Drafty windows, disintegrating window frames, and condensation may mean it’s time to think about something you’d rather not. Replacing windows is no small job, and it’s an expensive one any way you go about it.
Like most choices you have for your home, replacement windows come in all varieties from basic and cheap to extravagant and presumably out of reach for someone on an average budget.
Your job isn’t to buy the most expensive window, but to find the best ones for your money. That is, if they require replacement at all.
Do You Need Replacement Windows?
With wood, parts can be replaced, and you might even want to rebuild the whole window. This is something to consider if you live in a historic home where preserving the windows is important for architectural and period authenticity, and especially in a historic district where replacement is strongly discouraged.
In modern double- or triple-pane windows, the seal doesn’t always last. A broken seal means the gas between the panes escapes, and that’s when you begin to see condensation on and between the glass. These windows need to be replaced because the insulating power of the glass is severely diminished, and the condensation means you can't see out the window.
Replacing all your windows can get expensive. Even the cheapest replacement windows add up quickly so it's worth assessing which windows in your home will benefit you most. With my handyman business, we often helped homeowners identify the 2 or 3 rooms in the house where they spent most of their “awake” time, and didn't replace bedroom or hallway windows.
Which Replacement Windows are Best?
You can find worthwhile replacement windows in vinyl, wood, composites, and even aluminum. The key isn’t what material the glass is framed in, but the overall construction — how the windows are put together. Better quality replacement windows come in all shapes and sizes.
The Department of Energy explains how windows are rated, and this helps you choose the best windows for your money. There are two labels to look for that give most of the information you need.
You’re probably familiar with the Energy Star label. The National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC) label is additional, voluntary and provides even more information.
Energy Star bases its ratings on the U factor. The U factor of a window reveals how well the window insulates, and usually deals with glass only. The NFRC label tells you about the window’s energy performance as a whole.
Both of these labels let you compare windows to get the best quality that you can afford. The lower the U factor, the more energy efficient a window is.
The Downside of Replacement Windows
High quality replacement windows may be a good investment. Your ROI depends on how much energy you save during the lifespan of the window. You can also expect to recoup more than 75% of the money you invest in replacement windows when you sell your home, according to Remodeling.com's Cost vs Value report.
A cheap replacement window might make you more comfortable inside your home for the short term, but if they have to be replaced before they've paid for themselves in reduced energy costs, they’re not really a bargain.
A well-made replacement, on the other hand, increases your comfort, adds to the beauty of your home, and helps reduce your energy costs in ways that enhance your ROI. This might mean the window has better insulation, a low emissive or low-e coating that reduces heat transfer in summer and winter, and UV filters that only allow in bright visible light, not heat.
Alternatives to Increase Comfort and Energy Savings
If your windows are in relatively good condition but lack the thermal and UV protection that you want, there is another choice (watch this video on LLunmar tinting to learn more). Professionally applied window films give you a low-e coating to resist heat transfer, and block as much as 99% of UV rays without sacrificing light. These go directly on the glass, and are permanent.
In an older home where the windows are important to the architectural style, consider custom made storm windows. These reduce drafts and add insulation in the form of another pane of glass, and they can be fabricated to match your existing windows.
Replacement Windows Aren't Cheap
Replacement windows are a major investment, even for bargain basement varieties. For a whole house replacement on an average home, expect to spend at least $12,000, and probably much more depending on the number of windows you have and the window style you pick.
If you decide to take the plunge, think long term. Just any old replacement window isn’t worth it. You need the best you can afford, even if it means saving up money to buy a better quality. You home’s value, your comfort, and the coming years’ utility bills will thank you for the investment.
Considering replacement windows?
What questions do you have?
PS Here are a few of our more popular articles on windows:
- Replacement Windows Bigger & Better
- Custom Windows in Many Shapes
- Creative Alternatives to Window Shutters
And a word of caution to the DIYers out there, installing replacement windows isn't as easy as you think. If you've only got one or two windows, ones that won't be opened and closed frequently, you might do just fine. If you're doing the entire house then you should consider a window replacement company.
Thanks for letting me know about the options there are for replacing windows. A Vinyl window sounds like it’d be great as it would allow for a safe and energy-efficient window. My house’s windows are all full of scratches and dirt and I thought it’d be a good idea to get a vinyl window replacement. Hopefully, I can find a service nearby that can install them for me.
Replacing windows can certainly be a hard thing to do, since for every benefit there is a potential downside, the pros and cons listed in this post are all good examples of that. However, with proper knowledge and research, the downsides can be avoided rather easily. Not just by knowing what to do, but what NOT to do.
