Featuring America's Home Inspector: Nationally Syndicated Columnist, Barry Stone

Installing Dual Pane Windows

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: We have old steel frame windows in our home and would like to minimize heat loss. Rather than install dual-pane replacement windows, we’d like to install inside windows and leave the old windows in place. This might not look as good, but we don’t want the mess and expense of removing the old windows. Do you think this is a good idea?  Walter

Dear Walter:  Adding interior windows will reduce some heat loss from your home, but vinyl-frame, dual-pane replacement windows will do this much more effectively and with much less mess that you expect.

Removal of the old windows does not involve removing the frames from the walls. When replacement windows are installed, the old glass and dividers are taken out, but not the frames that are embedded the siding. The replacement windows are installed over the old metal frames.

Before deciding which way to go, check out the prices for replacement windows, and discuss the replacement procedures with the window installer.

Tenants Held Liable For Cracked Window

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: My daughter lives in a student apartment with a large, double-pane picture-window in the living room. Last month, that window developed a long crack on the inside pane. Neither my daughter nor her roommates have any idea what caused the crack. They just came home one night, and the crack was there. The apartment management replaced the window and the billed the girls $450. The manager said the windows were installed several months ago, just before they moved in, so he holds them responsible for the damage. Couldn’t the crack have been caused by faulty installation or building settlement?  Art

Dear Art: There are several possible causes for the window crack that do not involve liability for your daughter or her roommates. For example, when a sheet of glass is cut, an edge can be slightly chipped, and this flaw can produce a crack at a later time. Sometimes, all that is needed to convert a chip to a crack is a door forcefully closed by the wind or a large cement truck rumbling down the street.

Another possible cause is stress from normal building settlement, particularly in areas that have expansive clay soil. Expansive soil can swell or shrink due to seasonal changes in ground moisture. When this happens, buildings can lift and settle unevenly, causing doors to rub and, sometimes, windows to crack.

If the management company insists on payment for the cracked window, your daughter and her friends could test the strength of their position in small claims court. The judge could decide either way in this case, depending on whose position appears more credible. But win or lose, this could be a beneficial experience for your daughter and her friends. At the very least, they will receive some first-hand education in judicial civics.

Requirements for a Legal Bedroom

The House Detective:  by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: I am looking for the legal definition of a bedroom. I bought a house that was listed as a four-bedroom home. Two bedrooms are in the remodeled attic, with short, doorless alcoves for closets. And I’m not sure if these rooms are large enough to qualify as bedrooms. Can you help me to figure this out?  Christine

Dear Christine: Here are the basic requirements for a bedroom:
1)  A bedroom must be at least 70 square feet in area, with no dimension less than 7 feet.
2)  The ceiling must be at least 7 feet high above the finished floor. If the ceiling is sloped, 50% of it can be less than 7 feet, but no part of it should be less than 5 feet.
3)   There must be an openable window for light, ventilation, and fire escape. For light, the window size must be at least 8% of the floor area. For ventilation, the openable portion of the window must be at least 4% of the floor area. For fire escape, the window must be at least 5.7 square feet in area. The opening must have a minimum height of 24 inches, a minimum width of 20 inches, and a maximum sill height of 44 inches. (Note: There are additional window requirements for basement bedrooms, but this was discussed in previous articles.)
4)  Contrary to popular belief, no closet is required in a bedroom.

Window cracks due to cold weather

The House Detective by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: We recently installed two, large, double-pane windows in our living room, but we ran into a problem. The weather last night was very cold, and warm air from the floor register caused the glass to crack along the bottom edge of one window. It seems that we made a mistake installing the windows so close to the register. The windows are just a few inches above the floor. What do you think? Trudy

Dear Trudy: The apparent errors in this window installation are worse than you realize. Temperature differentials may indeed have caused the crack, although the cause might have been a flaw in the glass edge, as sometimes occurs when glass is roughly cut. There is, however, a bigger issue.

Windows that are larger than nine square feet and are within 18 inches of the floor must be made of tempered safety glass. The fact that your window cracked, instead of disintegrating into small shards, indicates that it is not safety glass. If someone were to walk into one of these windows, major injuries could result, and you could be liable for the costs of those injuries. My advice is to have these windows replaced by a professional glazing contractor.

Does Window Replacement Require a Permit?

The House Detective by Barry Stone, Certified Home Inspector

Dear Barry: I recently bought a 1944 home that needed many repairs. Before buying it, I hired a home inspector, but he missed many of the problems, including windows that won’t open. I’m planning to replace all the windows in the house and have three questions: 1) Shouldn’t my home inspector have reported the faulty windows? 2) Is a building permit required for window replacement? 3) Can they really deny my right to occupy the house until the window replacement is approved? According to the permit application form from the building department, a Certificate of Occupancy cannot be issued until the permit is signed off. Delbert

Dear Delbert: Here are three answers to your three questions:

  1. Home inspectors typically test a random sample of windows to ensure that they function properly. When windows are not tested, it is usually because furniture or window coverings restrict access. Ensuring that windows are functional is particularly important in bedrooms and bathrooms. Bedroom windows must be openable and must meet minimum dimension requirements to enable emergency escape by occupants. Bathroom windows must be openable in order to provide ventilation, unless an operable exhaust fan in installed.
  2. The building code does not specifically require a permit for window replacements, but it does require permits if you “alter” a building. Some building departments interpret this code to include window replacements, while others do not. However, when window replacements include changes in the wall framing, a permit is more likely to be required.
  3. The requirement for a Certificate of Occupancy typically applies to buildings that are under construction, not homes where windows are being replaced.

Before commencing work on your home, check with the local building department for clarification of their requirements.