If you aren't prepared to shoulder the extra cost of fire-rated custom windows, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection recommends installing regular dual-pane windows throughout the house. Though not specifically designed to protect against the heat of a fire, dual panes do provide more protection than single-pane glass. The "sacrificial" outer layer will typically break in a blaze, leaving the inner layer intact. Having two panes also means that the inner layer of glass heats up more evenly and slowly than the outer one, helping the inner layer resist cracking. In terms of window framing, steel offers the best protection, though it's is not offered by many window manufacturers. The next best options are wood and aluminum, which perform similarly in some fire tests. Vinyl is the least effective. Most major manufacturers, such as Andersen, offer dual-pane glass in a variety of styles with prices starting at $200 for the gliding wood-frame window shown here. Andersen Corp., Bayport, MN; 651-264-5150.
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