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Replacing Your Windows

Inefficient windows are one of the biggest energy offenders in a home, and it’s actually pretty easy to tell when they’re due for replacement. Our window experts point out the biggest red flags and reveal everything you need to know before you make the investment.

Red Flag: Leaks and Fog

Reliable indicators of inefficient windows include air leaks and visible fogging between the panes. Uncomfortable drafts are an obvious clue, but you can further test for air leaks using a smoking candle or an incense stick. You can be even more thorough by calling in a professional with an infrared temperature gun to highlight cold spots. A seal failure will also dissipate the inert gases between window frames, further compromising a window’s performance.

Red Flag: Outdated Construction

A few decades ago, homes were often outfitted with single-paned windows to cut down on costs; however, single-paned windows are decidedly ineffective insulators (against temperature differences and noise). Ric Olsen, a member of Home Depot’s Merchandising Execution Team, recommends replacing any single-paned window with a new double- or triple-paned model.

Home depot windows
Photo by Emily Struzik

Some of the window experts we spoke to also brought up aluminum window frames. Windows that have an aluminum frame will conduct cold and heat, mitigating a window’s insulation factor. A sales representative from Pella says that when it comes to material performance, “Vinyl is better than aluminum … but fibreglass and wood are the best.” Wood windows are more versatile and Pella’s fibreglass composite is “the strongest, most durable material available for windows.”

Red Flag: Fading Fabrics

Windows with high emissivity will transmit more heat and ultraviolet rays into the home, ultimately leading to inflated air conditioning bills and faded fabrics. A Low-E (low emissivity) window includes a thin film coating between window panes that improves thermal efficiency and blocks those damaging UV rays. Many homeowners opt for replacement windows with the coating to both protect their furnishings and cut down on utility bills.

Dining room windows
Courtesy of Jeld-Wen Windows and Doors.

Red Flag: Safety Hazard

Safety is a serious factor in window performance. Elizabeth Souders, Jeld-Wen’s Window Product Manager, puts it simply, “If a window is designed to open and close, then it should,” or its a potential safety hazard. For instance, if a person can’t fit out a window (or it’s painted shut), then it can’t be used as an emergency egress. A defective latch could also lead to break-ins and faulty counterbalance mechanisms/tracks could leave a resident with injuries like crushed fingers.

The performance of individual windows can have a huge impact on the overall performance of your home and if you aren’t happy with your current windows (even if they are simply under-performing aesthetically), it might be time to think about replacing them. Any windows that aren’t efficient, functional, visually attractive and easy to maintain are good candidates for replacement.

So you’ve heeded the signs and have decided your windows need to be replaced. Now what? Well, some big considerations are going to be deciding on the type, style and lifetime of the replacement windows. Several factors should be taken into account when making these decisions, such as your energy-saving goals, the home’s style, changes in building standards, and your budget.

Low-E windows are a great optional upgrade for eco-friendly homeowners. Low-E coating blocks out heat and damaging rays, while only costing slightly more, so according to a Pella sales rep, “it’s well worth the upgrade.”

window casement
Courtesy of Pella Windows and Doors.

Climate also affects the type of windows best suited to your home. In fact, Low-E coatings are specific to each climate region. Colder climates might even require triple-paned glass for additional insulating value.

Depending on a home’s age, style and neighborhood ordinances, you may need to install windows of a certain material (historical homes often require wood). Also, different materials require different levels of maintenance. Souders (Jeld-Wen) suggests that “if [window] maintenance is not something you want to be doing every summer, vinyl might be a good fit.”

window balcony
Courtesy of Jeld-Wen Windows and Doors.

New windows should meet current building standards. There are several steps to the installation process and retrofit windows should adhere to the current building code. Professional installers will often get permits for the installation, ensuring the job is completed properly and safely.

If you are considering D-I-Y, keep in mind that the cheapest way isn’t always the best way. Even though “the labor cost of window replacement can be double or triple the cost of the actual materials,” Olsen (Home Depot) reinforces the fact that “the quality of the installation affects performance as much as the quality of the material.” Most companies that offer professional window installation, like Pella, offer free window replacement consultations (including a cost estimate).

“Replacing windows is one of the best investments a homeowner can make today” says Kathy Krafka Harkema, Pella’s Corporate Public Relations Manager. Remember that new windows enhance the curb appeal and perceived value of a home, so the return on investment accounts for lower utility bills AND a higher overall home value.

By Emily Struzik

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