Windows: Replacement or Restoration?

What are your choices?

Windows: Replace or Repair?

Windows add so much character and style to a home that it seems a crime to remove that distinctive design element from an old house. Yet how else can a homeowner get the benefit of newer, energy efficient dual- and triple-pane windows? If you have a window project coming up, knowing what your options are before you call for quotes can put you in charge of the best solution for your home's integrity and protect your bottom line from unnecessary expense.

Replacement

If yours is a complete window replacement project, new windows might be ideal. However, replacing existing windows with wood sashes and frames can be extremely expensive. Vinyl is an option, of course, because it's one of the most affordable choices, but it can't be painted and it's not a sustainable material. Alternate materials or cladding might also be the right solution.

The following table compares options for various window replacement types:

Window type Advantages Disadvantages
Wood
  • Energy efficient
  • Beautiful
  • Unlimited finishes; may paint or stain any color
  • Environmentally friendly when using sustainably harvested wood
  • Susceptible to shrinking, swelling, warping, or sticking if not maintained
  • Comparatively expensive
Aluminum-clad wood
  • Easy to maintain aluminum exterior
  • Aesthetic wood interior
  • See aluminum below
Vinyl-clad wood
  • Easy to maintain vinyl exterior
  • Aesthetic wood interior
  • Comparatively expensive
Vinyl
  • Affordable
  • Low maintenance; no painting or staining needed
  • At upper end, may be available in custom sizes or shapes
  • Easy to install
  • Limited colors, often only white or almond
  • Can't be painted
  • Not a sustainable, green material
  • Look for fusion-welded frame. Avoid nails or staples.
  • Low-end vinyl may deteriorate over time from exposure to the sun's ultraviolet rays
Fiberglass with wood cladding
  • Stands up to the elements with the fiberglass exterior; handsome wood on the interior may be stained for a warm natural appearance
  • May be painted
  • Available in custom shapes and sizes (including French doors)
  • Extremely strong and durable
  • Secure—some manufacturers' fiberglass doors exceed California forced entry codes
  • Comparatively expensive
Fiberglass
  • Extremely durable
  • Strongest, most energy efficient material on the market
  • Will not warp, crack, or peel
  • Ideal in coastal or humid regions
  • Available in custom shapes and sizes including French doors
  • Can be painted
  • Comparatively expensive
Aluminum
  • Low maintenance
  • Often inexpensive
  • Upper-end versions have a very clean, modern appearance for contemporary style homes.
  • Extremely strong
  • Durable
  • Available in various finishes
  • Low end has a reputation for being inexpensive
  • May be a poor choice for some architectural styles
  • Poor insulator; requires additional effort to seal
Engineered Composites
  • Similar to fiberglass in durability, these materials are trademarked by various manufacturers such as Pella's DuraCast®.
  • Comparatively expensive

Regardless of which option you choose, your windows should reduce your energy cost and add to your home's value. Depending on your region and the scope of your project, you should recoup between 75 to 95% of the cost if you sell within a year or two.

Getting your money's worth

Buy the best quality you can afford, then stretch a bit to buy a bit better. What you want to aim for is a quality window, a long term—preferably lifetime—warranty, and the highest R-value possible.

The NFRC certifies all windows for energy efficiency. The R-value designates the efficiency of each window and all manufacturers provide this information. Take time to compare your requirements with the products that will best meet your needs, then select based on cost, R-value, and warranty.

Windows are a substantial upgrade to your home. They not only lower energy bills, but even reduce noise. Both effects will make your home more comfortable and pleasant. Other benefits may include reduced condensation that can mitigate the growth of mold and mildew as well as UV treatments to protect draperies, carpets, and upholstery from becoming faded or discolored.

Also, don't forget to check with your power company or state environmental agency. Often government or power company incentives include tax deductions or rebates for making energy-saving improvements to your home. Look for Energy Star® products; these are most likely to be approved for such programs.

Books

Resources


Need help with your window project? ContractorNexus can provide you with a number of qualified window replacement specialists from which to choose.

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