Thanks for sharing that replacement windows can be made of any material but the important factor is its overall construction. I always figured the material was essential. It’s good to know I can buy one made from a cheap material but as long as it’s constructed properly it will be fine.
Thanks for listing the benefits of a window replacement. Since I’m thinking of adding security to my home windows, I am thinking of hiring a contractor to install it for me. It’s good to know that high-quality replacement windows come in all shapes and sizes. With that considered, I shall then do my research online and find a manufacturer that offers installation services too.
Thank you for pointing out that a window replacement done right can give you an increased comfort. My husband and I are needing to replace a few windows on our ground level and need to find the best company to do it for us. I’ll have to do some research and find the best window company in the area.
Ellie, You are smart to recognize that you can replace just a few windows at a time.
I agree that replacing windows by yourself isn’t an easy process, so it’s better to hire professionals. Installing glass requires sufficient experience and training in order to make the job go smoothly. My mom is in need of new windows, so I’ll help her find a glass service in her area in order to satisfy her needs.
Two of my front windows are chipped and cracked, so I would like to replace them. I love how you pointed out that I should look into getting windows with UV protection, as it will help keep in the heat or the cold. Thanks for the great article on the pros and cons of replacement windows.
My wife and I want to get new windows when we remodel our living room, so thanks for sharing this. I like your point about how some windows can block close to 99% of UV rays without sacrificing light. I’ll be sure to look into this a bit so I can get plenty of natural light without the risk of sunburn.
This is some really good information about window repair. It is good to know that if your window is super damaged you should consider getting newer and bigger windows instead. That does seem like it would help improve the value of your home if you do that.
Thank you for posting. I enjoyed reading. 😀
I like how you say that if you get a high-quality replacement, you’ll be able to reduce your energy costs and make your home look better. That would be especially good for me. My house does look good right now, but I think that some of my windows have warped and my utility bill seems to be representing that. I’ll have to find someone who can replace my windows for me with some energy efficient ones.
It’s interesting that you talked about you can check with energy start to see how much energy each type of window saves. I have been looking for new windows because one of mine has a crack in it. I can see how it would be smart to choose energy efficient because it would lower my monthly bills.
Persephone de Vito
It truly helped my case when you said that window replacement can be quite expensive, so it’s best to know first which type will benefit our home the most so that we don’t regret anything. If it wasn’t necessary, we wouldn’t replace the windows of our house. However, we discovered that the reason why our utility bills were skyrocketing was that the windows have leaks. We’ll make sure to get a highly efficient and durable replacement. Thank you.
I appreciate you going over the pros and cons of replacing your windows. One thing that really stood out to me was that you should look to repair your windows if you have degraded wood, damaged aluminum, or even vinyl that has been warped since it does not have much to do with the glass itself. My wife and I are thinking about moving into an older home, and this information will be really helpful to us when we do inspections. Thanks again!
It sounds like getting new windows can be a good idea. Our windows right now are wood, and they are getting pretty beat up. If repairs aren’t possible, we’ll definitely spend the money to get good windows.
I liked that you had mentioned that if you have a wood window that there are plenty of options to handle a repair on everything. My son was recently playing with a baseball in his room and he hit the window in his room and it broke a bit and it has me a bit worried. Since it is wood I might have to look for a professional who can handle a glass window repair.
Roger, The cheapest solution for replacing glass is to pop the window sash (movable part) out & take it to a glass store (they replace glass in cars, houses, shower doors, etc). They do hundreds of windows so they’ll do it right & absolutely required if you’re replacing double pane that has a gas inside so you want a single person responsible for the seal around this glass.
Thanks for the information about the UV protection film that can block 99 percent of rays. I’ve been trying to reduce my energy bills for a while, so that might be a good way to do it. A bird flew through my bedroom window, so I only need glass replacement instead of the entire window. Maybe I can find a company that will put the film on the pane of glass instead of getting an entirely new window.
My wife and I are going to do some remodeling and have been trying to decide if it would be worth installing new windows or not. I do like the idea of having windows that would help the efficiency of our home. Is the double pane of glass the primary feature of a window that effects it’s efficiency?
Hi Justin, So glad you’re considering new windows with your remodeling project. There’s actually an article that goes into detail on this topic, What Makes Green Windows Green, so check it out.
There are 2 important tips to add here when you’re remodeling. First, don’t be afraid to move a window, make it larger/smaller to fit your overall remodeling project. Second, don’t be intimidated by window sales people who want you to replace every window in your house. Where budget is a constraint, I tell people you only have to replace the windows in the rooms where you spend your time awake (an extra blanket may be all you need in a bedroom with lower temperatures).