Help Builder saying too many windows for insulation code

m2twoNovember 5, 2012

We just broke ground last week. Now my builder is saying we have too many windows for the building code insulation ratio. He says the insulation will have to be 3 feet thick in attic to accommodate the number of windows in our plans. He wants us to eliminate the side windows in our bump out which would eliminate 4 windows. I do not want to do that, we have a beautiful view and I want to see it in all directions. We are building a house on a tight budget and have a fixed price contract. I've never heard of too many windows. I get that he has to add more insulation but do you think he is trying to avoid costs or will there actually be trouble putting extra insulation in. We have 9 foot ceilings down and 8 foot ceilings up with the area in the upstairs family room being cathedral ceilings to accommodate the windows. Here are our plans:

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Epiarch Designs

without knowing your location or code it is under, it is hard to give any comments. "Insulation code", or assuming IECC, gives you performance or perscriptive paths to follow. Perscriptive is typically harder to achieve, but I think it makes the most sense. He is attempting to go by performance code which basically says (and using your home as an example) "if you have one area that loses energy horribly (such as your wall of windows) you can make up for it by adding additional insulation elsewhere, such as your attic. This has never made sense to me as building leak air and heat loss from all 6 sides. Sure, doubling the insulation value in your attic will help slow heat loss, but now where near make up for the loss through the glass. Assuming you are in a heating climate there also other ways to solve the issue. You can add foam sheathing to your exterior of your wall. You can consider triple pane windows (wont help your budget!). Remeber, windows are great for views, but you need to be able to see out of them. You wont be able to see out of the windows over 7'...
Now, if your wall of windows is the south elevation and depending on your climate (and code official) you could tune your glass to be heat gain net possitive and argue the point with them utilizine high SHGC numbers (say .40 and higher as a starting point).
Again, there are many possible soluations that you can try but we need more information.
There is a glass to wall surface ratio in the IECC, but it certainly does not look like you are at that.

    Bookmark   November 5, 2012 at 11:00PM
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Thanks for your response. We are located in Eastern Washington so a heating climate. The big bank of windows face South West. The builder is making it sound like it is part of our County building code that he is trying to meet. Which I need to be able to afford to heat my home in the winter so I am grateful there are codes to make sure my home is well insulated. Is your comment about not seeing out over 7 feet have to do with the height of the windows. I have been thinking that maybe I could have shorter windows to help. Right now the windows on the first floor are 7 foot tall mounted 18 inches from the floor so they go within 6 inches of the ceiling. I wonder if putting in 6 foot windows would help with the ratio. I don't have any trim around my windows so would the 18 inches above the window look ok.

Is this enough info for more suggestions?

    Bookmark   November 5, 2012 at 11:22PM
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I just went through this. Washington has its own special energy code... But, I am pretty sure you only need R49 in your attic.

Maybe Renovator, who just read the ridiculous washington code recently will be able to help.

    Bookmark   November 6, 2012 at 12:26AM
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The 2009 WSEC provides 2 ways to approach energy conservation design for a single family house:



Chapter 5 uses the following table:

The code also says:
502.1.1: The stated U- or F-factor of any component assembly, listed in Table 5-1, such as roof/ceiling, opaque wall or opaque floor may be increased and the U-factor for other components decreased, provided that the total heat gain or loss for the entire building envelope does not exceed the total resulting from compliance to the U-factors specified in this section.

Here is a link that might be useful: Washington State Energy Code 2009

    Bookmark   November 6, 2012 at 7:45AM
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If I understand your post correctly, the bump-out is two levels of rooms. Maybe you could make the windows on the upper level smaller and square them off, thereby giving up enough window space to compensate for keep the side windows.

Another advantage of doing this is that you will save money when it comes to buying window treatments. Those angled windows present difficulties when you want to put something on them to control the light coming in. And if you plan to have a TV in either of those rooms, you will want something on the windows to cut the glare.

    Bookmark   November 6, 2012 at 8:45AM
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Epiarch Designs

according to the chart posted, you need to be less than 15% of your glass area to floor area. Decreasing the overall size of EACH of the windows on that wall is a solution vs simply eliminating the side windows. Also looking at the chart, you need a u of .30 or better. What kind of windows are you using? This number is hard to hit with most aluminum clad wood windows without upgraded glass packages. Vinyl and fiberglass windows should be able to hit it fine in a dual pane, typically coming in around .28 or so.
Also on energy codes- remember, they are tpyically the MINIMUM you need to achieve. This certainly does not make it good or efficient automatically. Just because code allows a minimum of fiberglass batts in a 2x6 wall (r-19 according to the chart) does not mean your house will be efficient or highly insulated by any means.

