How to Buy Replacement Windows for Your Home

Purchasing replacement windows for your home is the largest monetary output you will make after buying your home and car, so it’s not something to be taken lightly.

While homeowners often buy multiple cars and sometimes several homes during a lifetime, purchasing windows may occur only once or twice. Because this is a purchase that’s going to stay with you for years to come, it’s important to do your homework on what you’ll be up against.

Look at Samples Before You Buy

Visiting a big box home improvement store, such as a Home Depot or Lowe’s, is one place to start to get an idea of what today’s windows look like. Another source is searching manufacturers’ websites. The “big three” manufacturers of wood windows are Marvin, Andersen, and Pella, with Marvin generally considered to be the top of the line.

Reliable manufacturers of vinyl windows include Simonton, Certainteed, Allside, Sunrise, and Great Lakes. If you can’t find samples at your local store, many contractor showrooms will have samples. If your prospective contractor does not have a showroom, ask the company’s representative to bring samples when you obtain a quote.

Key Things to Consider

There are two basic angles to consider when choosing new or replacement windows. Each window should help create a sense of balance and harmony inside the room—and what’s outside plays an equal role in the success of the window as any interior decorating.

Door Placement

Once doors are in place, deciding where to place windows becomes easier. The doors should not block the windows, even when swung open all the way—in fact, there should be a bit of space (at least a few inches) between the extended door and the start of the window.

Home Design Questions

  • What is the room mainly used for?
  • Who spends time in it, and what are they doing (sitting, standing at a counter)?
  • If the windows are going in an office, where is the desk located?
  • Does the main occupant of the room like to face the window while working?
  • Is the furniture for the room already purchased?

Tip: If a certain bookcase or table will only fit in one place, that spot may be off-limits for a window. Likewise, if a kitchen sink is going in a specific place, a window might be perfect right above that.

Natural Light

South-facing windows provide more light than windows in any other direction, but even if the room faces north, windows can bring in a tremendous amount of light. Suppose there is a living room wall with two small to medium sized windows on the long, outside wall. To bright the space and make it feel larger, consider installing a third, large picture window in the middle of the wall.

Hiding a Bad View

If only part of the view is bad—a telephone pole with hanging wires, for instance—one option is to plant a tree or bush just outside the window, covering half or two thirds of the view (wherever the offending object is). If the entire view is unpleasant, plant directly outside the window, covering the whole view.

Types of Windows

No matter if the windows you choose are vinyl or wood, there are a number of different types. These include:

  • Single-hung, where only the lower sash opens and closes.
  • Double-hung, in which the upper and lower sashes slide vertically to open and close.
  • Casement, which are operated a via crank handle
  • Bay or bow windows, generally in a living room or other area where a windows is larger than four feet in width.
  • Sliding windows, which are essentially double hung windows that open left to right.

You can also read more comprehensive overview of different window styles here.

A myriad of options are also available, including types and color of interior hardware, or the presence of grilles in the windows itself. Grilles can be embedded between the glass or removable. Some lines also offer tempered glass which is resistant to breaking. Other manufacturers, such as Pella, offer options that are unique to their lines, such as getting blinds installed inside the glass, an option that’s particularly popular for French Doors. Andersen offers self-cleaning glass, making the window truly maintenance-free. This glass has a magnetism in it whereby dirt just falls off.

What Types of Frames are Available for Replacement Windows?

A number of window frame choices are available, each with unique advantages and disadvantages. Wooden frames have long been the traditional choice, but other choices are often more economical and environmentally friendly. In addition to wooden, replacement window frames are manufactured in vinyl, aluminum, aluminum or vinyl clad, and fiberglass.

When purchasing replacement windows, homeowners should assess the characteristics of each type of frame and determine what works best for their situation. Here’s a summary of each type.

Wood is the Traditional Choice

Wood frames are considered the designer’s choice of windows as they exude warmth and may be painted or stained to match any décor. They are also perfect for historic renovations. As true pocket replacement windows, wooden frames are designed to fit into the three-inch space where old wood sashes have been removed, thus avoiding replacement of trim on the interior and exterior.

