To replace or not replace?

Windows are an important feature in every home. Walking through houses with buyers, I always point out the windows. Are they original or replacement? More importantly, are they in good shape? If they are in poor shape, should they be replaced or repaired?

The answer to that depends primarily on the age of the window and the material. You are much more likely to see windows repaired in an old, historic home as wood frame windows can be rebuilt and repaired much more easily than those made of more modern materials (and many will say that an older window with a good quality storm rivals any of the new replacement options). Double and triple pane windows with broken seals (meaning the gas between the panes has escaped) can’t easily be repaired and will likely need to be replaced (unless you are somehow able to tolerate the cloudy look they invariably take on).

A big question people ask when considering whether to replace their windows is what sort of return on investment they will see. Generally, replacement windows are more energy efficient (more on that later) but it will take a very long time to recoup the cost of the windows from any reductions seen on a utility bill. However, according to, which completes a yearly inventory of home improvement projects’ cost versus value, homeowners in the Capital Region recoup close to 90% of a window replacement project cost in increased home value. Keep in mind, the average cost to outfit a home with all new windows is between $15,000-20,000 so if you can’t swing a project of that magnitude, you may want to consider replacing selected windows. Inventory the ones that are in worst shape or are in the rooms where you spend the most time. You will get the biggest bang for your buck by replacing those.

If you decide to replace your windows, there’s a lot to consider and there is a large price range so you will want to know what you are getting when you choose the right window for your home and budget.

First off, you will need to choose what material the frame is made of. Here are some popular options and their features.

  • Aluminum or metal - strong, light and maintenance free but conduct heat rapidly
  • Composite frames - very stable and have the same or better properties as conventional wood with less decay
  • Fiberglass (air cavities filled with insulation) - these tend to have good thermal performance
  • Vinyl - no painting needed, moisture resistant
  • Wood - aesthetically pleasing but require regular maintenance

Then you will want to think about the type and style of window - casement, sliding, double hung, fixed, etc. has some nice examples at 8-types-of-windows-pictures. You are likely going to replace the window with the same basic style that was there before but you do have some choices to consider.

Another factor to contemplate is the type of glass. There are glazes that absorb solar radiation and low emissivity (low-e) coatings to control heat transfer as well as other coatings that are reflective or spectrally selective. Insulated windows (those with two or more panes of hermetically sealed glass) are more energy efficient of course.

Speaking of energy efficiency, here is a brief primer on the terms you will encounter as you shop for windows.

  • Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (SHGC) -a high SHGC is good for collecting heat in cold climates, a lower SHGC is good for reducing cooling loads during hot weather. Where you live determines which SHGC rating you want.
  • Visible transmittance (VT), the amount of visible light transmitted through the window glazing.
  • Light to solar gain (LSG) is the ratio of SHGC and VT - basically how efficient is the glaze or glass at transmitting daylight while blocking heat gains - this rating is not always available.

Look for two rating systems to help you assess the qualities the different windows possess-

  • Energy Star label - U factor tells you how well the window (glass portion) insulates. The lower the U factor, the more efficient
  • NFRC (National Fenestration Rating Council) provides additional/voluntary information on the performance of the whole window not just the glass.

For more information about the energy saving aspects of replacement windows go to -

If replacing some or all of your windows is simply not in your budget, there are alternatives to increasing comfort and energy savings - custom made storm windows, insulating curtains and blinds, caulking, weatherstripping, etc. None of these are as effective as replacing windows but they might help take the edge off a bit.