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Replacing Your Windows

Thinking about getting new windows? That's not a bad idea if they're cracked, drafty, too cold to be near in the winter, have lead-based friction surfaces (where the window slides), or if the wall around the window is damaged.

Here are Your Window Repair Options:

Window Condition

Recommended Scope of Repair

Replace window glass, sash, track and/or sill

Install new window with its own retrofit frame within existing window frame

Completely replace existing window assembly including frame

Rebuild/repair wall surrounding window so that opening is structurally sound, plumb and square

Some window components may be damaged, but frame and surrounding wall are undamaged, plumb and square

Window components and frame are damaged, but surrounding wall is undamaged, plumb and square

Window components, frame and surrounding wall are damaged

What Type of Windows Should I Get?

[IMAGE: Scott recently replaced his old metal-framed single-pane windows because they were uncomfortable to be near in the cold winters and hot Maryland summers. He replaced them with ENERGY STAR qualified windows with vinyl frames.]

First of all, if you have single-pane windows, you'll probably be happy if you replace them. Single-pane windows are one of the largest sources of heat loss in winter due to their low insulating ability and high air leakage rates. They're also a major source of unwanted heat gain in the summer. As a result, single-pane windows are responsible for 25 to 50 percent of the energy used to heat and cool homes.

Since single-pane windows have become dinosaurs, almost any new window will significantly improve the comfort of your home, not to mention its energy efficiency, and you won't get all that moisture build-up from condensation in the summer and winter. Keep in mind, though, that new windows are expensive. They will be a great improvement in many ways, but energy savings alone will barely pay the interest on a loan to upgrade with new windows.

Safety is a separate issue. If the friction surface of existing windows is lead-based, a little bit of lead dust can be released into the air each time you open or close the windows. In that case you might not care about the energy savings as much as keeping the kids healthy.

Select a window with the ENERGY STAR label. ENERGY STAR qualified windows will cost 5 to 15 percent more than the lower-performing alternatives, but they can also reduce home heating and cooling costs by $125 to $340 a year (depending on climate), compared to older single-pane windows.

The National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC) energy performance label will also help you compare windows based on five factors:

The optimal combination of U-factor and SHGC depends on your climate zone. Products with the ENERGY STAR label will include a map to help you determine the right window for your area.

In hurricane and tornado prone regions, choose impact-resistant windows if you can afford them. Impact-resistant assemblies have laminated glass that won't shatter when hit by most flying debris (just like your windshield -- only stronger). A little extra money up front could protect your house from significant water and wind damage and make your life a lot easier during and especially after a severe storm.

If you prefer to keep your older window for aesthetic purposes, consider installing an interior storm window for added energy-efficiency.

Window Frames

Frame materials are another key consideration. The frame can affect not only a window's appearance, but also its energy efficiency. On the whole, fiberglass is one of the better performers among window frame materials because manufacturers can hollow out the frames and fill them with insulation without sacrificing their strength or integrity. Wood windows are also efficient and may best match an older home's existing style. Vinyl frames are most affordable, while metal frames allow the maximum amount of glass.

One strong and increasingly popular option is composite frames, which combine two or more materials, such as a wood foundation with vinyl or aluminum cladding. Composite frames can look like wood and are about as efficient, but are more resistant to warping, fading, denting, moisture and decay.

For more info on replacing your windows, read our article, Replacement Window Options, in Professional Builder.

Confused about what what a bow window is, or what egress is? Look no further than PATH Partner Anderson Windows' glossary of window terminology.

Content updated on 12/5/2006

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