Although they can last a long time with proper maintenance, wood frames must be treated with some kind of sealant to avoid a number of problems. Wood can rot or warp if exposed to moisture and can crack and split in the sun or in dry conditions. It can also become infested with termites. The biggest drawback for many consumers is its high cost.

Vinyl is Inexpensive

For those on a budget, vinyl is the way to go as it’s the least expensive of all frame choices. Color is blended into the material so scratches and imperfections are not visible. Vinyl frames have exceptional structural integrity and are water resistant. Cheaper frames can have a cheesy look, but many of the higher end products closely mimic wood. Vinyl replacement frames should complement a home’s architecture and color.

Although vinyl windows are durable and can last many years, they can twist and warp if they are not properly installed. Poor installation can lead to water damage, heat transfer, and higher energy bills.

Differences Between Wood and Vinyl Windows

The biggest difference is the price. To refit a home with vinyl windows costs thousands less, with the price difference increasing as the number of windows rises higher. Prices of individual vinyl windows range from $500-$600 installed, depending on the size. Windows manufactured by Andersen range from $750-$875, with Marvin topping out at $900-$1,100 each.

For some people, the beauty of wood windows surpasses the drawbacks. Because of the different types of wood available, i.e., pine, oak, etc., there are different “looks.” Wood windows, however, require more maintenance and are more labor intensive as they must be stained or painted. This also adds to the installation cost.

They are also not as energy efficient as vinyl windows because they are either mechanically or chemically fastened, making them prone to air or water infiltration, which causes drafts and leaks. Wood also absorbs moisture, which means the frame can rot and deteriorate over time. Because of the expansion and contraction that occurs, wood windows lose their energy efficiency more quickly than vinyl ones.

Vinyl windows are virtually maintenance free, requiring no painting or finishing. They resist condensation and are not prone to high heat gain or loss. Higher end vinyl windows generally come with an extra energy strip inside the sash, making them more eneergy efficient. They are also much quicker to install because less work needs to be performed with the window opening. Most vinyl windows are not as architecturally attractive as wood windows and are more difficult to match to decor because of a limit on inside and outside colors.

Aluminum is an Overlooked Alternative

This frame type is not often considered by homeowners, even though it has a number of advantages. It’s ideal for moisture-laden spots near the ground, such as basements, that discolor vinyl and rot wood. Aluminum won’t rust and needs little maintenance. Comparable wood or vinyl frames often cost more, making this choice perfect for the cost-conscious consumer. Newer, thermally-improved aluminum windows are more energy efficient with a strip of vinyl or foam enclosed to enhance the window’s insulation qualities. They are also resistant to moisture. To read more about insulation between windows check out this older post here.

On the downside, they transfer heat and cold extremely well and are known to sweat in cold climates, thus posing a danger to drywall and wood windowsills and trim. In ocean coastal areas aluminum frames tend to pit as salt is corrosive to this metal.

Clad Frames Combine Advantages

Clad frames are composed of wood on the interior section visible inside a home, while the outside of the frame is either vinyl or aluminum. Cladding protects wood from the elements and provides a more durable frame. Vinyl is preferable for colder climates as it does not readily transmit heat or cold. Aluminum cladding can be painted to match the exterior while the inside can also be painted or stained in the same way as full wood windows to match interior colors.

Fiberglass Frames are Environmentally Friendly

The newest choice on the market is the environmentally friendly, low maintenance fiberglass frame. They are resistant to rusting, warping, rotting, and size fluctuation caused by temperature variations.

Unlike other materials, fiberglass doesn’t bow or bend and easily resists environmental damage from extreme temperatures as well as corrosion and fading. Because it doesn’t warp, expand or contract, fiberglass provides superior seal that prevents the intrusion of moisture, drafts, and noise. These properties give fiberglass frames a 20% to 40% savings in heating and air conditioning costs over other materials.

Reputable window replacement contractors should be able to provide their clients with further information regardintg the pros and cons of each window frame. Additionally, some will be able to show consumers samples of the frames in which they are interested.

Double Pane Windows and Storm Windows

Double pane windows are designed with the specific function of higher energy efficiency and air sealing ability.

