How To Choose Windows for Your Cabin

Updated: Feb. 07, 2024

Six tips to help you choose from a wide variety of windows for your cabin.

In any cabin or vacation home, good windows in the right locations offer more than just glorious sunrise and sunset views. They also let in natural light and cooling breezes. The right windows also help save on energy costs and contribute to the homeyness of your cabin.

When choosing cabin windows, keep these tips in mind.

Walk Around Your Property

Determine where you want your windows and consider their impact inside and out.

  • North-facing windows may provide the best views while sacrificing privacy and energy savings.
  • Ground-level crank-out casement windows work well for people inside the cabin but can be hazards outside when opened.
  • Lots of large windows for maximum light and view may sound appealing, but you probably don’t want to live in a glass house. The beauty of a log cabin can get lost with too many windows. The cost goes up as well. And all those windows require cleaning and maintenance.

Consider Cost

Your cabin may be your second home, but that doesn’t mean choosing second-rate products to build or remodel it. Gregg Cantor, president and CEO of Murray Lampert Design Build Remodel in San Diego, prefers options offered by national brands like Pella, Marvin, and Anderson.

However, numerous regional window manufacturers also offer excellent frame quality, hardware, installation, warranty and energy efficiency. Depending on the cabin’s location and the size and type of window, a new, non-specialized window in a new structure costs $250 to $650 installed, with labor contributing $150 to $250 of that amount, Cantor says.

A replacement window in an existing structure will be pricy if installers need to repair siding and trim inside and out after installation. Installation time is two to three hours per window.

Those with the time can find savings and benefits beyond the name brands, says Spike Carlsen, a St. Paul carpenter, cabinet maker and author of seven books, including Cabin Lessons: A Nail-by-Nail Tale. He built a 16-ft. x 20-ft. cabin with 20 windows on Lake Superior.

Carlsen found windows in antique stores, online and in places like Building Materials Outlet Midwest Inc, in Eagan, Minnesota, which sells surplus inventory from national manufacturers and distributors of building materials.

“I wanted the cabin to be different from my house,” he says. “To mimic the feel of my house would defeat the purpose of the cabin. I found a stained-glass window in an antique store, and that window created a unique, fun feel.”

Commit To Low Maintenance

At your getaway home, your time is precious, so go with low-maintenance windows. Pass on exterior wood frames without cladding, the aluminum layer that wraps around the wood frame for added protection from the elements. Unclad wood requires constant finishing.

Inside, wood frames can be painted or stained to match your interior colors, but they also need finishing regularly. For an additional cost, order pre-finished wood frames that require regular finishing going forward.

Fiberglass and composite window-frame materials are low maintenance with an attractive, wood-like look. Fiberglass is the most energy efficient window frame. Low-maintenance vinyl is a popular, quality material that keeps its clean look for years, and it’s less expensive than other materials.

Weigh Window Options

There are six common types of cabin windows. “Sliding and single-hung windows are the least expensive, and bay and casement windows the most expensive,” says Cantor. Here’s a rundown:

  1. Awning windows have hinges at the top and open out from the bottom. Can be used in combination with other windows.
  2. Bay windows extend outward and typically include a fixed window in the center with venting windows on each side. Adds living space to a room while letting in more light and air than flat windows.
  3. Casement windows have hinges on one side and open out from the other side. Uncluttered view and outward-opening design allow for optimal natural light and airflow.
  4. Double-hung windows have a top sash you can lower and a bottom sash you raise for first-rate air circulation.
  5. Single-hung windows have a fixed top sash and a bottom sash you can raise.
  6. Sliding windows offer a wide design and flat, compact profile with one fixed sash and another sash that moves side-to-side.

Choose Glass With the Most Insulation

In windows with more than one pane, insulating gas (argon or krypton) separates each pane, meaning triple-pane windows offer five layers of insulation. Low-emissivity coating on the outside of panes creates Low-E glass, which insulates by blocking ultraviolet and infrared light while letting in visible light. In colder temperatures, Low-E glass can reflect heat back into your cabin.

Windows earn energy performance ratings based on National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC) testing, but only the most energy-efficient are Energy Star windows. Those are government certified, with performance ratings similar to NFRC.

Installation: DIY or Pro?

Those with intermediate DIY skills should be able to install cabin windows. “On a one to 10 scale in difficulty, window installation is a seven or eight,” Cantor says. Many manufacturers employ their own installers so you’re covered if they make a mistake. That’s your best bet if you’re unsure of your DIY chops. If you make a mistake installing a window, you’re on your own.

Replacement windows are trickier, Carlsen says, because you may have to replace the interior and exterior window trim. “I would say if you take your time, have a helper and the right tools, and you study the manufacturer directions and have the skill to install a bathroom vanity, you could do window installation,” Carlson says. Tools include a circular saw, reciprocating saw, shims, a level and a pry bar.