    Bookmark   November 6, 2012 at 9:00AM
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Don't give up your side bump out windows! Perhaps delete the two rear windows in your garage? One just looks into your porch and if both were gone you'd have more wall space for hanging tools. The MB closet window wouldn't be missed either. If you still haven't reached code, next on the chopping block would be the window in the laundry room. A tighter and stronger house is your reward for deleting these windows.The three windows in your dining room could be consolidated into one slightly smaller window. Your front facade might look better if the same slightly smaller window was used over the stairwell as is used next to it in the second floor bedroom. Please forgive me for saying this, but the un-matched windows at that spot suggest "lazy eye" to me. Are the outside walls 2x6 framed? You'll never regret the extra strength and insulation. Greywings idea of using the same squared off tops in the windows in both floors of your bump-out is probably a good idea.

    Bookmark   November 6, 2012 at 9:43AM
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I would reconfigure the windows on your front elevation. It really doesn't look like any thought was put into how the house would look from the street. I have to be blunt, it looks really bad.

I would also reconsider the two strips of stone veneer. It isn't adding anything to your design ... use that money towards landscaping instead.

I have 6 ft high windows with 9ft ceilings and they are big enough. The top of windows is 7" from the ceiling. I would make all your bump out windows this size. You really won't lose any views.

    Bookmark   November 6, 2012 at 11:20AM
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couldn't you buy better windows?
ufactors and solar heat gain coefficients
less than .30 will reduce heating and cooling

not sure how it works in this area,
but here in the hot humid south I've
never heard about too many windows.
just low performance windows adding to
heating/cooling loads.

best of luck.

    Bookmark   November 6, 2012 at 11:52AM
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Your description of what the builder is suggesting seems to confound two things: 1) the glazing percentage to floor ratio--15% maximum and; 2) the adjustment of U factors among building elements.

Just looking at the elevations, I'm surprised that you exceed the 15% glazing to floor ratio. If the garage and space above is unheated, does that really count towards the 15%?

I'm also puzzled how you can start building, presumably with a permit, and then find you're not meeting Code.

    Bookmark   November 6, 2012 at 1:29PM
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Definitely focus on the front facade more. It's the home's "face" even though you may have more time spent in the back areas. It looks like a complete afterthought.

As for the bumpout, you could go with square smaller windows and not lose any views. But, that bumpout doesn't really look at home on that house. You need to upgrade the rest of the home's exterior elements to integrate that bumpout properly.

The best solution is to choose better quality windows, and deeper framing for more insulation. AND redo the front face.

    Bookmark   November 6, 2012 at 5:42PM
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Thanks for all the feedback. The actual energy ratio is still clear as mud but at least I'm starting to understand where to look.

My front elevation is actually the back of the house. The house is on 5 acres up on a plateau so from the county road you see the back of the house. This is why I put more money into the design of the back of the house. The driveway winds up the hill and comes up to the front. So the only people who will see that side are friends and family who are coming to visit. We also ended up having to move the garage door to the front so there will be more going on.
Another reason for very few windows on the front of the house is that side does not have a very pretty view. It looks out at the neighbors barn/junk pile :(

We are not putting the stone veneer on at this time to save money. I do like the idea of making the window over the stairs the same size as the bedroom and kitchen. It won't save much but it is a start.

I already removed the master closet window but am exchanging it for a window in the upstairs bathroom.

Do you really think squaring off the upper windows in the family room will look ok from the county road. I like that it gives the appearance of a 2 story great room. Also if I do that I will probably loose the cathedral ceiling in the family room and it will become an 8 foot ceiling. What are your thoughts?

    Bookmark   November 6, 2012 at 6:17PM
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I would only square off the tops of the family room windows if you like traditional window treatments.... or if money becomes an issue. They're dramatic the way they are and that's a good thing. I'm glad you're fixing the lazy eye window problem. Now the front entrance porch...have you considered orienting it to be the type where the porch roof is longer and more like your back porch? Might fit your building better. Too late to change that?

    Bookmark   November 7, 2012 at 12:00AM
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Post a photo of the view you will see from the large windows. Remember that you will be using these rooms at night when the glass will be dark and cold.

If the view is so important that you don't want to obscure any of it, why are the spaces between the windows so wide? Is the view primarily vertical rather than horizontal? That would be unusual except in the mountains.

