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Much More Than a Source of Light: How to Get the Most Out of Multifamily Windows

Industry Insights

In the multifamily world, much is demanded of windows. They should let in air and light, but not too much. They should be safe and efficient, but not absurdly expensive. Here’s your how-to guide on striking the right balance.

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When it comes to constructing or replacing windows, the checklist can be lengthy. Here’s what Chestnut Hill Realty mulled over as it worked to replace windows in five different buildings: “Considerations we needed to factor in during the bid-out process were aesthetics, durability, energy performance, expense, and sound proofing.”

Keeping in mind each of these categories, it’s all the more impressive that Chestnut Hill managed to get this done “Five different buildings—all constructed in the 1960s with aluminum single-pane windows—received a total of 1,031 vinyl replacement windows in just 12 weeks. Plus, there were 233 vinyl patio doors and 60 Therma-Tru fiberglass doors replaced.”

To be sure, the Chestnut Hill case demonstrates the magnitude of any massive window project. Before embarking on a replacement effort this substantial, it’s important to ask: are you set to get the most out of your windows? From design to efficiency to safety, here’s how to ensure your multifamily windows become much more than a source of light.

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Sunlight is a selling point — the allure of large windows.

glassy tower windows

The popularity of glass-walled buildings makes clear: sunlight is a selling point. From New York City’s Billionaires’ Row to downtown Minneapolis, expansive windows are cropping up across major cities. If you have a glass-centric urban project in the works, you’re in a prime position. A 2017 NAA (National Apartment Association) study found that floor-to-ceiling windows were one of the top five most desired amenities among Austin, Houston and Miami residents, with the final group willing to pay an average rent premium of around $83 per month. According to a Washington, D.C. radio news station, D.C. renters are willing to pay an average of around $72 per month more for an apartment with floor-to-ceiling windows.

But if your multifamily community doesn’t fit the bill of a glassy tower, there are still plenty of ways to upgrade your windows and make your buildings stand out.

— Expand small windows. One straightforward way to compete with glassy towers? Make small windows bigger. This might prove prohibitively expensive in steel-framed, mid or high-rise structures, but if you’re managing a low-rise, wooden-framed building, there could be a possibility of cutting a bigger opening in the wall. The opportunity could spur greater resident satisfaction, especially given this finding from a recent Forbes piece: “there is the evidence that the lack of natural sunlight has an adverse effect on the body and mind, and can result in conditions such as seasonal affective disorder (SAD).” So, if you’re already planning a remodel, it would be wise to consider making windows larger during the same go, as sunlight truly is a selling point.

— Choose sturdy (but attractive) window treatments. Window treatments are a necessity, in part because they prevent tenants from poking holes in the window trim to install blinds themselves. But when you’re tasked with choosing blinds, it’s best to steer clear of shoddy metal ones (despite their tempting price tag), as this variety can bend very easily. You’re better off choosing a properly-installed wood or faux-wood shutter or blind, as they can rise to the occasion of regular use and still look appealing. Another attractive option? Shades, as they’re ideal for letting in natural light while also offering privacy.

— Clean windows regularly. On this front, it’s actually a relief when you’re not in charge of a glass-walled property! However, when even half of the unit’s walls are windows, residents are bound to take notice of smudges and dirt. In general, the regularity of window cleanings depends on the local climate and the amount of pollution in the area. However, a switch to mobile inspections, ideally with a business intelligence feature, can help you gauge the ideal interval between cleanings. Once your property managers get in a rhythm of just how often windows should be inspected (from apartment exterior and interior), you can set a reliable schedule for window washings.

— Touch up window treatments and frames between residents. Multifamily owners and managers will almost always paint walls after a move-out, but they often neglect windows. Whichever covering you choose for your windows, it’s important that you repair or replace it once residents leave.

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Finding a happy medium: how to juggle style and efficiency.

installing window

Despite the rise of glass-walled buildings, it’s critical to keep in mind: we still live in an era of climate change. Thus, in choosing windows, it’s key to strike a sustainable balance — by juggling style and efficiency. Millennial residents, after all, are increasingly seeking out living spaces that match their sustainable lifestyles.

