Windows and doors diagram
Illustration: Ian Worpole
We ask a lot of our windows and doors. We want glass transparent enough to let in the sunshine yet substantial enough to resist impact and block drafts, and sophisticated enough to prevent heat loss or gain. We want historically accurate styles that look and act like wood but never need painting. And we want units that seal tight when closed—until we want lots of air, and then we expect them to open with the flick of a finger.

Reconciling all those needs seemed impossible 25 years ago, when homeowners were actually walling up drafty windows to save on heating bills. But now, to an amazing degree, today's windows and doors let us have it all—style and better performance. The biggest improvement has been in energy efficiency, thanks to double-pane insulated glass and low-e coatings, which substantially reduce heat transfer. Hardware has also improved, says This Old House general contractor Tom Silva. "Balancing systems for double-hung windows just get better and better, tilt-in sash eliminate the need to wash windows from a ladder, and adjustable door hinges allow fine tuning if the house settles. All of these things are a huge benefit to the homeowner."

Of course, none of these improvements matter if a window or door lets in water. For Tom's no-leak installation technique, read on.

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