Window Replacement Basics: Cost, Materials, and Process

Living room windows
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Unless you have owned your house for a number of years, you may never have had any need to think about replacement windows. The logistics and functioning of windows is rarely something that homeowners need to think about, until something goes wrong. Air leaks, water infiltration, thermal leaks, fogged glass, and insect intrusions are just a few of the reasons why homeowners begin to consider replacement windows.

Replacement window sales tactics are often overly aggressive. Since profit margins can be so high, some companies use unsavory tactics to make a sale. Consumers are advised to obtain at least five quotes and to educate themselves as much as possible prior to signing any contract.

Replacement Windows Only Replace Part of the Window

Replacement windows might seem like the ultimate solution to your window problems, but this isn't necessarily so. What replacement windows do is replace a majority of the window, such as the glass and moving parts. But the framed portion of your window stays in place. Areas around the window are often those that are most heavily damaged. Window sills receive the brunt of the moisture from open windows, yet they are never replaced during the window replacement process. That is a job for a carpenter or general contractor.

Use a New-Construction Window for Heavily Damaged Areas

If the area around the window is so rotted out as to be structurally unsound, then you must build up that area again and use a new-construction window. This type of window comes with fins on the outer side of the window to allow it to be nailed onto the house. Replacement windows have no fins. This allows the window to slide into the opening.

Window Replacement Costs

How much it costs to replace your windows depends on factors such as locale, window materials, type of glazing, and type of window. It is safe to assume that most homeowners will not escape a whole-house window replacement for anything less than the low five figures.

Some homeowners cut costs by hiring a handyman and having that person replace the windows. Because the professional window installers have perfected the installation process and often work in large crews, you may not save as much money as you would like. Even though replacement windows may prove to be a major investment in your home, they tend to return decent resale value when it comes time to sell your house.

Save Money by Purchasing Single Hung Windows

Both single hung and double hung windows are the types that have a lower sash (or pane) that slides upward. When the house gets too hot, you can unlatch the window and slide the lower sash up.

But with single hung windows, the upper sash is fixed in place and inoperable. Only the lower sash slides up and down. With double hung windows, both sashes can move. This is especially valuable for upper story windows, because it allows you to clean windows from the inside. Also, if you have small children, you can open the upper sash only, leaving the lower sash in place and your child safe.

If neither conditions apply to your home, there is little reason to buy double hung windows. You will save some money with the single hung windows. Plus, with less moving parts, the single hung windows have less of a chance of failure.

Consider Fixing Rather Than Replacing Windows

Many homeowners experiencing high energy costs jump the gun and pull out all of their windows and replace them. In some cases, this is premature and a waste of money.

The seals on the existing double-glazed windows may have failed, allowing cold or heat to more easily pass into the house because crucial argon or krypton gas has escaped. One indication that the glass has failed is fogging on the inside, between the panes of glass. In this case, it is possible to repair the window or replace the window sash.

Best Time to Replace Windows

If replacement window companies only installed in optimal conditions such as during spring and summer months, they would go out of business. Though the window technicians may be less than happy about it, your windows can be replaced in all manner of inclement weather, short of blizzards and hurricanes.

One downside of scheduling during temperate seasons is that everyone else is doing the same thing. You may find yourself in a long queue for installation or you may not even be able to get in during that period.

Still, if possible, it is better to have your windows replaced in better weather. If the technicians are working under duress, they may rush the job through. Caulking may not set well in extremely cold conditions. Moisture can affect the tight tolerances related to window installation.

Do-It-Yourself Window Replacement

Replacement windows are a prime example of why it is sometimes beneficial to have professionals take on a home improvement project. Professional window installers do this job day in and day out, and they have the necessary tools and skills needed to finish the job in hours, not days or weeks.

In theory, homeowners can save money by replacing they own windows. But the retail supply chain for replacement windows can be limited. Home centers usually stock only new-construction windows and rarely replacement windows.

Brand Name Windows vs. Generic Windows

Replacement window companies often suggest generic or low-profile window brands. You can obtain decent windows that will serve you for a few years. Contractor- or builder-grade windows perform basically the same way that big brand windows should: letting in light, sealing out moisture, opening to allow airflow. Longevity may not be their strong suit, though.

Companies with visible brand names such as Pella, Andersen, and Marvin tend to have good follow-up customer service and robust warranties.

Window Frame Materials Are Important

Homeowners concerned about maintaining the classic look of their own house often will reject the idea of installing vinyl windows in favor of wood materials. But vinyl windows are often worth a second glance. Vinyl framing materials inhibit energy loss, do not require sealing or painting, and are much cheaper than wood. Metal windows are often architecturally necessary, in order to match the style of contemporary homes. Fiberglass-framed windows are far stronger than vinyl windows, while using less materials. This is important because it expands the glazing area, thus giving you more light.

Double Pane Windows Are Standard

A double pane window, or double-glazed window, consists of two sheets of glass with an air or inert gas such as krypton or argon in the middle. A double pane window can increase your energy efficiency by almost 100-percent.

R-value is the standard by which energy loss is measured. A single pane window has an approximate R-value of 0.85. Contrast this with a double pane window with an R-value of about 1.5 to 2.0. Now consider a double pane window with low-e glazing with an R-value of 2.4 to 3.0. Finally, the highest rated window, a low-e double pane window using an argon gas fill, would have a 2.7 to 3.6 R-value.

Ultimately, windows are energy-wasters compared to more thoroughly insulated sections of the home. For walls and attics, an R-value of 1 to 2 is not impressive. These areas are typically filled with fiberglass batt insulation, exhibiting R-values of 13 or greater. Yet within the world of windows, an R-value above 2 is good.

The fact remains: double pane windows are standard, even in parts of the country that have temperate climates.

Enlarging Window Size Entails Major Carpentry

As you might suspect, it's no easy task to enlarge a window opening to accommodate a newer, larger-sized window. But does it require ripping out all of the wallboard and siding?

When you enlarge a window opening up to eight inches horizontally, you can often keep the same header and sill (the top and bottom parts of the window) and simply install one new vertical stud to either side of the window. While this means ripping out wallboard from floor to ceiling, width-wise you only need to take out a foot or two, at most. This section of wallboard comes out to accommodate the new stud. And no exterior siding ever has to be removed.

It's always easier to order smaller sized windows than enlarging a window opening. But if you have to enlarge, it is certainly a manageable task.

Summary

Few homeowners who have been through the replacement window installation process will say that they care to repeat it. After all, it is necessary to invite several companies into your home to give quotes, and then invite one of those companies back to spend a day or two installing the windows (which necessitates being on the premises the entire time ). It is work, but worthwhile. Your house looks better and feels better. Your next round of wintertime energy bills will be lower, your house quieter and warmer.