Most were predicted to have a 30-year lifespan, and, in fact, many are now failing. The old windows leak air and moisture, wasting energy and allowing water to cause deterioration in the walls, so boards are once more looking for replacements.
That was never an easy job, and now it's even tougher because of the wide range of choices. Co-op and condo boards can choose from highly insulating argon-filled windows (which weren't even introduced commercially in the U.S. until around 1988) to low-emissivity (a.k.a. "low-e") glass windows, which filter out the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays to prevent furniture discoloration and reduce solar heat, and are much refined from the original 1983 version. In addition, the aluminum and other materials used in frames have gotten lighter, stronger, and better at insulating.
Before you make a move, however, you need to decide whether to replace all of your windows or just make repairs to selected ones. "Repair can be a good option, depending on the age and condition of the windows, and it just becomes a cost-benefit analysis," says Howard Ecker, CEO of the Ecker Window Corp.
But there are telltale signs that your windows have reached the end or even exceeded their functionality.
One of the most common is streaks inside the glazing that washing does not remove. That's condensation within double-pane glass, says Gwen Miller-Tapogna, a senior architect at Rand Engineering & Architecture. "Over time, the seal [between the panes] breaks, and water and condensation get in, and you can't clean them. The insulation properties have failed and [the glazing is] at the end of its useful life. That's a concrete way to tell."
Another sign of trouble: if the windows aren't locking or aren't settling properly in the frame and fully closing, air will leak, says Peter Lehr, director of management at Kaled Management.
Once an architect or engineer confirms that your windows need replacing, you should figure out your needs.
Talking to the Residents
As you plan for your replacement work, keep the residents informed. You can do this through e-mails, newsletters, and informational discussion sessions.
Professionals are often brought to such gatherings to share information and answer questions.
Inevitably, says Braun, when her building held meetings, there was some pushback from a vocal minority. "We responded to all the questions asked in the meetings, and then we followed up with a memo slipped under doors so that we made sure every resident got it and that our responses were in writing," she says.
Adapted from "The Day the Windows Died" by Frank Lovece (Habitat, December 2014)
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