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VINYL FRAME THICKNESS INDICATES QUALITY

Q: We want to replace our wood windows with maintenance-free vinyl ones that are easy to clean. Which style would be best for us? How can we compare the manufacturers' quality?

A: If you want replacement windows that are virtually maintenance-free, vinyl frames are an excellent choice. With the durable weatherstripping used today, the only maintenance should be cleaning the glass panes and wiping down the vinyl frame occasionally.

Vinyl frames are available in several colors, so you should be able to find one that looks good with your house color.

Casement windows are generally the most energy efficient, because they close with compression weatherstripping. They can be opened varying degrees to catch breezes for ventilation.

Since you are concerned about easy cleaning, tilt-in double-hung windows are a good choice. Hidden latches on the top of each sash allow each one to tilt for cleaning.

There are hundreds of small and large vinyl window manufacturers across the country. Just because a local company is small does not mean its windows are not high-quality. Check its reputation and number of years in business. You can generally count on the large national manufacturers to stand behind their products. Their prices should be reasonable, because they can afford to invest in more automated manufacturing procedures.

When comparing the quality of various manufacturers, the thickness of the vinyl material used is a good indicator. Look at a cross-section of the frame and measure the thickness of the exterior skin and interior webs. Heavier is better, but is often more costly. For larger windows, metal reinforcing rods are inserted inside the frame to enhance rigidity.

James Dulley is a mechanical engineer and do-it-yourselfer. Send questions to James Dulley, The Sensible Home, St. Petersburg Times, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45244. Visit www.dulley.com to tour his energy-efficient home, post questions for other readers and find other information.

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