Windows are a key component of every home, yet we take them for granted. We don't think about our windows until they need cleaning, a piece of glass needs replacing or we find water leaking into our home. There are many advertisements for replacement windows so how do you know when it's time to consider replacing windows in your house?
And while you know how to buy a car, do you know how to buy new windows?
The big selling point for replacement windows is energy efficiency and that is very important as energy prices are only going up. Windows represent the single, largest loss of conditioned (heated or cooled) air from your home so it pays to learn how you can invest wisely in maintaining and/or replacing windows in your home.
How Replacing Windows Can Benefit You
Close your eyes tight. Notice how you start to listen harder when you don't have visual clues to what's around you. Think about how your house might feel without windows. For example, imagine living in a cave with only one entrance that offers natural light until the cave bends away from the entrance.
Now we're ready to explore the benefits your windows provide.
- A view of the outside world which differs based on where you home is located. In the suburbs you'll see shrubs and a few other houses while in a city, you'll see lots of nearby buildings.
- Most windows are made of clear glass, so the window openings let natural sunlight into your home saving electricity during the day.
- Operable windows that let fresh air into your home (you decide when).
- Egress windows are required in bedrooms as an alternate exit in case the door or hallway outside is blocked during a fire.
- Windows can provide a decorative touch to otherwise boring blank walls, especially with the curtains we like to wrap around them (read: Picking the Right Window Treatment).
- … and if we've missed something, please add to our conversation with a comment below.
Key Factors to Picking the Right Replacement Windows
When you decide it's time to replace your windows, the tendency is to use new windows identical to the existing windows. While it's true that replacing windows this way is the easiest path to follow, it's not that difficult to change most windows … especially if you don't like the ones you have.
You can't change the view but there are ways to get your sunlight without the view. Higher windows and horizontal windows at eye level can capture needed sunlight while leaving room for furnishings below. It's also a great solution to keep your natural light while blocking an unwanted view.
Here are two examples of windows that have added needed sunlight. In this photo it looks like this kitchen is awash with sunlight but it's not at 7am. The homeowner (that's me) knew that taller windows were necessary to capture early morning rays of light. The solution was clerestory windows above the operable windows and sliding patio door.
The window below was found in a model home in the suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona. With open floor plan kitchens there are fewer walls for cabinets. This creative solution extends the kitchen cabinets into the dining area, placing windows above the cabinets to insure the room gets enough sunlight.
Location affects how much sunlight enters your home, and along with light there's also heat (learn more at the Efficient Window Collaborative). Windows facing south gain more solar heat during the winter and shade can reduce unwanted heat during the summer.
But wait, there's a lot more you can learn about “passive heating and daylighting” by reading Green Building Advisor's article on this topic. I'm amazed at how many new and different ideas they've identified to increase the amount of natural sunlight we can use to light up our homes … during the day.
- Skylights are even more valuable with open floor plans, where the sunlight can benefit multiple rooms (spaces).
- Clerestory lights and dormers offer alternatives for adding natural sunlight where traditional windows don't otherwise fit.
- Light shelves located below skylights or clerestory windows, bounce light back toward the ceiling where it can light up more living space below.
- The new trend using stone on interior walls offers a heat sink to store the sun's heat for use at night, in addition to being decorative.
So if you like these ideas and want to learn a lot more about passive ways to light and heat your home, read Green Building Advisor's article on designing around the sun to lower heating and lighting needs.
Homeowners can add/enlarge windows in an existing home. The best time to consider more window coverage is when you're remodeling or replacing windows. You can add natural light with larger windows, patio doors and skylights.
And of course, window location is a key design consideration when building a new house.
Features to Consider When Adding and/or Replacing Windows
Do you even remember when you had to crank car windows open and closed? There have been even more changes to house windows that you might not remember because homeowners only think about windows one, two or maybe three times in their lifetime.
