Should I really believe the hype about replacement windows being better than older original ones? No. If your existing windows are wood and were made before the 1940’s, they can perform just as well, if not better.
Myth #1: Replacement Windows Will Save You Money
On average, replacing windows with new, higher-quality replacement windows (when properly installed) could save you about $50 a month on your heating or cooling bills. However, this is after spending an average of $12,000 dollars to install the windows (the average home has between 24 and 30 windows, replaced at an average of $500-$1,000 each). If you heat your house an average of six months a year, the savings are about $300 a year. At this rate, it would take 40 years to even begin to recoup in energy savings the amount spent on the new windows. (Note: These figures assume that the windows are paid in cash or with zero percent financing. If the amount of interest paid on the total cost of the window replacement project is added, the payback period will be even longer.) By following some no- and/or low-cost methods to improve your home’s energy efficiency, you can easily save that same $50 a month on your heating bills without an outlay of thousands of dollars.
Even more important is the payback, or rather the lack thereof. The average person in the United States stays in the same house for between five and seven years. If it takes upwards of 40 years to recoup in energy savings what was spent to replace windows, the average person will never see their “savings” or recoup their expenses. Furthermore, the typical replacement window fails within about 20 years. So, in the time it would take to recoup the expenses of original replacement windows, statistically, the replacement windows will already have had to be replaced at least once.
Myth #2: Replacement Windows are Guaranteed
Many window replacement companies promise that by installing their windows, you will save 40% on your heating or cooling costs, guaranteed. However, if you read the fine print, you’ll find that if you don’t save that 40%, the maximum amount they will refund you is $500. So, after spending thousands of dollars to replace your windows and then experiencing little appreciable energy savings, the guarantee isn’t equivalent to your investment.
Many replacement windows also come with “limited lifetime warrantees.” Again, take the time to read the fine print. Even the better quality replacement windows limit the “lifetime” warrantee on the glass to 20 years, installation to two years, and the non-glass components to ten years. You’ll note that the “lifetime” better describes the lifetime of the product, not your lifetime or the lifetime of your home. Even more revealing is the fine print that describes what is not covered by the limited warranty. Also, notice that the warrantees are only good if the company that issued them is still in business when you need have the window replaced. Not all warrantees are transferable, or are only transferable within a certain amount of time from when the windows were installed. This means that if you purchase a house that has already had its windows replaced, your windows may no longer be covered by any warranty.
Myth #3: Replacement Windows are Maintenance Free.
Replacement windows are not maintenance free, though they may be easier to clean. This maintenance-free claim is most often used with companies that sell vinyl and aluminum windows. These windows simply cannot be maintained nor repaired. Traditional wood windows are composed of interlocking parts made from natural materials, and any part can be repaired or replaced. Vinyl, aluminum, fiberglass, and composite windows are manufactured as a unit and the components cannot be repaired. When a part fails, or the insulated glass seal breaks, or the vinyl warps, the entire unit must be replaced.
Myth #4: Replacement Windows are the Environmentally-Responsible Choice
Going green is about more than just energy performance. To determine real environmental impacts, one must take into account the embodied energy of the new and existing windows, the environmental impacts of manufacturing new products, and the expected lifecycle of the product. Embodied energy includes the energy required to extract the raw materials, transport them, make them into a new product, ship the product, and install it. Existing historic windows have all of this energy embodied in them. Tearing out historic windows for replacement units not only wastes embodied energy, it requires additional energy to remove and dispose them. This is on top of the energy required to create and install the new windows.
Statistically, it is virtually impossible to recoup, in energy savings, the amount of money spent on replacing historic wood windows with new windows before the new windows need to be replaced. The average person in the United States stays in the same house for between five and seven years. When it takes upwards of 40 years to recover in energy savings what was spent to replace the windows, the expense will never be recouped. Other studies have found that it can take as much as 222 years to recoup in energy savings what was spent on installing the replacement windows. Furthermore, the typical replacement window often fails within about 20 years. So, in the time it would take to recoup the original replacement windows, statistically, the replacement windows will already have had to be replaced at least once.