Windows: Preserving Character, Comfort & Costs

Q: I’ve been considering replacing the windows in my home. I have heard conflicting information about whether it is wise to replace windows, repair windows or install storm windows. How should I navigate the options?

A: Windows can be a thorn in the side of homeowners. They are expensive to replace, time consuming to maintain and often don’t provide enough energy savings to fully cover these costs. On the other hand we thrive with natural light inside our homes, we love when windows are not drafty and we are pleasantly surprised when they muffle obnoxious sounds from outside.

Repairing or replacing windows will nearly always improve looks, comfort and energy efficiency, though the amount of improvement dramatically varies from window to window and home to home.

Considering your windows

Window frames are typically one of three materials: wood, metal or vinyl. Wood and metal frames can often be repaired and improved. Unlike wood window frames, metal window frames in homes have the added complexity of transferring heat—making you feel colder in the winter and warmer in the summer. Vinyl window frames are often impossible to repair and will warrant replacement of the entire window unit.

Window glass is either single, double or triple panes. Single pane windows were commonly installed until the 1970s when double pane glass became the norm. Triple pane windows are widely available and found in high-end homes.

What to do?

Before replacing windows for energy efficiency alone, priority should be given to a top-notch energy audit and repair of your home’s ceiling, floors and walls by sealing holes, improving attic insulation and sealing HVAC ductwork. Assess each window individually as you consider your time, ability, budget and aesthetic goals. Often homes have a mix of replaced and repaired windows. Below is a list of pros in cons when considering either to repair or replace windows.

Repairing windows (wood and metal frame)

ProsCons
Window units may last for the life of the homeRoutine maintenance every few years
Do-it-yourselfCostly if you hire someone
RepairableTime consuming
Preserves historic characterCost of purchasing low-e storm windows

Replacing windows (any kind)

ProsCons
Quick makeoverExpensive
No muss, no fussMay not be repairable which will require replacement anywhere from two to 20 years

A 2002 study showed that installing a storm window with low-e coating over a historic window can yield the same efficiency as a replacement window. Low-e storm windows can save 12 to 33 percent a year in heating and cooling costs. If you plan to go the repair route, visit the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Technical Preservation Services to see assessment, repair and upgrade tips.

Replacing windows is alluring when you have severely dilapidated windows and limited time. Instead of scraping paint, replacing glazing putty, replacing the glass you break while removing glazing putty, multiple coats of paint, caulking, weather stripping and sash repair, a workman shows up and has the old window out and the new window installed within a matter of minutes. Check out the U.S. Department of Energy’s guide for energy efficient windows.

When repairing or replacing windows, be mindful that lead dust can cause irreversible neurological damage to a baby in utero and children. Contact your county health department so you know how to proceed safely.

Each situation is unique but rest assured you can proceed with confidence that a quality repair or replacement will improve looks, comfort and even yield energy savings.

This article was originally featured in Carolina Country magazine.