How do I know if I should replace or rehabilitate my windows? I’ve seen the case made for and against the restoration of original windows.
This is a question that many owners of older homes face. Something to keep in mind – not everything you read about replacement windows is true, according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Windows are often significant character-defining features of older and historic buildings. This alone is important and should not be overlooked or discounted in favor of perceived energy savings. With routine maintenance, and sometimes the installation of storm windows, an older window can perform well and continue to function for years to come. Rarely can a new replacement window match the design aesthetic or material of original windows.
This is not to say every old window should be saved. Yet, all too often, windows are replaced unnecessarily without considering the impacts or a cost-benefit analysis. Instead, owners might consider asking some questions first and exploring the options.
- Are my windows an important architectural or defining feature of my home?
- Are there ways I can retrofit my windows to achieve greater energy efficiency?
- Will replacement windows last as long as my originals?
- Are there more cost-effective approaches available other than replacement windows?
- Will replacement windows “fit” the character of my home or detract from it?
Does Energy Efficiency Trump Preservation?
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.
What are the Real Costs of Replacement Windows?
After spending about $12,000 dollars on properly installed, high-quality replacement windows (the average home has between 24 and 30 windows, replaced at an average of $500-$1,000 each), a typical household might save about $50 a month on heating or cooling bills. However, if a house is actively heated or cooled for an average of six months a year, the savings amounts to only $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.
They Call Them “Replacement” Windows for a Reason Many window replacement companies promise that, by installing their windows, 40% of heating or cooling costs will be saved, guaranteed. However, the fine print reveals that if that 40% is not saved, the maximum total refund is $500. So, after spending thousands of dollars to replace authentic historic windows, the refund isn’t even close to what was spent on the new windows.
Many replacement windows also come with “limited lifetime warrantees.” It is important to take the time to read the fine print. Even the better quality replacement windows limit the “lifetime” warrantee on the glass to 20 years, the installation to two years, and the non-glass components to ten years. “Lifetime” better describes the lifetime of the product, not the lifetime of the building. Research indicates that 30% of the time, a replacement window will be replaced within ten years. Even more revealing is the fine print that describes what is not covered by the limited warranty. Additionally, the warrantees are only good if the company that issued them is still in business when you need to have the window replaced.