Many of the windows that were produced pre-1980’s were single pane windows. These windows tend to be drafty because of the lack of modern day seals on the windows. In order to reduce the drafts, storm windows were installed as a common practice over these windows. With the advancements in technology and the ability to produce windows with multiple panes, windows have become exceptionally more efficient. However, with the efficiency improvements come some issues that happen when storm windows are used in conjunction with double pane windows.

Modern Window Technology

Modern double pane windows are produced with two panes of glass that generally are filled with a combination of Argon gas and nitrogen. The space between the glass can be filled a maximum of 98% full to allow for expansion of the gases during different temperatures. The seals on windows are generally made of synthetic materials such as Kevlar, polyurethane, and vinyl. However, some window manufacturers still use horsehair dipped in silicon to create sash and sill seals.

The windows generally have a low-E coating on one of the panes of glass to reflect heat in the summer and absorb heat in the wintertime. There are multiple variations and upgrades of these windows, but this is a typical make-up of a double pane, Energy Star-compliant window. The average R-value of these windows is R-2.3. Since this is significantly less than the wall cavities of a home, the real energy efficiency is in the air sealing ability of the windows.

All windows have what is called a convective loop that happens on the interior of the window. This is caused by the outside temperature meeting with the inside temperature and causing a consistent air movement in front of the window. This only happens when the temperature differential is substantial, but can easily be mistaken for a draft.

The Addition of Storm Windows With Double Pane Windows

When storm windows are added to double pane windows, a gap is created between the storm window and the double pane window. In this gap, the temperature differential between the interior and exterior of a home collide more violently forming condensation that builds up on the exterior surface of the double pane window. This moisture will also build up on the bottom edge of the interior panes of glass and can start to cause moisture damage to the window.

The amount of moisture and ice build up will vary depending on how well the storm window is sealed and how much the temperature inside the home differs from the exterior of the home. There is also the possibility that nothing at all will happen. The issue with storms over double pane windows is that you may never have an issue and then one day these problems just start occurring. If you have a system like this that is causing problems, simply remove the storm window. Since double pane windows are designed to stand alone, you should not see any drop in energy efficiency.

One issue that is also common is window warpage in warm weather climates. The space between the storm windows and the double pane window becomes a super-heated cavity. This is especially true with low-E windows that reflect UV. This causes temperatures well above normal exterior temperatures that tend to damage the frame of the window and can negate the window’s air sealing ability.

Double pane windows are not designed to be installed in conjunction with storm windows. It is a practice that should be avoided, as you should always operate windows in the application they are designed for. If you live in a hurricane zone read also an older article about how to protect your windows in the case of a hurricane.

How Much Do Replacement Windows Cost

Replacement windows offer a homeowner many advantages. While purchasing high quality replacement windows can represent a significant investment there are many ways in which this investment can be recouped. According to Remodeling Magazine, it should be possible to recoup between 75 and 80 percent of the cost of the windows when you sell your home. This is one of the highest percentages of any home remodel or upgrade.

In addition to increasing the value of your home, replacement windows offer other financial savings as well. You will need to check with your tax advisor, but most replacement windows will allow you to qualify for up to $1,500 in tax credits. Depending on the quality of window installed, and the windows being replaced, the replacement windows should result in a 10 to 25 percent savings on your energy bills.

Cost of Replacement Windows

The cost of replacement windows varies widely depending on the quality of the window. A low end window can be purchased for as little as $100. An upper-end window, such as a Pella could cost as much as $1,000 per window.

There are additional items which must be considered when purchasing replacement windows. Window locks cost approximately $5 each. You will also need screens for the windows. Depending on the size of the screen, you should expect to pay in the neighborhood of $40-$50 each for these. Of course, you can purchase windows which include all of these features, but the price will reflect the additional options.

For the average home with 30 inch by 48 inch windows, you should expect to pay from $150 up to $500 for a quality window. The total costs will of course depend on the number and size of the windows being ordered. If the home has 15 windows, the total cost for the widows will be between $2,250 and $7,500.

