Can I Replace My Own Windows?

A man using a caulk gun on a windowsill

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It is quite tempting. You get a high quote from a window company for installing replacement windows and think you can shave costs by doing it yourself. Or you have seen one of these companies in action on a neighbor's house and noted how simple it is to put in a window.

Being handy with tools yourself and never afraid of a big project, you think: "Can I replace my windows by myself? If so, what is involved?"

Consider these points:

1. New-Construction Will Not Work

You cannot just go down to your local home improvement store at midnight and buy replacement windows off the shelf. The reason is that there are two different kinds of residential windows: new-construction and replacement.

  • New-Construction: Used when you are building a new structure, such as an addition, bump-out, or an entirely new home. These are easily identified because they have nailing fins on the front that allow the window to be nailed flat to the front of the house. The window does slip into the opening, but the nailing fins stop the window short by making contact with the house exterior.
  • Replacement: Replacement windows are used when removing and replacing existing windows in existing structures. These do not have nailing fins. This allows the window to fit into the window opening.

Some new-construction windows have nailing fins that arrive with the fins folded back.

These can deceptively look like replacement windows.

Some builders state that it is possible to cut off the nailing fins, effectively turning new-construction windows into replacements.

2.  DIY Replacement Windows Difficult To Find

Traditionally, it has been difficult for homeowners to buy their own replacement windows.

Some people believe it is because the supply "food chain" is set up to keep the professional windows industry in business, with customers forced to pay their high prices. By making DIY installation impossible, even the most motivated DIYer is forced to hire a company to do the job.

While that is possible, another reason may be that window replacement is a bigger job than most homeowners may expect. Window installers, after all, replace windows every day of their life; what is difficult for the DIYer is rote for them. In any case, it is difficult for homeowners to buy their own replacement windows for self-installation.

Window E-Store is one of the very few companies that sell replacement windows online, on a retail basis to homeowners.

The company's online ordering system is easy to use; you literally can specify the windows you want, pay with a credit card, and then wait for delivery.

Prices are competitive. For example, ten Lite Slider White replacement windows, each 59 1/4 x 46 1/2, will cost about $5,400, including a $150 home delivery charge. Home delivery is optional. You can avoid the charge by picking up your windows at the nearest distribution center.

Jeld-Wen is another major window company that sells only through local installers or retailers.

Jeld-Wen representative assured us that any local Home Depot could take an order to purchase Jeld-Wen replacement (also called pocket) windows.

3.  Are You Ready For Peripheral Work?

When installers put in replacement windows, they often install exterior cladding: aluminum that matches the color of the windows and provides a tight seal against weather. Specialized tools are needed to form the cladding, and there is a learning curve for working with aluminum.

Bottom Line

Window companies do this work all the time and can usually finish your house in a day or two. Because the replacement window industry is so highly competitive, you can easily find a low bid or wrangle a sweet deal. If you are intent on installing your own replacement windows, watch videos ahead of time so that you know what you are getting into.

If you should accept a large delivery of replacement and then find that the job is too much for you, a local contractor, builder, or even a motivated, experienced handyman can complete the job for you.