This article was contributed by Anna Muhm
Anna Muhm is a soon-to-be barndo owner in Missouri, who is the General Contractor for her build. A former teacher, Anna enjoys learning and sharing her knowledge with the world around her. Growing up, her father taught her basic construction – everything from tuckpointing to roof installs, laying tile to putting in a pool, so she has a passion for getting her hands dirty and an appreciation for those who work in trades. A wife and mother, she cannot wait to watch her son grow up where his great grandfather did.
One of my favorite things to do is to sit near a window. As I write this, I’m looking out a glass storm door, at trees that are beginning to change colors, listening to the waterfall outside my door. Windows let in light and bring the outdoors in. On cold days, I love to lay in a patch of sunlight reading a book and soaking up the sun. I cannot wait to watch the wildlife come through my backyard in my new barndominium as I sip my tea and watch the morning mist clear off the forest floor.
Windows are a must for any home. Not only do they add comfort and coziness, but they can also change the way a home looks and provide an exit in the case of emergencies. But there are so many options for windows. Single-hung, double-hung, casement, egress, arched, bay, transom…the list is long and confusing. And then, other questions, such as where are they located, do you trim them out, consider the R-value? It can all be overwhelming. We are here to help! Let’s start with the basics.
Where to put the windows?
First, take a look at your floorplan. According to the International Residential Code, every room in the home used for sleeping must have a window large enough for egress – about 5 square feet. That means, our original floorplan wouldn’t work. Take a look and see if you can find the issue.
The two bedrooms around the bathroom don’t have windows. For one bedroom, that is an easy fix. For the other, it’s impossible, as that room is surrounded on all sides by other rooms. Therefore, this room cannot be a bedroom – so we made it a playroom for our son.
What is the R Value/ U Value?
R-value is a measure of how well something resists the conductive flow of heat. It’s important in building construction because heat always wants to flow from the hot side to the cold side. An R-value is how much energy it takes to keep the inside of a structure at a steady temperature regardless of what’s happening outside. There’s a lot more to learn about R values, but in general the higher the R-value the better insulated your home is.
Now, just to make things even more confusing, window manufacturers use the U value, which is the inverse of the R-value (or 1/R value for those fraction-minded folk). In other words, the LOWER the U value of your windows, the better insulated they are. This is the exact opposite of the R-value.
But what does that have to do with barndominium windows?
A lot! You always want to build a home as energy-efficient as possible. However, you can’t just live in a box with no exits, which means your barndominium windows will affect the R-value of your home. But, so does location. A barndo built in South Texas is going to have very different insulation needs than one that is built in Montana. You can check out a map of the R-value needed for your home and a map of U value zones on the Energy Star website. Living in Texas, you won’t want to spend the same amount on windows as someone living in Montana.
Ok, a low U value is good. What’s next? Lifestyle!
Next, it’s time to consider what style of window you want and how that relates to your lifestyle. We live in Missouri – otherwise known as the Allergy Capital of the Universe. There’s a saying around here that goes ‘if you never had seasonal allergies before, once you move here, you will’. Our windows will never ever be opened because I don’t like stuffy noses and green goopy pollen everywhere. Some other places may want windows to open for attic fans or other fresh air – which means you’ll want different windows than what we picked.
Think about where you’re building and what you want your home to be like. Consider which direction you want the windows to open: sliding, casement, or up? Do you want a bay or picture window somewhere? How about a window in the kitchen, the pantry, or the garage? Do you want skylights or other high windows? Do you want mullions (the vertical wooden strips dividing up a pane of glass) or muntins (the horizontal strips)? When planning, think about whether this will be a forever home and what special needs may arise.
Picked out the general style. Now what?
What do you want the windows to be made of? All wood (interior and exterior) will mean some maintenance is required as the caulk around the aluminum or vinyl casing will wear out which could lead to leaks.
Vinyl, aluminum, and fiberglass windows each have various pros and cons and there are many other blogs that do a better job of comparing those. If you choose aluminum windows, be sure to select ones with a thermal break to reduce the heat conductivity.
Often, modern windows have multiple panes of glass, separated by a pocket filled with some gas, such as argon. My husband wanted to get the lowest U value he could find and initially choose a triple-planed argon-filled window best used in the northern US and Canada. Until he saw the price tag, and then he moderated down to a double pane. It really depends on how much money you want to spend.
Speaking of money, while we’re talking windows, consider how you want the windows to be finished on the inside and outside. Some folks like shutters or wide accent strips on the outside and wood trim on the inside. Others prefer just a simple exterior finish and a drywall-only interior finish. Choose the one you like the look of best.
Ordering the windows
Some barndo builders will order windows as a part of the kit; others will not. If you’re looking to DIY, plan 3-4 months of lead time on the windows at a minimum – adding more weeks around holidays such as Thanksgiving and July 4th.
Installing the windows
Windows should be installed along with the shell of your build and before insulation. This allows you to make sure insulation is up under the casements and in all the nooks and crannies around the windows. This is important – the more time you spend making sure the insulation is proper around the windows, the less air leakage you’ll have.
One great way to test for leakage is to light a match, blow it out, then move it around the window frame. Watch the smoke as you do so – it will travel towards places where there is a draft. You’ll want to make sure those spots are insulated.
No really – tell me how to install my own barndominium windows
Well, that’s a tough one. The kind of windows you have, and the manufacturer will all have different instructions to install. At a minimum, you’ll need shims, screws, a ladder, a friend (or two or three), tools, a level, and a lot of patience. I’ve put on several asphalt roofs, and I won’t attempt window installation (unless it’s holding things up for someone else), but maybe you are braver than I am. A simple search in your favorite search engine for “DIY window installation” will provide you with dozens of DIY videos on window installation which are far better than anything I could write here.
What if I want to hire a contractor?
Hiring an expert can be daunting. When I first started out looking for contractors for our build, I just stared at the keyboard, not even knowing where to begin. If you know which company you want your windows from, they will be able to recommend an installer. I recommend starting local. Unlike our parents, we have the power of the internet at our fingertips. Search for “windows and doors” and a lot of places will pop up. You might also consider a general handyman or general contractor, who is used to doing a little bit of everything.
Contact them through email, their website, or social media. Include a drawing of your build, what you are looking for (as specific as possible), and the time frame. Don’t forget to include your contact information. If they haven’t returned your email in three days, give them a call. If they still haven’t contacted you back, try another company. Obtain a bid from several places and see which ones work best for you and if you like the people. Sign the contract and keep in touch with them weekly to see how things are going.
We hope you have enjoyed this article about barndominium windows and taught you a thing or three. Click below for a printable checklist of the questions asked and things to consider for all your window needs.