The locally-made custom windows were installed after the walls were up and plastered. We would not use this method again; we suggest building the walls around the windows instead.
Because we installed the windows after building the walls, there were large spaces around the windows that needed to be filled in with insulation. Unfortunately, we could not find a natural, non-toxic material that could both keep us warm and tolerate the moisture that might seep in around the windows. Neither straw nor recycled cotton (which was used elsewhere in the house) could stand up to the moisture. We did not want to use fiberglass, which could be pulled out and played with by our child and pets. Therefore, we chose spray-in foam. We were reluctant to use this plastic product, but once dry it is stable and can be tolerated by chemically-sensitive people. Unfortunately spray-in foam expands after application and our windows were thrown out of whack. Again, we would suggest building the walls around the windows; this way you can create a tight fit between the windows and the straw bales, eliminating concerns about moisture and the need for spray-in foam.
All windows are local, custom-made solid-oak in-swing casement-style windows. We chose casement-style windows for both aesthetics and practicality, and because we liked the feel of completely opened windows. Although it cost us some usable interior space, we chose in-swing, rather than out-swing windows because opened in-swing windows are protected from the elements during warm-weather storms. All windows are constructed of krypton gas trapped between two layers of low E plastic film, which are sandwiched between two panes of high-efficiency super glass, giving all windows an R9 rating at their center. Rubber gasketing between the panes and the window frames further protects against thermal transfer. In fact, our windows are so energy efficient that the inside panes are actually room temperature or even warm to the touch even when the outside air is quite frigid.
In our new building we were not able to get a local window manufacturer to produce windows for us at a price we could afford; this was unfortunate as the “off the shelf” windows that we purchased are far less attractive than the “custom” windows, made by Benson Woodworking of Brattleboro, which we used in our first house. Nevertheless our new Bonneville windows are made in Canada to Canadian standards and we believe they will perform as well or better than our custom windows.
The lesson we learned with windows is this: Make sure you find a way to get your windows drawn, to scale, into drawings of your house. Whether you hire an architect or your window salesperson can offer this service, it is worth it to do this. Windows are an important part of the “look” of your home. If the windows look awkward it will bother you every day. We made the mistake of not realizing how large the dividers between the glass on our windows would be (these are called rails and stiles). Where we were expecting a “wall of glass” effect, we got, instead, a grid of wood that greatly impairs the view from our office and in our “glassed in” connector. Because we had had such good luck with our custom made windows we assumed we would have no problems the second time around. We were wrong. If you hire a design professional for ANY phase of your building, we strongly suggest you hire one to help you with your windows, and make sure you have exact specifications from the window manufacturer.