Windows: Preserving Character, Comfort & Costs

By Jonathan Susser | December 28, 2018

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 the 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 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 frames, metal frames have the added complexity of transferring heat – making you feel colder in the winter and warmer in the summer. Vinyl frames are often impossible to repair and will require replacing the entire window unit.

Window glass is either single, double or triple paned. Single pane windows were common until the 1970s, when double pane glass became the norm. Triple pane windows are more often found in high-end homes.

What to do?

Before replacing your windows for energy efficiency alone, prioritize an energy audit and a repair of your home’s ceiling, floors and walls by sealing holes, improving attic insulation and sealing HVAC ductwork.

Next, 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 and cons for repairing vs. replacing.

Repairing windows (wood and metal frame)
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)
Quick makeoverExpensive
No muss, no fussMay not be repairable which will require replacement anywhere from two to 20 years

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 per year in heating and cooling costs. If you plan to go the repair route, check 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, as a contractor can have the old window out and a new one installed within minutes. The U.S. Department of Energy has a useful guide for energy efficient windows.

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

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