Foggy glass

Condensation and fog on glass can occur when the seals of the insulated glass unit break.

If you can’t see clearly from your windows, it may not be your eyesight. It could be the glass. Not your eyeglasses, but the actual window pane itself. Or if you notice the windows are unable to keep heat or cold out of your home the way it once did, it may be time to consider repairing or replacing them.

To determine your replacement needs, first, it’s important to understand the difference between single, double, and triple-pane windows.

Single pane windows are made with one layer of glass. They come in different styles and materials. Some include an additional removable pane of glass referred to as a “storm window.” Because there are no additional panes of glass, single pane windows do not offer as much as double or triple pane windows by way of insulation and may not effective at keeping out noise.

Windows with two or three panes of glass are also called thermal windows, thermopanes, or insulated windows. Because of the space between the panes, this window assembly is known as an insulated glazing unit or insulated glass unit (IGU).

The space between the glass panes of an IGU is emptied of air through vacuum suction, and it is often filled with argon or krypton gas, to slow the passage of heat through the window unit. These inert gasses are less heat-conductive than air or a vacuumed space.

The edges of the glass panes in double- or triple-pane IGU windows are embedded with two seals working together. These seals are meant to be long-lasting and hold up for decades, but they can and do fail. Improper window installation, painters using heat guns to strip paint, or homeowners using pressure washers to clean the windows are common causes of failure.

If the seals that protect the edges of the IGU break, then the inert gases can escape and ambient air and moisture can enter the space between the panes, thus losing its extra insulating value. That is when you will see the fogginess or condensation inside the glass. Not only does it look unpleasant, but more importantly, the energy-saving value of the window also goes well … out the window.

The more layers of glass the more layers of protection between the weather and your home.

Whether you should replace your single-pane windows comes down to the specifics of your home, including your average climate, amount of outside noise, the amount of money you normally pay for heating, your home’s age, and a few other factors. These factors may help you decide which are most important to you.

Selecting new windows

Double-pane windows can help lower energy costs. For a typical home, replacing single-pane windows with ENERGY STAR certified windows can save on average $101 — $583 per year. Whether heating or cooling is your concern, the extra insulation helps control your home’s internal climate and puts less strain on your air systems.

Look for a window with more than a half-inch of air space between the two panes of glass because that air space is where you get much of your insulation value. Between those two panes of glass, there must be an airtight seal, otherwise, the moisture that’s in the air can get in between the two panes. Also, moisture can leak into the space between the panels and etch the glass, making it look like frost coating the window.

Fixing vs. replacing

If replacing your windows is not an option, you may be able to repair them to reduce fog, condensation, or the wavy appearance. If you are seeing condensation in your windows, that means the airtight seal is no longer there.

Check the warranty: Before attempting a repair, call the manufacturer. Because premature window seal failure indicates a defective product, window manufacturers may offer partial or complete replacement of the IGU if the failure occurs within a stated time frame. Other manufacturers may offer prorated compensation in the case of failure, scaled according to the age of the window.

Defog: If there is no warranty protection on the window, contact a company that specializes in defogging services. The windows are not removed. All materials stay in place. A tiny hole is drilled in the glass to expel the moisture from between the panes. An anti-fog solution is applied to the inside of the IGU, a liquid sealant is applied to the bottom, and the drilled hole is sealed.

There are DIY kits available but they can be difficult to use and get an effective seal. Also, many windows are made with tempered glass, which breaks easily if you don’t know what you’re doing.

Replace the IGU: If an IGU seal fails, you may be able to replace the glass without replacing the entire window and frame. Unless the window frames are constructed so they can be taken apart, this project should be left to the professionals, but it’s possible to do it yourself.

Leave the window as is: If you live in Northern Arizona or the mountains in Southern Arizona, a few broken seals can make a difference in your energy bills. Otherwise, if you don’t mind looking through the fog and your energy bills are not affected, leave them alone.

Prevent seal failure

Keeping your windows properly maintained is key to preventing seal failure.

When buying new windows look for manufactures that offer lifetime warranties.

To ensure the windows will have the full warranty have them installed by the manufacturer’s technicians.

Examine the windows regularly for signs of separation between the IGUs and the frames. Caulk gaps and keep the seam clean and well-painted.

Never use pressure washers to clean windows. The powerful water stream may cause gaps between the IGUs and frames.

Don’t use heat guns to remove paint from window frames. Carefully scrape and sand instead.

See everything clearly for many years by choosing and selecting the right windows for your home.

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For more do-it-yourself tips, go to rosieonthehouse.com.

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