kept out; children and pets in. In heating climates, we want to get solar heat gain from windows, but not too much, and in all climates we don’t want glare.

Along with these key functions, we need windows to be durable in every way: resistant to condensation, wind, driving rain and ice, as well as the occasional baseball from over the neighbor’s fence or hurricane-driven debris. Windows must operate easily and accommodate attachments like curtains, awnings, and other devices. We want windows that are quick to install, that integrate with the rest of the building envelope, and that won’t break the bank. Given that they are a big investment, they should last a long time—several decades at least. We want windows to not cause undue environmental harm during their life cycle, whether from material extraction, manufacture, disposal, or as a hazard to birds.

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