- Energy efficiency isn't just double or triple pane windows. The U-factor measures how well a window insulates to slow the rate of heat transfer. U-factors range from 0.25 to 1.25 with a lower U-factor indicating a window that provides better insulation. One way that manufacturers product higher window efficiency is with gases like argon or krypton (but sorry, Superman isn't involved). To learn all the window components that affect energy efficiency, visit the page on Energy Star's Performance Criteria.
- Operable windows or not? You'll save money making hard to reach windows stationary, as well as multi-unit window designs. Using a fan to circulate air needs open windows. Air conditioning cools and removes humidity, so check the pros and cons of windows versus air conditioning. Single-hung windows (only the top or bottom opens), also lowers window costs.
- The quality of window materials and manufacturing has a great deal to do with energy efficiency and aesthetically, how your windows look. From a homeowner's perspective, you want to consider:
- Window glass – today is single, double or triple pane and glass can be tinted to filter out unwanted sunlight. You can upgrade windows with gases that reduce air flow and corresponding loss of conditioned (warmed or cooled) air.
- Window design and construction – addresses how well the assembled window components prevent unwanted air flow. The glass sits in the sash, which moves up and down in channels. The pieces are held together by the frame and each seam where two/more pieces come together should be airtight.
- Window materials influence energy efficiency and how your windows look. Wood is the most energy efficient material and offers metal or vinyl cladding to protect them from the weather. Metal and vinyl windows cost less but have higher operational (heating and/or cooling) costs. Learn more at The Efficient Window Collaborative.
Tips for Replacing Windows
Installing a window isn't hard but it must be done right. They must be level to operate smoothly. Hidden gaps between the window frame and the rough opening must be insulated for maximum energy efficiency. Too often this step often skipped by window installers who get paid by the window. When replacing windows, it's also important to repair any wood rot damage found or the rot may affect your new windows.
We've got lots more information about windows:
- Replacement Windows Bigger & Better
- Custom Windows in Many Shapes
- House Windows, Window Styles & Shutters
- Energy Efficient Homes & Homeowner Resources
It’s helpful to consider that the size and placement of windows on the wall could impact not just how much light comes in but also how furniture can be placed below them. We’re planning on renovating our kitchen next month, and one idea we’ve had is that we want to replace the old windows since they don’t insulate very well. Maybe putting wide windows across the top of the wall would give us more options for cabinets and shelves below them.
Oscar, Fascinating as I’ve never considered wall cabinets under windows. My concern would be that the cabinets would be relatively short & the cabinets could block most of the sunlight … so shelves instead of cabinets might be better.
Another idea for you to consider are windows where you typically have a backsplash. I’ve seen this style in several new homes & it looks nice, opening the room up and bringing in more natural sunlight.
You made a great point about picking the right replacement windows and how they shouldn’t change the view and keep natural light. My cousin and I are moving into an older home in Sacramento, CA, and we are looking for window replacements as the ones that came with the home are pretty old and worn. We will keep these tips in mind as we search for a professional that can help us replace our windows.
Our home has made it to the point where it’s finally time to consider getting our existing windows replaced. There is so much content out on the web today that it is hard not to get “information overload.” I truly feel more educated on which route we will take now. Great read, keep up the good work!
Yes it’s complicated so best of luck Kelsey …
My husband and I have been feeling more air come through our closed windows and we both feel it’s time to get them replaced. I really appreciate you adding the paragraph about energy efficiency and how the U-factor measures how well a window insulates. I will definitely be keeping this in mind when it comes to hiring a professional to come out and replace our windows.
My husband and I are thinking about replacing a few of our windows and it is interesting that you talk about the importance of window location. I want to make sure that we are getting as much natural light in our home as possible, especially in the winter months because we will need all the light we can get! Also, it is interesting that skylights can actually benefit more than one room at a time with an open floor plan. This would be a great way for us to add more light in a unique way.
I like what you said about how nice it is to have operable windows to allow fresh air into your home. Our house has a bunch of windows that are screenless, nailed shut, or even painted shut, so we really want to have new windows put in. Thank you for the idea of replacing them to let in natural light and a view outside as well as that fresh air.
