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The truth about inspecting windows

As home inspectors, we are often reminded by the Realtor community not to be an “alarmist” on issues relating to a potential sale of a home. Unfortunately, there is a fine line that we walk as to performing our responsibilities as an inspector and maintaining relationships with Realtors referring our services.

Inspecting windows and the exteriorWhen it comes to windows in the home, for example, it is important for us as inspectors to report on what we see (keep to the facts) and not to speculate on the condition of the overall window.

The window inspection protocol most commonly followed by home inspectors is as follows:

  1. Inspect and review the functionality of the window itself (i.e., does it open, close and lock without using excessive force).
  2. Inspect and review the visible components of the window (glass, hardware, framing, grilles, screens and trim).

Although it is fairly simple to review the functionality of a window, the difficulty arises when we as inspectors review the components. The two most common issues debated in the area of inspecting the visible components of a window are 1) broken/compromised thermal panes and
2) moisture-related deterioration of the sashes (framing).

Window specialists often look for the appearance of moisture or a cloudy residue between the thermal panes as an indication of a compromised thermal pane. Even that too can be tricky depending on the time of year, the amount of sunlight available for the inspection, the stage of the failure itself, and not to mention the overall cleanliness of the glass itself.

When it comes to moisture penetration of the framing components, the experts site three stages of deterioration:

  • First stage – discoloration of the wooden members encapsulating the glass itself, mostly found on the bottom sash as a result of excessive condensation. Easily remedied by controlling the humidity levels in the home, then lightly sanding and sealing the area. The functionality of the window is not compromised.
  • Second stage – the discoloration is no longer surface-oriented, but has now penetrated the sash, creating a soft or spongy feeling when squeezed. The level of sponginess is certainly subjective, knowing it too can be remedied by eliminating the cause of the moisture, drying out the affected area, painting/staining, then resealing it accordingly. Functionality of the window is sometimes compromised as the swelling of the sash prohibits the opening and closing of the window freely.
  • Third stage – the ignored moisture deterioration is now deeply embedded in the sash, causing pieces of the frame to separate. Remedy involves replacing sections of the sash and/or replacement of the entire window. Functionality is almost always compromised as the hardware now becomes inoperable, not to mention the window assembly now less energy efficient.

To preserve the longevity of your windows, it is vital to control the amount of condensation allowed to build up on the glass of your windows over time. The best way to minimize the amount of moisture collecting on the inside of the glass, then running down onto your sash is to control the humidity levels in the home.

Increasing the humidity levels in increments of 5% in the home and maintaining that level for at least 24 hours quickly remedies the issue. If a humidifier is not available, position your window treatments so air can circulate in and around the bottom portion of the window. This will minimize condensation build-up.

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