Like a chain, a building envelope is only as strong as its weakest link. Boards and managers often spend a lot of time and effort maintaining exterior elements like drainage, flashing, and so forth, only to neglect one of the most important features of their association’s envelope: the windows.
Windows provide light, views, ventilation, protection from the elements, and in some cases a means of egress. In order to function properly, a window must be resistant to water and air infiltration, must be strong enough to resist pulling away from the building or deforming under wind pressure, must resist impact in hurricane zones, and must limit the conduction of heat from one side to another. In specific instances, windows may also be required to meet elevated structural and fire resistance standards.
What’s Out There
The marketplace offers many varieties of windows, which are in turn installed into buildings of all descriptions—with all manner of inconsistencies in both installation and material selection, unfortunately. Those inconsistencies and deviations from good practice, code and accepted standards cause everything from unnecessary air infiltration to catastrophic damage. Attention to building code requirements and accepted standard practices—as well as day-to-day work done by HOA staff—can go a long way in extending and improving the performance of any building envelope.
Any window installation project starts with the material selection, which will be based upon cost, aesthetics and performance requirements. The window options for a single-story ranch house 120 miles inland from the ocean are much greater than those available to a 20-story ocean front high-rise. For example, as of the writing of this article, the writer is not aware of any vinyl windows that would meet the structural requirements for an oceanfront high-rise. By contrast, a residential condo outside of a high wind area will have much smaller wind-load requirements—so product options for that home would include vinyl, wood, aluminum, aluminum-clad wood, vinyl-clad wood and even fiberglass. Each of the different products has their applications, benefits, and shortcomings.
Vinyl has excellent resistance to conducting heat and can be constructed with a high energy rating as well as a high resistance to condensation. Many modern vinyl window manufacturers also weld the vinyl corners so the frames become one piece, eliminating the possibility of the corners leaking.