How sad when someone takes operable windows & damages them to where all you can do is replace them. Good luck …
I’m glad that you mention how windows let in sunlight when they’re at eye level or higher. This would be a great way to have your home brighter so that you can save energy and money since you won’t have to turn on lights as often. Since this is the case, you’d probably want to ensure that your windows are in the best condition by hiring a professional for any repairs or replacements in order to keep them updated to the best design and materials.
Tiffany, I agree that most homeowners don’t have the skills needed to install windows properly but they can do minor repairs for things like a broken handle or weatherstripping.
I like what you said about the quality of window materials and how it has a great deal to do with the energy efficiency and aesthetics of a home. My wife and I are window shopping and were debating between a few different types of windows because of how they were made. It’s interesting to see what kinds of windows work better in different areas of the house.
Great as it’s important to balance aesthetics with function, and it sounds like you’re doing just that.
Thank you for pointing out that windows facing south gain more solar heat. My husband and I are building a new home and are getting ready to put the new windows in. Hopefully, we can find a company we love to come out and do this for us.
Our apartment doesn’t have enough light and a few windows as well. My uncle thought that it will a good idea to have replacement windows. In addition, it was mentioned here that having replacement windows can help the energy price go down and use energy at home more efficiently.
I like that you mention that different window materials influence energy efficiency in your home. My husband and I want to get out windows replaced soon before the weather gets too bad. We think it will be a good way to save on energy during the winter.
More energy efficient windows will also save you money if you use air conditioning …
My brother is looking to build a home and has started looking at window installation. I thought it was interesting how you mentioned that the quality of windows can affect the energy efficiency. I think I will talk to my brother about that to ensure maximum efficiency.
I had no idea that there is such thing as upgrading gases that reduce air flow and corresponding loss of conditioned air! My windows are way too old, and I’d like to have them replaced before the winter comes to stay warm. I will consider this option as it seems to be quite a reasonable ides to isolate the house in such a way with these gases!
Great post. Window replacement represents one of the more substantial investments you can make in your home. The replacement of old or under-performing windows can effectively reduce your monthly utility costs and give your home a bit more curb appeal.
Yes and glad our local house came with dual pane windows, so not on my bucket list.
I like how you mentioned that horizontal windows can capture the light without taking up too much space. This would be a really nice window replacement because you would be able to get the benefits of natural lighting in your home. I think that natural lighting can make any room look a lot better so it would be something worth looking into and trying.
Kylie, You got it!
My wife and I have been thinking about getting window replacement done for our home, and I hadn’t considered the option of operable vs not. I think that there are a few of our window replacements that are going to need to be operable, but there are some we could probably switch to not! I’m going to have to talk to her about what kinds of replacement window she wants and see what we can find!
I appreciate you talking about how you can choose windows that can help you control the amount of sunlight in your house. I can see that taking the time to research your options and assess your needs can help you make sure you find the best windows to provide appeal to your home. As I see it, consulting with a professional you trust and have them educate you on this can help you choose the best energy-efficient windows for your house and have them properly installed.
You made a good point about how you can save money by making hard to reach windows stationary instead of operable. I can see how that would make sense, since installing stationary windows would be much less work than operable ones. I would also think that, while expensive initially, choosing energy efficient windows would be a good choice in the long-term.
Luke, I agree that new windows should be as energy efficient as the buyer can make them (well, not sure we need triple pane). It’s funny as I first replaced patio doors with stationary windows in 1984, when building a custom home. The back wall was almost all glass, with 2 patio doors & 3 huge, fixed windows but no idea now if they were energy efficient.
That’s a good thought, that location affects how much sunlight enters a room. If you want a bright sunshiney room you don’t want to place a window wrong and just get ambient sunlight. I’ll have to research how location affects light more.
