Owning a house is a little like having a project that never ends. You want your house to be the best it can be, but over time things age and you’ll have to make tough decisions about whether or not to replace them, and if so, with what. When it comes to choosing new windows, there’s a lot to consider.
Why Choose New Windows?
Not every house will need new windows, even if it’s a very old home with older windows. As long as they continue to function and perform up to your standards, you can assume they’re working as they should be. However, when windows start to let you down, it may be time to consider retiring them.
“There are several reasons why a homeowner would want to replace their windows including: energy efficiency, improved comfort, noise reduction, more contemporary look and improved functionality,” says Collin Bond, licensed associate real estate broker with The Fabrikant Bond Team at Compass in New York City. “For many homeowners the most important reason to replace their windows is energy efficiency because older windows often do not provide adequate insulation, which results in heat loss in the winter and heat gain in the summer, leading to higher energy bills. Replacing windows with more energy-efficient models can help reduce energy consumption and lower heating and cooling costs.”
What to Look for in New Windows
There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all window solution for every home, which means you’ll need to choose your new windows carefully.
“There are really three important things to consider,” says Ryan Jantz, co-founder of Proteus Homes, custom builders of homes and accessory dwelling units in San Diego. “The first is manufacturer reliability and warranty. I have replaced many failed windows from manufacturers that are no longer in business. The second is ease of operation. I recommend test driving your windows at a showroom to make sure they operate smoothly. And the third is the quality of construction and materials. Not all windows are made the same even if they look the same. Though not always true, you do usually get what you pay for when it comes to windows.”
Jantz advises homeowners to think about the function of the window and how it will be used. Horizontal sliding windows can open to the left or the right. Casements can open just a little and catch breezes. Vertical sliding windows can be double-hung so you can pull the top sash down, not just lift the bottom sash. And awnings are good for long, short windows, he says.
In a perfect world, new windows should be a reflection of how you live and what you want your house to say about your personal style. They can certainly make a huge difference to how a home works and looks.
“You should consider the overall style of your home,” says Michael Wandschneider, director of product management at Marvin in Eagan, Minnesota. “If you’re replacing just a couple windows, it is likely going to be important to match the style with the existing windows and doors. You’ll also want to decide if you want to keep the same window size, or if your budget allows for you to consider larger sizes that will require a new opening. Other important features to consider include hardware, interior and exterior color, screens and possibly even home automation options and sensors that can give you peace of mind about whether your windows are closed and locked.”
Decoding Window Stickers
All windows have disclosures about how they’ll perform and what they’re made of right on them, but this information is often encoded to better fit on a big, convenient sticker. Understanding what that sticker is saying to you can help you better compare windows to make the best choice for your budget.
“The stickers on a window will usually contain the manufacturer, product type and serial number, and often the location of the window in the house or order line number,” says Jantz. “They also will tell you the type of glass. Most will be double glazing (double-paned), usually filled with argon gas. The layers of glass could be different as well: different thickness (for sound), tempered (for safety), obscure (for privacy), low-e (for energy efficiency).”
Four main energy efficiency factors are also each spelled out on the sticker. What’s best in one region may not be best in another, so it’s important to consider your climate and the direction the window will face.
“There is also energy efficiency information, including U-factor, which is the rate at which a window transmits non-solar heat flow,” says Jantz. “Basically how fast does the hot or cold move from inside to outside or vice versa. It usually ranges from 0.20 to 1.20. A lower number is better.
“Solar heat gain coefficient is the amount of solar radiation that can pass through a window. It ranges from 1 to 0 with 1 being the maximum amount of solar heat gain. Your climate will dictate what is best. If you want to get heat from the sun you want a higher number, if you want to limit heat from the sun you want a lower number.
“Visible transmittance is the percentage of the visible spectrum of sunlight that comes through the window. The higher the number, the more light that comes in. Most windows are between 0.5 and 0.7.
“The last is condensation resistance, which measures the chances that condensation will form on the inside of the window. The scale is from 1 to 100, the higher the number, the less likely condensation will form on the inside.”
How Much Do Replacement Windows Cost?
The cost of replacement windows can vary pretty widely, based on a number of factors. Things like the size of the window, whether it has to be custom-built or can be purchased directly off the shelf, and the materials from which it’s made can influence prices significantly.
Home Depot, for example, prices installed double-hung vinyl windows anywhere from $825 to $1,400 per window. If you want that in wood, you’ll pay even more: $1,600 to $2,200. Keep in mind this cost includes their in-house installation team. You may be able to find less expensive window installation from an independent contractor with a smaller business and less overhead.
Architectural Digest reports that individual vinyl windows range in price from $150 to $600, without installation, or $250 to $800 for uninstalled wooden windows.
Before committing to a window purchase or a window installation, be sure to get at least three quotes for like materials so you really can see the difference. Higher cost windows or installation may get you a better end product with a stronger warranty, but that’s a fine line to walk. Installing windows yourself is possible, but always have a professional measurement to ensure you’re ordering the right size windows. Custom windows are often not returnable.
The Windows You Choose Today Matter
There are a lot of things you can choose for your house that won’t really make that much difference in the longer run. For example, if you’re buying a water heater, there’s only so much variety to account for: There are only so many features that will really make or break your hot water experience.
That’s not the case with windows. They can change your entire existence within and without your home, so it’s a decision you should make with great care.
“Most homeowners will only choose windows for their home once or twice in a lifetime,” says Wandschneider. “It’s a significant investment, but one that has so many impacts on a home’s overall performance and also the health and well-being of your family.
“People today are spending more than 90% of their time indoors, and access to natural light, air and views is critical to helping us live better at home, whether that’s by regulating sleep cycles, improving indoor air quality or just giving us a safe space to relax.”