How Retrofit Windows Can Save the High Cost of Replacement

One popular notion is that replacing your current windows is the only way to cut energy loss and save money. It seems that there can be no better way to improve on cracked window glass, foggy glass, air infiltration around the edges, dated window sashes, and a host of other old window problems than by replacing them with newer and better ones. Even lower cost windows, with low-e coating and double-glazing, can be so technologically advanced that they far exceed the performance of old windows.

But sometimes replacing windows is not a viable option. Installing new windows all throughout a house is an incredibly expensive proposition. And the claims that some window companies may advance, that the new windows will pay for themselves with energy savings, is simply not true. One expert found that it would take up to 70 years to recoup the cost of whole-house replacement windows with attendant energy savings.

While it is true that ​replacement windows are, in many cases, the best way to slow energy loss, there are retrofit alternatives that cost less and offer nearly the same performance as new windows. Saving Windows, Saving Money, a report by The National Trust For Historic Preservation, finds that "retrofit strategies come very close to the energy performance of high-performance replacement windows at a fraction of the cost." This means that three retrofit window methods will save nearly the same amount of energy as entirely replacing the windows. Factoring in retrofit windows' low cost in relation to replacement windows' high cost, the scales begin to tip in the direction of window retrofitting.

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    Exterior Storm Windows

    New Windows Being Installed

    John Mills / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

    Homeowners often install exterior storm windows with an eye toward saving energy and money, yet they find that their efforts count for little. The problem is not so much the storm windows as the approach to purchasing and installing the storm windows. Some homeowners may purchase poor-quality storm windows that permit air leakage. Or they may install them with little care. Relying on storm windows alone to fix bad windows is never a great idea (storm windows are a supplement). Complicating matters is the fact that many homeowners lack the skills or inclination to install storm windows where they are most needed: the upper floors.

    The highest value storm window, according to The National Trust For Historic Preservation, is a low-e "single-clear operable exterior storm; aluminum triple-track frame." While better quality storm windows are available, this window provides the best value, when the cost is factored in.

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    Interior Window Panels (Inside Storm Windows)

    interior window panels

    Rutebega / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0 

    Interior storm windows, sometimes called invisible storm windows, are installed parallel to your existing window and improve the thermal and air leakage performance of the window. Interior storm windows are similar to shrink-fit window film insulation that attaches to window trim with double-sided tape. The difference, though, is that window film is flexible and temporary, while interior storm windows are solid acrylic and semi-permanent. Interior storm windows attach via magnetic strips or compression gaskets and can remain in place for as long as the homeowner desires. By contrast, shrink-fit window film only lasts one season, if that.

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    Cellular Blinds (Interior Insulating Blinds)

    Quilted Window Blinds

    Window Quilt Insulated Shades

    Interior cellular blinds are made of lightweight fabric and open and close in an accordion fashion. When the blind is fully extended, a honeycomb-like structure forms a thermal shield between the cold window and warm interior. Some cellular blinds install at the top of the window frame, much like mini-blinds. Better cellular blinds run along weather-stripped edge tracks to keep the blinds in place and the cold out. Equally effective are quilted window blinds. These are made of thick, quilted fabric that rolls up and down.