Thermopane-in-the-Butt Windows

This is a rant that has been simmering for a few years.

However well intentioned, I think the whole notion of thermopane windows is misguided. When I started building houses in the mid 70’s the idea had really taken hold as people became interested in conserving energy and improving the comfort of their homes.

It was not long before the requirements for insulating glass became codified with different requirements varying with climate.

We are now more than 40 years past the time when I started building and most of the seals have failed on those windows. That is, except for the windows that were not sealed thermopane type. Many of the houses I built had Pella type windows with removable interior panels. Those windows are still performing exceptionally.

I do not belief it can ever be economically justified–over the life of the house–to install thermopane windows when you factor in the cost of replacing all that glass in less than 30 years. This becomes even truer if the windows are triple-pane or have funny gasses pumped into them or reflective coatings applied to them.

Some of the newer windows with the “Warm Edge Spacers” are known to fail in less than 15 years.

I think it is time to revisit the whole business of insulating glass windows and see if the use of removable panel type insulating glass–or even old fashioned storm type windows might have some merit–or at least be an option.  Throwing money at the fruit so far off the ground may not have proved to be the wisest path–and is rotting by the time we get to it.

The amount of energy expended to create thermopane windows simply cannot be justified against how long they last. Well cared for windows should last indefinitely, whereas sealed unit, thermopane windows are a version of job security for the windows replacement industry.

I installed thermopane windows in my kitchen about 18 years ago, and this year two of the panes failed.

This is unacceptable in my opinion. The labor and materials to replace these units will easily cost more money and consume more energy than any imagined savings accrued over the 18 years. If the windows had been a removable glass panel type windows, they would have continued to keep on saving energy, eventually even paying for themselves over the life of the home—probably sooner.

I would like feedback from anyone that can make a case for sealed unit, thermopane windows.

Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

When designers don’t put on their thinking caps.

I often find instances where it would appear that designers have lost their thinking caps or never had one to begin with.

largecondo1Take this 6 story building for example.  There are probably a hundred condo units in this building and every unit has a dryer.  All these dryers have to terminate at the exterior of the building somewhere.  The top units can likely pretty satisfactorily be vented through the roof for ease of maintenance/inspection (they were not however).  Even the second floor vents can likely be fairly easily and safely maintained by ladder from the ground.

But what about the floor levels in between?  These vents are going to be 30, 40, 50 or 60 feet off the ground!  It some areas they are even further off the ground due to the slope of the site.  While it is common for Condo Associations to have a maintenance schedule for maintaining these termination points, one has to wonder just how cleaning and maintenance gets done.  Even renting a cherry picker a couple of times a year would get expensive on a building this size.  It is amazing to me that building codes would even allow the vents to terminate where maintenance would be so difficult.

In this next picture I have circled some of the dryer vent locations that would be extremely difficult to maintain.

largecondo2

To add insult to injury all of the dryer vent terminations on this building had screens installed over the vents.  Even if this was a good idea (It is not and is in fact not allowed) it would only increase the number of times they would need to be inspected/cleaned due to the presence of the screens.

As you can see in the following picture some of the screens—this one 40 feet off the ground—is partially blocked with lint consistent with inadequate maintenance.

So all of this begs the question, “Why weren’t the vents terminated at locations where they could be easily maintained at virtually not cost?”  This could have been easily accomplished by terminating the vents at all the deck locations around the building—as some of them were.

Given that dryer fires are one of the most common types of fires in residential construction, it makes sense to have more sense as to where these vents terminate.

This stuff is not rocket science and yet we try to make it so at times.

 

By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

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Your kitchen sink spray-wand may be leaking even if you never use it.

A very common source of leaks under the kitchen sink is at the sprayer head.  Every time you use the sink faucet–whether you use the sprayer or not–the hose to the sprayer is “pressurized.”  In other words it is made ready for use.  Of course the sprayer head sits looking pretty in its little cradle and if there is a leak it is going to end up in the cabinet below–not in the sink.

Depending on how much storage is under the sink–and of course nobody ever has any storage under the sink–this leak might go unnoticed for considerable amounts of time.

It is a good idea to occasionally check for leaks under the sink.

At a recent inspection I had a leaking spray attachment that I only figured out was leaking when I saw the evidence in the crawl space.

Of course hidden behind all the stuff under the sink there was plenty of evidence of past/ongoing leaking of the sprayer.

By Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

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