Interestingly, one of the architects behind London’s famous “Gherkin” glassy skyscraper now laments his involvement. Though Ken Shuttleworth calls the site “fantastic,” he stresses: “we can’t have that anymore.” As communities grow more conscious of global warming, Shuttleworth argues: “we need to be much more responsible in terms of the way we shade our buildings and the way we thermally think about our buildings.”

At issue? Glass both releases and absorbs a great deal of heat, meaning significant energy is required to make sure glassy towers keep people cool in Dubai summers and warm in Toronto winters. Thus, if you’re in the construction phrase, it might be wise to steer clear of an all-glass approach for both environmental and budget reasons.

— Use floor-to-ceiling windows sparingly: To avoid the sustainability downsides of a glassy complex, your building could instead selectively place floor-to-ceiling windows along exterior walls or vary them with narrow windows that still let in ample light.

— Replace single-pane windows. Double-pane windows are about twice as effective at retaining heat as their single-pane counterparts, Money Magazine reports. Energy Star-certified windows up the ante, saving owners up to $465 per year over single-pane windows and up to $111 over standard, non-Energy Star-certified double-pane windows. That comes out to a significant savings, as the Department of Energy suggests the average household spends $2,000 every year on energy costs — with roughly 48% of that bill covering heating and cooling needs.

— Make existing windows more energy efficient. If replacing windows is too costly, there are still multiple ways to make your current models more efficient. Among the options, NPR lists: weatherstripping (the process of sealing up gaps using rubber or foam where rain and wind can enter — and heat and conditioned air can escape), covering windows with certain insulating plastic films, and sealing holes with foam and caulk as pathways toward conserving energy and reducing heating bills.

— Inspect windows regularly. If they’re not inspected properly, even double-pane windows will see a performance decrease during their lifetime. The best safeguard? Train your property personnel to inspect common sources of air leaks, even making the task worthy of an annual maintenance inspection. Switching to mobile inspections can enhance your efforts on this front, as the technology can require a check of windows before an inspection can be marked “complete.”

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Above all, consider safety!

baby near curtains

While style and efficiency are key factors in choosing windows, it’s important to remember safety above all else!

Needless to say, child safety is one of the biggest risks associated with windows. A 2015 Safe Kids Worldwide report found that about eight children under age five die each year from falling out of windows. Many parents already know that it’s a disaster waiting to happen when windows open too wide or too easily. As a result, window guards, which restrict the movement of windows, are required in many jurisdictions.

Sadly, the dangers don’t stop there. An average of one child per month dies from strangulation by window cord, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Fortunately, as of December 2018, corded blinds are no longer allowed for sale (unless the cord is short and inaccessible to children). Still, the CPSC recommends that all corded blinds be replaced by the cordless variety, in a push to prevent tragedies.

The other major safety requirement associated with windows is that they must be functional, in order to allow for emergency escape. This logic makes up the legal definition of a “bedroom,” which requires that the room have proper “egress,” including at least one door that leads to the rest of the unit and one method of exiting the building, whether that’s by fire escape or escape ladder.

According to the National Safety Council, which provides a checklist for safe window practices, windows should also:

— Not be nailed or painted shut

— Not be blocked by an air conditioner (if only means of escape)

— Have an accessible release mechanism for security bars or grates

The best strategy to keep residents safe from window-related dangers? Diligent inspections. With the right mobile inspection software in tow, your teams can leverage inline photos and customizable templates to make sure hazards like these never go unnoticed. Should an accident happen, executives can also feel confident that all of their preventative efforts, every inspection, can be accessed easily in the cloud. From efficiency through safety, mobile inspections truly help multifamily executives get the most out of their windows!


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About the author

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Glennis Markison
Content & Webinar Producer

Glennis is a writer/producer from San Francisco. Taking the city’s trains and buses with riders of all ages and backgrounds inspired Glennis to go into journalism and share people’s stories for a living. After graduating from Johns Hopkins University in 2013, she worked at CBS San Francisco as a program coordinator, public affairs producer, and ultimately full-time news writer for the KPIX 5 Morning News. She’s excited to enter the bustling startup world and tell HappyCo’s stories across channels.

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