Replacement Windows vs. New-Construction Windows

Installing new window in house

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When buying windows for your home, you have a choice between two different types of windows: replacement windows or new-construction windows.

Except in a couple of rare instances, these two types of windows are mutually exclusive. The choice is clear-cut as to which window you should choose: new-construction windows for remodeling and new construction when the window frame is being built or replacement windows for applications when an existing window needs to be removed.

New-Construction Windows vs. Replacement Windows

  New-Construction Windows Replacement Windows
Definition New-construction windows are meant for clear openings in the house usually with no trim or siding in place. Replacement windows replace existing new-construction or replacement windows.
How to Identify New-construction windows have nailing or attachment fins, or flanges, on the exterior side of the window. Replacement windows have no nailing fins or flanges. They are smooth-sided for easy insertion.
Do-It-Yourself New-construction windows are moderately easy to install (though much of the peripheral work is difficult). Replacement windows can be tricky for do-it-yourselfers to install due to exacting tolerances.
Availability New-construction windows are easily available and in stock at most home centers. Replacement windows are difficult for do-it-yourselfers to obtain, though there are a number of online sources.
Where to Use Use new-construction windows when building new structures, deep remodeling, or for repairing badly damaged existing structures. Use replacement windows when the structure has an existing window and the peripheral area is in good shape.
Performance New-construction windows are absolutely weather-tight when installed correctly. Replacement windows are weather-tight, as well, though the absence of the nailing fins is not a positive feature.
Cross-Over The only time you may need to use new-construction windows in a replacement window situation is when the wall and frame are badly deteriorated. There is almost never a need to use a replacement window in a new-construction situation.

When to Use New-Construction Windows

Generally, use new-construction windows when the wall system is being originally constructed or when it is being substantially rebuilt. You'll also want to use new-construction windows if:

  • this is a new house
  • this is an addition
  • this is a severely damaged wall that needs much repair work
  • the wall is being substantially rebuilt for any reason

Click Play to See Replacement vs. New-Construction Windows Compared

Building a New House

Building a new house is the perfect example of new construction; thus, the need for new-construction windows. There is never a need to use replacement windows since no windows are being replaced. All new homes use new-construction windows.

Building an Addition

An addition is a smaller version of a new house. Unless you are dealing with a very unusual circumstance, you will almost always use a new-construction window with additions. The only time you may not want to use a new-construction window is when you are incorporating a portion of an existing wall into your addition.

Replacing an Extremely Damaged Window

When the window is in bad shape, it almost always follows that the peripheral area is in bad shape. The framing around the window, exterior siding, interior drywall, wall studs, and even floor covering and subflooring may have been compromised by termites, rot, or carpenter ants. Even if it is just a matter of removing the exterior window trim, new-construction windows are still the better option.

Because you will need to perform extensive carpentry work, it will be just as simple, easy, and cheap to install a new-construction window as it is to put in a replacement window. A new-construction window will be more substantial and will provide better insulation from the elements than a replacement window. Because of the attached nailing fins, it will be more weather-tight than replacement windows.

When to Use Replacement Windows

Generally, use replacement windows when the wall has already been built and cannot be disturbed in any major way (other than removing the existing window and replacing interior trim and exterior casing). Replacement windows are best if:

  • this is a one-for-one replacement of an existing window
  • this is not a new building under construction
  • it is a new-construction window with nailing fins designed to be detached
  • the wall must stay in place as much as possible

Replacing an Existing Window

Installing a new-construction window in a good wall will create more damage and work for you than installing a replacement window. Window, wall, trim, and siding elements are all connected; when you alter one element, you alter other elements.

The great value in using replacement windows is that they are designed to slide in horizontally while replacing a minimum of other elements. Usually, replacement windows do require some minimal, temporary alterations, such as the removal of interior trim. However, as long as the trim is carefully removed, it can usually be replaced on a one-for-one basis. Some painting is usually required after the trim has been replaced.

Using New-Construction Windows With Detachable Fins

If new-construction windows have molded fins and replacement windows do not, does it stand to reason that you can remove the attached fins on the former and turn them into the latter? While this is not common, in a few cases it is possible.

Some brands of new-construction windows have fins that are designed to be snapped or cut off. This provides the greatest possible utility to these windows.

Generally, it is not advisable to cut off molded fins from new-construction windows that do not have purposely detachable fins. You may compromise the window's structure or break the glass in the sash while cutting. Also, it can be difficult to smooth down the outer edges of the window enough for the window to tightly slide into place and remain weather-tight.