Repair or replace?
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New windows offer a host of benefits—smooth operation,
low maintenance, fewer drafts, easier cleaning
and modest energy savings. But they're expensive, so
evaluate the repair and maintenance options for your old
windows before taking the plunge.
Tough question. New windows are tempting because they offer so much—smoother operation, lower maintenance, energy savings, fewer drafts and easier cleaning. But they’re expensive, and pros charge almost as much as the cost of the windows to install them, which is a major investment.
Ask yourself the following three questions to evaluate
your old windows and weigh the benefits of new ones.
1. Are your old windows a hassle?
Are you sick and tired of nursing your windows along, or
are you OK with the minor maintenance jobs that go
along with them? Consider:
- Ease of operation. Do they lift, swing or slide easily, or
do you hesitate to open them when you want ventilation?
- Scraping and painting. Painted windows require regular
maintenance. Otherwise they’ll rot and fall apart. New
windows with aluminum or vinyl cladding or that are
made from vinyl or a composite eliminate this chore.
- Condensation. Does condensation regularly collect on
the glass, cloud the view and soak the window trim?
Higher-efficiency glass in new windows will help reduce
- Storm windows. Do you mind cleaning, maintaining
and putting up and taking down storm windows? Do
your storms need replacement?
- Cleaning. Is this so difficult that you avoid doing it?
Many new windows are designed to make cleaning a snap.
2. Are your old windows comfortable?
Single-pane windows often leave rooms feeling chilly and
dry in cold weather and overheated in warm, sunny
weather. Windows with double-pane glass can
greatly improve the comfort of your home. They can
block much of the heat of direct sunlight but still allow
the light to come through (less need for shades). They’ll
reduce cold drafts and the chill of cold glass. And they’ll
reduce condensation so you can keep the indoor humidity
at a higher, more comfortable level in cold weather.
New energy-efficient windows will also save on your
fuel bills but rarely enough to justify the investment if
your old windows are still in good shape.
3. Are your old windows worth repairing?
You can almost always repair and restore old windows if
you’re willing to set aside the time and can find replacement
hardware. But it’s not always worth the effort and
expense. Major problems include:
- Rot. Once rot starts, it’s tough to stop unless you commit
yourself to replacing rotted wood (a difficult job)
and then maintaining it regularly. Consider replacement.
- Sagging casement (crank-out) windows. You can usually replace worn-out crank mechanisms, but bent or
worn hinges are tougher and replacements don’t always
solve the problem. Consider new windows.
- Fogged double-pane glass. The fogging that occurs
between the glass panes can’t be fixed. Glass replacement
(sometimes the entire sash) is the only solution. This is
often difficult and it’s expensive if a pro does it. Compare
the “fix-it” cost with the cost of a new window.
- Hard-to-find replacement hardware. Call the window
manufacturer or local window dealer if you can identify
the window brand and model number. Many hard-to-find
parts are available from online suppliers. But often new windows are the only option.
What's the best way to replace my windows?
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Wood or vinyl window inserts cost about
the same as complete new window units but are easy to
install because you leave the old frame and trim intact.
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With new window units, you replace all the
old parts with new, assuring weathertight, long-term
performance. But installation is more difficult.
Option 1: The easiest way to replace windows
is to remove the old sashes and slip a window insert
into the old frame. You get the benefits
of high-efficiency glass, weathertightness and a
maintenance-free exterior with minimal impact on the
appearance of your home.
To start the process,
simply measure the frame and order a new wood or vinyl
unit to fit it. This always works for double-hung (slide up
and down) windows but only sometimes for casements
(crank out) and sliding windows. A window dealer will
advise you on your options. Or you can opt for sash
replacement, which works for double-hungs only.
You can complete the changeout this way in about an
hour per window (or much less after learning the ropes
on the first one!). But this approach has several drawbacks.
The old frame must be rot-free and reasonably
square. And you still have to maintain the exterior wood
frame and trim.
Option 2: Completely tear out the old window and frame
and put in a new one. You usually have to
go this route with casement and slider windows. This
project takes longer and is more difficult because you
have to remove the exterior and interior trim, make the
new window weathertight and then replace the trim. Plan
on spending a whole day per window.
On the plus side, this method allows you to start fresh
with a new, weathertight, low-maintenance window. And
you have the option of reframing the opening and changing
the window size while you’re at it.
Keep in mind that complications can arise if your old
window doesn’t have exterior trim. Sometimes brick,
stucco, vinyl siding or other siding materials butt right
up against the window frame. In these situations, you
may have to remove or cut siding to get the old window
out and the new one in, and then patch or restore siding
to finish up.
Should I replace them all at once?
Balance your home's appearance with your
budget. Even if you try for a close match, new windows
will probably look a bit different from the old. And even
the glass itself (we recommend the low-E) usually looks
somewhat different from clear glass. So replacing one or
two in a conspicuous area may look bad. One good
strategy is to replace all the windows on one side (or
level if you have a two-story house) to retain a
consistent appearance. Often the windows on one side
of a house deteriorate much faster than the others.
How do I know I'm getting a good-quality window?
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It may be difficult to find an exact match for an old window without paying a fortune for a special order, but numerous styles are available as standard options from different window manufacturers, and you can usually find a window that blends well with your house style.
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the need for storm
windows and is
standard in most
new windows. Two
low-cost extras, a
low-E film and argon
gas between the
panes, are worth the
slightly higher price
for both comfort
Quality is a matter of detail. So we strongly
recommend that you visit a showroom where you can
compare windows of different brands or different
models within the same brand. Check these features
and answer these questions:
Appearance. Imagine the windows in
your home. Does the style of the windows
blend well on the interior and
exterior? Are the wood or vinyl joints
well made? Do the muntins (grids that
divide the glass) fit tightly and cleanly?
Is the hardware attractive? Unless you’re
trying to match existing window colors,
choose a low-maintenance exterior (such
as vinyl or aluminum) so you’ll never
have to scrape and touch up the paint.
Operation. Try out the display windows. Do they
open and close smoothly? Are the cranks, runners and
locking devices solid and do they look as though they’ll
withstand heavy use? Does the window latch firmly without
too much effort? Does the weatherstripping fit snugly?
Are the screens solidly built and easy to remove?
Cleaning. If cleaning is a priority, can you easily reach
both interior and exterior glass? Remove or rotate the
sashes to test them.
Service. Are parts available if something should break or
wear out? Can you replace the weatherstripping when it
wears out? Both these questions favor window companies
with long track records because they’ll likely serve
the glass breaks
or fogs, how difficult
and costly is replacement?
Warranties. Compare the warranties
for parts and finishes.
Probably the most frustrating (and expensive)
problem is the failure of the seal between doublepane
glass and the resulting fogging. Look for a warranty
that covers glass replacement up to 20 years. Note: Keep
the receipt for your window purchase and the warranty
in your records.
Glass selection. Energy-efficient double-pane glass is
fairly standard now. But it’s almost always worth paying a
bit extra for two additional features: a low-E coating and
argon gas between the panes. Most manufacturers have
two variations of this type of glass, one designed for cold
climates and one designed to control sunlight in warmer
climates. If you spend more for air conditioning than for
heating, choose the warm-climate type, and if you spend more for heating, choose the cold-climate type.