We learned how important window placement is when building a house & it’s been invaluable ever since. When we put an addition on our 100 year old Victorian, I knew to include clerestory windows for the early morning sunshine … so be sure to check sunlight at different times of day.
I noticed a draft coming through gaps in my windows. It seems like it might be a good idea to have them replaced! I’ll make sure I get operable windows, since then I can aerate my home using my ceiling fan.
You may need new windows if the gaps are where the window frame holds the glass. On the other hand, there is weatherstripping that can block the gaps where the window frame meets the top & sides of the window opening (learn more here, https://hometipsforwomen.com/buy-weatherstripping)
You are exactly right when you say that energy efficiency can be a huge selling point when it comes to windows. However, I feel like that may have more to do with the location of the window than the brand of window. That being said, not all windows are created equal. Do you have any other tips when it comes to buying windows?
Johhny, That’s a tough question as it depends on so many variables. I’d say the 2 most important factors are your budget & preserving the character of your home. If you have an older home with wood windows, I’d prefer to see you stick with new wood windows and replace several each year to fit your budget. Start with the windows in the rooms where you spend most of your “awake, not sleeping” time and work your way out from there. When we put a 4-story addition onto our 100 year old Victorian, the architect speced out Marvin windows … but the builder pointed out that the majority of the existing windows were from Harvey Building Products, a regional manufacturer I used with lots of success for my handyman business.
Rather than rely on high pressure sales people telling you why their brand is better, take your time & some research. I’d say builders (new construction) who are picking windows for buyers who know little to nothing, are best at finding the mid-point between cost, durability & looks.
I didn’t realize that a big selling point for replacement windows is energy efficiency. I don’t think the windows I have in my home right now are very energy efficient since our energy bill is super high! Replacing at least the main windows would probably help lower that bill so I need to start looking at window replacement options!
Good for you Kate, and 2 important points to guide you:
– You do not (NOT) have to replace all the windows so be prepared with your budget before the sales people arrive on your doorstep.
– Make sure you get written into your window contract, that they will install insulation around all 4 sides of the window (the gap between the window and the rough opening), as that is often a bigger problem than the actual windows.
The part about adding extra windows that I’m a big fan of is all the natural light. Natural light just makes me feel so much happier. I’m trying to replace my windows because they are old and I think some of them are warped.
Skylar, According to your website, you have lots of experience replacing everything from windows to front doors and patio doors. Would you be willing to share an article about the 3 to 5 most common changes people make when replacing their windows/doors? Things like switching from patio doors to French doors, adding clerestory windows, etc?
I love having windows in my house because I get to see the outside world. I’m lucky enough to live in a house that overlooks the valley. Unfortunately, one of my windows cracked last week. How can I find a good glass repair service? Thanks.
Annie, The first question is whether the cracked glass is a fixed pane, or a movable window frame? When movable, it’s relatively easy to pop the window out & take it to a glass company to measure the glass, and then you take old one home & reinstall until the new glass arrives. Then you repeat this, as you want to let the glass company install the new window pane so they’re responsible for everything.
We came up with this process for my handyman business to avoid finger pointing. It’s a big problem with dual pane windows when the seal breaks & you get condensation between the 2 sheets of glass – was it a bad window? or a bad installation? You can see why it’s better if one person owns the entire job.
For a fixed pane window, you’ll need to find a local glass company that will come take measurements & install the new glass. You shouldn’t have any problem finding a company because they handle not only house windows, they do car windows/windshields as well. If you’re in a relatively populated area, try Angie’s list for a glass company. If you live in a rural area where they have less/no coverage, I’d ask your local car dealer who they use.
My house is in need of new windows but I didn’t know how to pick good windows. I didn’t know that windows were so varied and that you can get the glass treated to be more energy efficient regarding either the hot or cold. Thanks for the help in picking out good windows, now I just have to buy and install some!
Sarah, Quality windows are always a good idea but if you have a tight budget, spend more for windows in rooms where you spend a lot of “awake time” and less in bedrooms, dining room, etc