There are good reasons to consider your windows themselves when you're making decisions about window treatments. After all, the new treatments will draw attention to the openings on which they are placed.
Are your windows suitable companions for the coverings you favor? Perhaps your interior decor―including your taste in window coverings―is traditional or country, while your aluminum sliders typify the 1950s ranch-style house. Or maybe you'd like luxurious, high-quality coverings but don't want to waste them on unattractive or dilapidated windows.
If your inclination is to disguise problem windows, you may end up with different coverings―and a completely different look―than you desire. Hiding such windows may conflict with your need to keep them uncovered for at least part of the day, to maximize sunlight, let in fresh air, or enjoy a view. Should you conclude that your windows need replacing, you can console yourself with the fact that good-looking, well-built, energy-efficient windows are an investment that adds to a property's value. Plus, they help show off beautiful window treatments.
The range of windows available today is staggering. Manufacturers produce literally thousands of standard variations, from arched casements, old-fashioned bays, and fixed windows in semicircles, ovals, trapezoids, and other shapes to hinged or sliding French doors, all with an assortment of framing and glazing options, many designed for energy efficiency. If the window you want isn't standard, most manufacturers will make one to your specifications. As an alternative, you can group standard windows in unusual configurations to achieve a unique custom look.
Windows are sold through many sources, including manufacturers, name-brand dealer networks, window stores, home centers, and building-supply yards. Often, the window you order is built at the factory and then shipped to the dealer, where it's prepared for installation before being delivered to you. If you prefer, you can probably find a company that manufactures windows closer to home; there's less risk of damage to the product in transit, and you can work with a local supplier.
A good-quality window should be solidly constructed with strong, tight joints and smooth operation. Sashes should open easily and close flush all around, and window locks should shut securely without undue force. Each pane should be fully sealed in the sash, and weather stripping should provide a continuous seal around the window.
Frames. The most common window-frame materials are wood, clad wood (the wood is covered with a thin layer of vinyl or aluminum), vinyl, and fiberglass (a relative newcomer). A less familiar option is steel. Neither steel nor aluminum frames are nearly as insulating as the other types. Of the more energy-efficient frames, clad wood and fiberglass tend to be costlier than wood or all-vinyl. Wood units require regular refinishing and can rot if not properly maintained. Vinyl frames require the least maintenance; clad wood and fiberglass demand little upkeep if you don't paint their factory finishes.
Glazing. Many of the greatest strides in window technology are taking place in glazing. Most quality windows sold to homeowners today include insulating glass, which is made of two or more panes of glass sealed together, with a space between panes to trap air. Low-e (low-emissivity) glass usually consists of two sealed panes separated by an air space and a transparent coating to reflect heat and screen out the sun's ultraviolet rays. Some window manufacturers use argon gas between panes of low-e glass to add extra insulation.
Warm-edge technology is another feature offered. Instead of an aluminum spacer between panes of insulating glass, warm-edge windows have a less conductive spacer that won't transfer heat as easily. The result is less condensation buildup around the edge of the window, often a problem in cold climates.
Where privacy is important but opening the window isn't, you may opt for a glass-block window instead of a standard one. Often used in bathrooms, where moisture can be ventilated with a fan, glass blocks let in soft, diffused light. The blocks themselves become the window treatment.
You can buy 3- or 4-inch-thick glass blocks in many sizes; rectangular and curved corner blocks are also available in a more limited selection. Textures can be smooth, wavy, rippled, bubbly, or crosshatched. Most block is clear, though Italian block also comes in blue, rose, and green tones, and German block in a gold tone.
Glass blocks are usually sold individually and are mortared together on the job. Prefabricated panels are sometimes available, but they're very heavy. Installation of any type of glass block is best left to a professional.
To locate glass block, look in the yellow pages under Glass―Block.
You may be able to special-order blocks through a regular glass or tile dealer.
Sunset Ideas for Great Window Treatments