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Open windows to a new design

Windows are one of the main architectural elements in a house, and affordable stock windows in many styles that once were only custom-made can wake up its design, according to House Beautiful magazine. Window design and location "have everything to do with the success or failure of a building," says Christopher Williams, a Meredith, N.H., architect, in an article carried in a recent issue of the magazine.

Because of the wide choice available, you can take advantage of new window technology without compromising architectural integrity.

Replacement options include style, price, energy efficiency and maintenance. When remodeling, window size and location also need to be taken into account.

Most architects advocate respect for period and style, but New York architect Walter Chatham warned against rigidity.

"The character of the house should guide your choice of windows, but if the house lacks character entirely, you can compensate _ through the windows you choose," he says.

There are fanlight windows, eyebrows, oriels, bays _ all in standard sizes. Use special shapes only with careful attention to placement, detail and period.

A view _ having something pleasing to look at and a good way to see it _ is not only an important amenity. It can be a valuable improvement.

Boston architect Douglas Lemle suggests exploring "how you are continuously connected to the outdoors. It's not just a view but also the sequence of what your eyes are focusing on as you move through your house."

Planning a view involves furniture arrangements. What will you be able to see from where you sit _ or stand? At what time of day?

Thoughtful window expansion not only stretches your view but also increases the natural light in your home.

"The effect of the light from skylights can be spectacular," Lemle says, but warns they can create glare.

Installing a small skylight in a corner rather than a large one in the center of a room will let the light bounce off corner walls, suffusing it across the area.

Design professionals suggest placing windows on two walls of a room, with the glass area adding up to at least 10 percent of floor area.

The direction of light affects energy conservation. West-facing windows tend to produce a lot of heat. The general rule is to reduce the amount of glass on the side of the house that's most exposed to heat gain.

If your view is westward, window shades, exterior awnings, roof overhangs and trellises can help reduce heat. Chatham says placing windows high up on a wall can "light a big area with a small amount of glass."

Glass is available with a low-emissivity (low-E) coating, with argon gas injected between layers, or with both.

Industry sources say that low-E glazing has an R3 value, while windows with both low-E coating and argon gas perform at R4. That means four times the energy efficiency of single-thickness glass.

High-tech products are not the only answer. Williams says his New England architectural practice often requires him to provide natural summer cooling.

"Casements direct ventilation just as sails do, to the point where breezes can actually be made to flow through a building," he says.

Before you buy, compare the qualities of products from different window makers _ and ask for expert assistance.

"Specifications vary from manufacturer to manufacturer," New York City architect Laurence Tamaccio told Judith Trotsky in House Beautiful. "You can't ask too many questions."

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