    Bookmark   November 7, 2012 at 8:15AM
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I guess I figured the space between the windows was needed to support the window. Something I definitely can't increase now.

Here are some pictures of our view. It is a mountain and valley view. We plan on maybe removing some trees once the house is built. But wanted to live there a bit before we figured out which trees should be removed. When I was taking the picture I was standing at more of an angle than our house is. The bump out is centered between the tree and bush. So it looks out over the barn and fields below.

The second picture is standing out it the front of the house looking out the back where our view will be.

    Bookmark   November 7, 2012 at 12:50PM
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Beautiful view!

    Bookmark   November 8, 2012 at 1:56AM
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While your grand 2 story windows are pretty, you do realize that there will be practical problems?

I don't want to beat a dead horse about heating that room... ok well I will. Obviously the r-3 wall (what it will be with windows and the pack of studs in between, is going to be a huge heat loss. Combined with the heat rising, it will be a room that will take the majority of your heating needs. And it isn't just an energy use problem, but it becomes an issue with vastly different loads between this room and the rest of the house.

Second, I know that Washington is not sunny NC, but it surely gets sunny at times. A SW facing wall of windows that you can't cover is going to be frustrating from the glare. I have a view wall facing SE and we need sunglasses inside at times but we can close the blinds. It isn't 2 stories either - just 10 ft ceilings with 14 ft wide window bank.

Third, again while it isn't as sunny there, when it does get hot and is sunny, you will have a cooling problem. And mind you, it isn't just the energy use, it is the differential in the rooms. You may be turning the stat on 75 but have some rooms at 70 and freezing just to keep that room comfortable. It is very difficult to design a HVAC that can handle such different gains in different rooms. I have a study with a wall of west windows and have planted a tree to deal with the 4-6pm heat up.

I rent mountain houses fairly often in the Asheville area and this type of wall is common. But it can be frustrating even just for a few day stay. The last one had tinted the windows and installed an electric awning outside. Blinds and drapes just don't fit well with these walls in the mountains. Honestly - they could be installed but no one wants to because it doesn't fit the "mountain" style. In that house, we had to sleep in double beds downstairs because the king upstairs was too hot from all the gain in the afternoon - and yes the house had a/c. Obviously not the best designed system and you will do better but the challenges are there.

I have an oceanfront house (vacation rental) - I understand the need for view without compromise. But the 2 story huge windows you don't really see anything out of except sky and for a large portion of the time you are there, you might be staring at the sun. Yes - they look dramatic. But drama's appeal wears out and practicality does not.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2012 at 6:13AM
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If the large windows are fixed how will the rooms be ventilated? The minimum openable area to the outdoors is usually 4% of the floor area of each room or you must provide mechanical ventilation.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2012 at 7:38AM
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Instead of loosing the side windows I'd square off the peaked windows. You could do a different type of siding on the gable to give it some detail or something like it. Might also consider adjusting the height of them too. Consider what you want to be able to see and adjust from there. Since you have a second floor with the top windows going down low I'm guessing you'll need safety glass too.

I would think the odd shaped windows costs more than rectangular as well.

I've just never been a fan of that window style on a house though unless it is a very contemporary house so take my input for what it's worth.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2012 at 8:45AM
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These trees appear to be Ellensburg-ish E. Washington (or Yakima, or ...) in any case near Cascade (not near Spokane). Am I right? You won't get as hot as Columbia Basin E. Washington, nor as cold. We know that because although you are in E. Washington, you have trees... and lots of them.

I second the advice to consider squaring your upper windows. If you didn't want to lose the grand-ness of 2 story windows (for light--keeping in mind the potential for glare), then I'd put another set of windows, square/rectagular above. More like transoms to your double stacked windows. But, I think it is overkill. And, unless you will have some ceiling fans in your uber-tall room, you will find it isn't a very practical room for heating/cooling. With the ceiling fans, it probably won't be as grand as you thought it would look.

Just some thoughts.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2012 at 11:18AM
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Funny, I find the barn view much more interesting.

"Once you've seen one tree...."

Stick to correcting any Code problems by adjusting window sizes or overall insulation. You'll never satisfy everyone's design tastes.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2012 at 11:30AM
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kirkhall- you went the wrong way :). We are actually 70 miles north of Spokane near the Canadian border. But you are right that we don't have Columbia basin type weather.

Worthy- The barn is my favorite too. Just wanting to make sure I keep the rest interesting in case something ever happens to the barn.