When all elements are included, locks, screens, installation, windows, and repairs or modifications to window frames, replacement windows for the average home will range from $7,000 up to $20,000. You can save significantly if you do the installation yourself and the window frames are in good condition.

Replacement Window Options

The type of replacement window your purchase will, of course, have a significant impact on the final price. Options such as triple pane glass, or windows filled with krypton gas, or tilting windows are all far more expensive than a standard window.

While a triple pane window will be the most efficient, it is probably over-kill unless you live in an area with an extreme climate. Titling panes, while adding cost, are a major convenience. This is especially true if your windows are higher, or on a two level home.

One of the greatest hidden cost involving replacement windows are the window frames of your home. If these are in poor condition or do not properly work with the new replacement windows they will need to be modified. These modifications can be extremely expensive and in extreme cases can double the cost of the project.

As with any work you have performed on your home, you should do some research on the contractor you intend to use. Attempt to get references and check the quality of their work. If possible check with the Better Business Bureau of your city to see if any complaints have been lodged against the contractor.

Tips for Choosing Energy-efficient Replacement Windows

Today’s highly energy efficient windows are “proxy” green building materials, meaning that unless the sash or frame is wood, the materials generally aren’t reclaimed, recycled, or repurposed. But in the sense that they conserve energy, it means that they reduce energy consumption which in turn lowers carbon emissions by burning coal and fossil fuels.

When first considering a window upgrade, it’s important to do the research and homework. The rules for qualifying for an energy tax credit in the US for windows and skylights can be tricky. It depends on several factors, including geographical location of the home, type of window frame, U-factor, and solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC)

Focus on Insulating Values

The U-factor is a key property to consider; it measures thermal conductivity. The lower the number, the better the insulating quality. For example, an aluminum window frame without a thermal break that contains a single glass pane has a U-factor of about 1.30. Go to double glass (air-filled) and the number drops to 0.81. Make it low-e filled with argon rather than air and the value drops to 0.64.

Why is argon-filled better than air? Simply because it insulates better because of a lower thermal transfer. Krypton insulates a bit better but is much more expensive. Low-emittance coatings, referred to in the trade as low-e, is actually a microscopic metal oxide layer on the glass surface.

The solar heat gain coefficient is represented as a number between 0 and 1. It measures the fraction of incident solar radiation that the window will allow into the home. With this property, a lower value also means better energy-efficiency. Even solar window film can help lower the number.

It’s easy to see that frame materials, the number of glass panes, and the type of gas fill can be combined in many ways. Choosing replacement windows can seem overwhelming but it’s important to be armed with the facts because window salesmen enjoy a reputation for being pushy (let’s close this deal now!), and some might try to sell options that raise the bill but are not needed in a particular situation.

Planning for New Window Installation

Before making a final decision about window placement, put tape on the inside wall where you image the window. Leave the tape there for a few days and consider what effect clearing that space has on the rest of the room. Do family members find themselves facing the taped “window,” or is it out of sight of most activity.

Tip: Remember, the window should add pleasure and light to the house, and it should be placed where it will best suit the needs of the inhabitants. Don’t worry too much about style guides—windows should complement the lifestyle of the people living in the space.

Find a Reputable Professional Window Installer

Unless you are that rare do-it-yourself who has extensive knowledge of carpentry, you’ll want to find an experienced contractor to install your new windows and haul away the old ones. Make sure you get quotes from three or four companies. Check out the reliability of the contractor and references on any past jobs.

Another important consideration is the warranty that comes with the installation. Many vinyl window manufacturers now offer better warranties and wood manufacturers that can cover virtually any mishap over the lifetime of the window.

Once the windows are selected, there is a lag time between when they are ordered and when they are installed. This lag is naturally longer in the summer because that’s when most people have them installed.

Selection of wood or vinyl windows also affects the length of the installation wood windows are more labor intensive. For vinyl replacement windows, the old sashes and operating mechanisms are removed, but the installer uses the frame and the interior wood trim of an existing window. For wood windows, everything is taken out right down to the rough opening, so it must be replace. Vinyl installation run one to two days, while wood replacement can last as long as five or six.