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Foggy Windows Can Be Cleared

Akron, Ohio — Marie Poling thought she was looking at an expense of thousands of dollars to replace all the windows on her Northfield Center Township, Ohio, house.

The insulated glass in the home’s bay window had gotten foggy, and she figured her only option was new windows.

Then she found out about a process that removes the moisture from inside thermal pane windows. So for a few hundred dollars, she has a clear view once again.

“It was cheaper, much easier, and very fast,” Poling said. “It was awesome.”

Poling’s bay window had experienced a failure of the seals in its insulated glass units, a common malady of thermal-pane windows.

Those types of windows are made by sealing air inside two layers of glass. Over time, expansion and contraction cause the seal to weaken and eventually fail, allowing water vapor inside. When that vapor condenses on cold glass, it creates a foggy appearance.

But that doesn’t mean a homeowner has to replace the window to get rid of the cloudiness. Two methods are available to deal with the problem: removing the glass and replacing it with a new, factory-sealed unit, or drilling into the window to remove the moisture.

Both give you back a clear window, but the first method also restores the window’s original insulating value. The second restores only the clarity, but at a lower cost.

Poling chose the moisture-removal option. She hired the Glass Guru of Macedonia, the Northeast Ohio franchise of a California-based company, to defog her windows earlier this month.

The Glass Guru’s process involves drilling tiny holes in the glass, removing the stains and moisture, and then plugging the holes with clear plastic vents. The process can be streamlined for windows without stains, because cleaning isn’t required, said Chad Bradley, who owns the Macedonia franchise.

While the method won’t restore all of a window’s original insulating value, Bradley said it will reclaim some.

He said a thermal pane window with a broken seal loses about 20 percent of its insulating value. After the Glass Guru repair, the loss is reduced to about 10 percent, he said.

On a frigid day earlier this month, Bradley and Josh Clarkston, the company’s lead glazier, braved 14-degree temperatures to repair a number of windows on a house in Medina, Ohio.

Clarkston used a rotary tool to drill two holes in a casement window, one in the top right corner and the other in the lower left. He continually squirted the spot he was drilling with liquid to keep it cool and prevent the glass from cracking.

Next Bradley inserted plastic tubing into both holes and pumped a cleaning solution into the top hole to remove the water stains, angling the spray to reach all of the window’s inside surfaces. The cleaner dripped down the glass and drained out the bottom tube into a collection tank, aided by suction from a hand pump.

The process was repeated with a rinsing agent, which left streaks and some sudsy residue between the panes. But when Bradley pumped an alcohol-based drying agent into the window and followed by blowing compressed air from an aerosol can into the two holes, the residue disappeared.

Once the window dried, Bradley sealed each hole with a microvent, a round, clear plastic plug about a half-inch in diameter with a hole in the center the size of a pencil point. The one-way vent, he explained, lets moisture escape from the window but won’t let it return. The plugs were visible but not obvious.

Repairing a typical 6-square-foot window takes about 20 minutes, but the results aren’t immediate. Bradley said it takes additional time for the moisture to migrate out of the window completely and the fogginess to disappear.

That can take anywhere from a few weeks in hot, sunny weather to about eight weeks in winter, he said.

Bradley said the cost of defogging a window depends on the condition of the window and its location. A typical 6-square-foot window costs about $70 — approximately half the cost of replacing the glass unit, he said.

The company can repair first- or second-story windows, and third-story windows if they can be reached from a roof.

The process is successful 98 percent of the time on clear glass windows, Bradley said. If it doesn’t work, he credits the amount his customer spent toward a replacement unit.

The company can repair windows with a low-emissivity coating, he said, but the process is successful only 80 percent of the time. It can also repair triple-pane windows if the fogginess is in the outside layer, he said, but it won’t drill holes in glass inside a house because the moisture leaving the glass might promote mold growth.

Windows filled with argon gas can be defogged, too, but the argon can’t be replaced, Bradley said.

He said the work is warranted for 10 years, and the warranty can be transferred if the house changes hands.

To get the insulating benefits of a thermal pane window, however, the entire glass unit needs to be replaced. That’s possible as long as the window frame and mechanical parts are in good shape, said Jennifer Gardner, marketing manager for Glass Doctor of Akron, Ohio.

The unit is produced and sealed in a factory, Gardner said. It’s ordered after the window is measured, and installation usually takes about an hour.

The cost depends on the type of window and the difficultly of removing the existing unit, but replacing double-pane glass in a 6-square-foot window costs roughly $200, Gardner said. The unit is warranted for 10 years.

The work can even be done in winter. “Of course, you’re going to get a little draft,” she said with a laugh.

Poling is just glad to have her clear window back.

Now she’s waiting till the weather warms to see whether more of the windows in her house are affected. If they are, she said, she’ll have them done, too.

“It’s perfect now,” she said. “It’s beautiful.”