I don't actually have a two story great room. I had read so much great advice on this forum and other places about energy costs, noise etc. That we have a floor and a family room/play room above. What I really like about this is it means we will be able to see out of those windows and the view should be even more spectacular than the first floor. I like that it gives the appearance from the road of a 2 story room without the drawbacks.

I am for sure going to decrease each of the big windows by 1 foot in height. The windows have to be 18 inches from the floor and they will be 18 inches from the ceiling which I think will look fine and still maintain my view from both floors.

Renovator8- My builder hasn't said anything about ventilation. I talked to him about having tall windows that open on the bottom and he said they are very expensive. What are my mechanical options.

I am now contemplating moving the fireplace to the middle of the bump out replacing the middle window. The designer had it there originally but I thought it would break up my view too much and I had him move it. My other concern is the fireplace is a direct vent propane fireplace so it doesn't need a chimney. Will it look funny from the road having a big blank space between the two windows? Not sure what to do with the upstairs if I do that either. Do I put the middle window or leave it blank for a future fireplace?

I'm not ready to give up my trapezoid windows upstairs yet. They really fit my design style.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2012 at 1:18PM
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Hello, fellow E-Washingtonian! :) I'm in Tri-Cities, though. Not close, but close enough to know we get plenty of sunshine in Eastern Washington...

I can't help your original question, but how will you put any window coverings over your upstairs family room windows? The trapezoid part will make it difficult. (Sorry if that was addressed already!)

    Bookmark   November 8, 2012 at 6:54PM
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Jack Kennedy

Have you discussed this with your building inspector? That would be my first step. You could find out from him/her that your situation is just fine. It could be that since you're on a fixed price build you contractor calculated the cost of the windows incorrectly and he's trying to get you to eat his mistake by blaming it on code..... just my thoughts.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2012 at 6:46PM
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It was The building department that said something when getting the permits. But we live in a super small town so we got the permit with the condition we would either reduce windows by 65 sq ft or comply with option 3 which requires more insulation

I do believe my builder screwed up by not figuring out this code before we agreed on a price. I do believe I could force him to put in extra insulation and keep my windows but we are only on week 2 of the build so I want to keep a good working relationship and I want to be able to afford to heat my house so tightening it up a little is probably a good thing.

I have figured out some changes with everyone's help Here that I don't think I will even notice in the end. I'm going to shorten all the windows in the bump out by one foot making them six feet tall instead of seven. This will help save in window treatment costs because 72" long is a standard size and 84" I would have had to have custom shades. I am also going to get rid of the trapezoid windows. I called around and window treatments were going to be about $1000 per window. Yikes. My plan is to make the center window of the 3 front windows taller so it still gives me the look of a two story great room without the expensive window treatments. These changes alone reduce 46.5 sq ft

I also want to change the upstairs bedroom windows from 5x3 sliders to 3x5 casement windows and then change the den to a matching 3x5 casement. I'm going to reduce the kitchen window to a 3x4 casement. And I will remove the window in the master closet.

The only one I am trying to figure out is the window above the stairs in the foyer. Since I'm changing the bedroom and kitchen windows to casement instead of sliders I'm unsure if this window should be wide, square, or tall. Also how much smaller should it be. Privacy is not an issue here since this is really the back of my house from the main road and distance and tall pine trees would make it impossible for neighbors to see in. It is also on the NE side of the house.

    Bookmark   November 13, 2012 at 12:31AM
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Make sure at least one of the windows in each bedroom qualifies as an "emergency escape and rescue opening".

The notes on the floor plan about the 36" high "guardrail" should point to the upper level landing only; the required guard along the stair is allowed to be combined with the required handrail and have a minimum height of 34".

The garage wall is not a "firewall" or even a "fire-rated wall" if it only has fire resistant drywall on one side. Unless there is a local code that overrides the state code, the drywall on the garage side of the shared wall is only required to be 1/2" regular drywall. The same is true of the drywall in the closet under the stair. The door into the house does not need to be self-closing unless there is a local requirement for it or the owner wants a closer.

If there is a habitable space above the garage, the garage ceiling must have one layer of 5/8" type X drywall (not two) and any structure supporting that ceiling structure (trusses) must be protected with 1/2" regular drywall. Of course, there may be a local code and there is nothing wrong with exceeding the building code if you are concerned about a fire in the garage. But there isn't much of a performance difference between rated and unrated drywall on one side of a wall; it's really only qualifies as a smoke partition.

The gas fireplace vent should be shown on the permit drawings since it is code controlled.

    Bookmark   November 13, 2012 at 9:21AM
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