Window Buying Tips
Forget what the ads say. Saving money on your energy bill is not the reason to replace your windows–it could take decades to recoup the $8,000 to $24,000 you’ll spend on new windows and installation. Energy Star-qualified windows can lower your energy bills by 7 to 15 percent. That’s only $27 to $111 a year for a 2,000-square-foot single-story home with storm windows or double-pane windows, $126 to $465 if your home has just single-pane windows, according to Energy Star. But new windows can enhance the look of your home and make it less drafty and quieter, and they’re easier to clean and maintain than old windows with combination storm and screens.
Ways to save
You’ll save money on materials and labor by using partial replacement units when the existing frames and sills are sound and square. They’re also known as pocket replacements and fit into existing frames. Otherwise you’ll need full replacement windows. They include the frame, sill, jambs, and usually a nailing flange that attaches the window to the outside wall around the opening. Prices can vary among dealers and manufacturers offer special deals, so check their websites and shop around. There are no federal tax credits planned for Energy Star-qualified windows in 2015, but some utilities and city and Provincial programs offer rebates or incentives to buy Energy Star windows. Go to stores and check out the windows, inspect the frames and try the handles.
Finding an Installer
Even the best windows won’t deliver the look or comfort you expect if they’re installed poorly. Many major window manufacturers train and certify installers for their specific products. Using the same contractor for purchase and installation can minimize the chances of problems arising later. Look online for customer reviews on the Installation Company. Once you have made some choices on who you would get prices from, the quote should include specifics such as window brand, number of windows, size and type, plus any add-on features. Installation details should be noted with all warranties in writing.
Wood window frames and all-vinyl are popular. We also tested all-fiberglass. You may still find some all-aluminum windows, but their popularity decreased with the development of vinyl. Our tests found that the material doesn’t guarantee performance and neither does price, and there are excellent and mediocre double-hung wood-frame and vinyl-frame windows. Here’s a look at material types and window styles.
Most are solid wood, though some may include composite materials (plastic with wood fibers embedded in it). Today’s wood-framed windows are clad in aluminum, vinyl, or fiberglass to protect the wood from the elements and eliminate painting. They tend to be the most expensive but are more attractive than other materials. Many brands offer various wood types, such as pine, maple, and oak, for the interior and it can be painted or stained at the factory or you can add it to your to-do list. You can choose from a variety of hardware finishes, allowing you to pick a style that matches your home.
They’re typically the least expensive and do not need to be painted or stained, but most are white and usually they can’t be painted and there are fewer hardware options. Among casement windows there was little difference between vinyl and wood frames.
They’re relatively new and while you won’t have to paint them, they can be painted. Fiberglass needles embed the plastic to make it stronger and stiffer, but there aren’t many brands available.
A popular choice, the lower inside sash slides up and an upper outside sash slides down, improving air circulation and making full screens ideal. Double-hung are easy to clean since you can tilt the sash on any of the tested windows. They’re also a smart choice if you plan to install a window air conditioner, though most now have a fairly high trim on the sill that may require significant shimming to stabilize the air conditioner. Some double-hung we tested are better at keeping out cold air or water. That’s important if you live in a chilly, windy area (hello Winnipeg!) or if home is in a wetter area like the west Coast of British Columbia.
They look like double-hung but usually cost less and only the bottom sash moves. The top sash is sealed to keep out cold air and water. Single-hung do not have the ventilation benefits of double-hung but are good if you want to install window air conditioners, though some shimming may be needed to stabilize the air conditioner.
Providing an unobstructed view, casement windows are hinged on one side, like a door, and a crank lets you open them outward. When fully open casements allow for good ventilation and easy cleaning. They’re usually more airtight than double-hung because the sash locks against the frame to close. The casements we tested excelled at keeping out cold air and rain and can be used in any area of the country. Note that window air conditioners cannot be installed in casement windows.
They’re hinged at the top and open outward. Like casements the sash presses against the frame so they close very tightly. They also offer better ventilation than other windows the same size and can be left open when it’s raining since they deflect rain. But they’re harder to clean and window air conditioners are out.
These are used where lighting but not ventilation is important. These windows are airtight and are available with decorative glass accents or in unusual shapes. But fixed windows do not open, so they provide no ventilation.
Features to consider
Vinyl, aluminum, or fiberglass covers the exterior of a wood-frame or composite window, eliminate painting.
Double or triple glazing
Double-glazed windows have a sealed space between two panes of glass filled with air or gas. Gas provides better insulation and is standard on many windows, but the energy savings won’t justify paying more for it. Triple-glazing adds a third layer of glass, which reduces noise significantly. Energy savings are improved, but not enough to justify cost in all but extremely cold climates or where there is a constant and very loud noise (near airports or major freeways).
It’s transparent and improves the efficiency of the glass by reflecting heat yet letting light in. The coating is applied to the outside glass in warmer climates to reflect the sun’s heat out and in colder climates it’s applied to the inside glass to keep heat in. But keep in mind that any coatings applied to glass, no matter how transparent, reduce the visibility.
On single and double-hung windows the sashes (the moving part of a window) can be tilted in for easy cleaning. Nearly all brands have this feature.
Hopefully this information will help you make the right choices for your window and door replacements. There are many things to consider in replacing your windows and doors, so take your time and make the right choice.