Before you begin: Figure out what your priorities are. If you desire an unobstructed view, opt for a fixed (or picture) window. If you want air to circulate freely, take a look at a casement window that opens fully. Also think about how much time you’re willing to spend on keeping the windows shipshape. Wooden frames may need to be scraped and painted periodically; vinyl is virtually maintenance-free.
Know your materials. Select your window frame from four main materials: wood, clad, aluminum, and vinyl. Wood is beautiful and lets you match the interior trim to your molding and baseboards, but it can warp, is susceptible to rotting or destruction by wood-boring insects, and is generally expensive. Clad windows― typically, a wood frame coated with aluminum, vinyl, or fiberglass―stand up well to the elements and don’t require painting. Lightweight, rust- and mildew-resistant aluminum windows are favored by architects for their clean lines and thin frames, but the most affordable options tend not to be very energy-efficient. The least pricey (and most popular) material is vinyl; it’s durable, moisture-resistant (great for coastal and humid climates), and a breeze to care for―but it shouldn’t be painted.
Keep in mind: In bedrooms and basements, you’ll need at least one window that’s large enough to escape through―fire codes require this. Proper installation is critical, so hire a licensed contractor. Installation prices vary greatly. A 24-by-48-inch vinyl window starts at about $75; a custom-made wood window of comparable size can cost upwards of $1,000.
2 of 2Aimee Herring
Before you begin: For accurate results, have a pro measure the height, width, and thickness of the original door. (Standard thicknesses range from 1 3/8 to 2 1/4 inches.) If you want a larger door, or if you would like to add sidelights (windows on the sides of the door), you’ll have to modify the size of the frame. Brick or stucco openings are difficult to change, but a wood frame can be adjusted fairly easily.
Know your materials. When deciding on a door type, think about maintenance. If you don’t mind applying a fresh coat of paint or stain every few years, consider a wood door, which can be fit with glass inserts, clavos (rustic iron nails), or a speakeasy opening (a tiny door-within-a-door that lets you peek outside without revealing your pj’s to the world). Fiberglass looks like wood, offers excellent insulation, and is easy to care for. Steel is the most affordable; it comes in many colors and can be repainted, but it can dent. Also pay attention to the location of the door. “If it faces south, be careful with wood, because sun can cause the finish to fade or crack,” says Daniel Morales, an architectural designer at Gilday Renovations, in Silver Spring, Maryland. In this case, painted wood is better. “Stained doors in particular take a beating when exposed to the sun,” says Morales.
Keep in mind: When ordering a door, you must specify left or right hand, which refers to the side the handle or knob will be on. Think about hardware, too. If you tend to lose house keys, consider a biometric lock (about $200), which can be programmed to read your fingerprint. Door installation starts at about $150.