If you’re like most homeowners, then you’ve been putting off replacing your old, outdated, and inefficient windows for as long as possible. A window replacement project can be expensive and time consuming, and you’ll certainly want to do your research before deciding the type of windows you want and the company that will install them. If you’re determined to get the most out of your investment in terms of performance, aesthetic appeal, and energy efficiency, then you’re going to want to make well-informed choices. The last thing you want to do is settle for windows that won’t stand up to the elements or contractors that do shoddy installation work.
This replacement window buying guide was created to help homeowners learn about the issues they should look out for, the types of replacement windows that are available, the many features they may want their windows to include, and the entire process—from consultation to installation. After reviewing this home window replacement guide, you’ll be able to confidently buy replacement windows that fit your budget and check all the boxes in terms of your priorities.
Table of Contents
- When Should You Replace Your Windows?
- Types of Replacement Windows for Your Home
- Select Your Preferred Window Styles
- Customize Your New Windows by Choosing Your Preferred Features
- Qualities to Look for When Choosing a Window Company
- What to Expect After Buying/Preparing for Installation
- The Installation Process
- What Do Replacement Windows Cost?
- What Is the Return on Investment for Replacement Windows?
When Should You Replace Your Windows?
There is a wide array of reasons why you may decide that it’s finally time for a window replacement project at your house. Most likely, your motive is related to either a pressing need or an aesthetic preference.
Reasons Why You Might Need to Replace Your Windows
The most obvious reason why a homeowner would need new windows is damage to their existing windows. Whether the result of severe weather, an unfortunate accident, or long-term deterioration, broken windows need to be replaced promptly to protect the inside of the home from the elements. Of course, broken windows aren’t just those with shattered glass. If a window’s frame has cracked or separated it won’t provide necessary protection, and a window should also be considered “broken” if it no longer opens or shuts properly. These issues can be a major concern in fires and other evacuation situations.
Poor energy efficiency is another factor that could lead you to start looking at new windows. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that up to 30% of residential heating and cooling energy use can be tied to inefficient windows. Fortunately, there are many types of energy-efficient windows available, and you can easily check a window’s energy performance ratings before committing to a purchase.
If you are wondering whether your windows are hurting your home’s thermal efficiency, you should look out for some telltale signs:
- Drafty windows – Windows that are losing their structural integrity, have poor weather-stripping, or have frames made from inferior materials can allow outside air to enter the home (and vice-versa). This can force your home’s HVAC system to work overtime, shortening its lifespan and raising your monthly energy costs. When considering new windows, you should ask about a window’s air infiltration rating (0.3 or below is the maximum allowable, but the best windows have a rating of .02 or less).
- Condensation – Whether on the inside or outside of the window, condensation is a telling sign that a window is poorly insulated or is leaking air. Condensation, or ice in extremely cold temperatures, forms on the inside of a window when the glass is significantly cooler than the air around it. With multi-pane glass and gas fills, many of today’s state-of-the-art windows minimize this issue. Condensation that appears between the pieces of glass is a sign of catastrophic seal failure, and should be covered by your manufacturer’s warranty.
Other Reasons to Replace Your Windows
In addition to improving weather protection and energy efficiency, replacing old windows can provide an undeniable aesthetic boost to your home and reduce maintenance requirements. Windows are one of the most prominent features of a home’s exterior, and when they’re faded, streaked, or noticeably deteriorating, they can hurt curb appeal. Replacement windows instantly upgrade your home’s exterior since they come in a variety of attractive styles and colors and can be customized to fit your preferences.
Another prominent benefit of having new windows installed is a reduction in maintenance requirements. Many of today’s replacement windows feature easy-clean glass that only needs to be hosed off occasionally to stay looking like new. Additionally, modern frame materials, such as vinyl and composite, are engineered to resist fading, peeling, chipping, cracking, and warping, so they will stay looking like new for years and won’t need to be sanded, stained, or repainted.
New windows also make life a little bit more relaxed. They’re easier to open if you want to let a cool breeze into your home, and some styles feature sashes that fold inward to allow for easy cleaning. What’s more, their insulated construction helps to eliminate outside noise intrusion into your home. If you’re tired of listening to sirens, dogs barking, or your neighbor mowing the lawn, you can choose noise reduction windows with multi-pane glass packages. While there are many things that can affect the ability to hear outside noise, this glass can minimize unwanted outside noise.
Types of Replacement Windows for Your Home
When you start doing your research about the different replacement windows available in your area, you will quickly realize that there are a lot of options when it comes to frame materials. There was a time when windows with wooden frames dominated the market, but technological advancements have changed the game considerably. Now, you have several different types of window frames to choose from—each of which offers pros and cons in terms of price, durability, and energy efficiency. Having a variety of options is a good problem, and you’ll likely be able to find the best type of windows to fit your priorities and budget.
As you research what’s available, it’s likely that vinyl windows will dominate the options—and for good reason: vinyl window frames are exceptionally durable and more energy efficient than many other options. They’re also easy to clean and won’t rot or corrode, so you won’t have to worry about extensive upkeep. What’s more, vinyl windows are less expensive than most other windows and are also easier to install because of their lighter weight.
So, when did vinyl windows become popular? The first vinyl windows were introduced in 1964, and they became increasingly popular in the 1970s when the energy crisis caused homeowners to look for ways to improve the energy efficiency of their homes.
Fiberglass windows have increased in popularity through the years, as they are durable and can mimic the look of natural wood to improve curb appeal. Many fiberglass window frames come with foam-filled cores, which greatly improves their energy efficiency. They’re also resistant to flaking, peeling, fading, and the effects of moisture, and their rigid frames won’t expand or contract during extreme temperature swings. The downside is that the durability comes at an additional cost and construction decisions could lead to excess air leakage.
It’s hard to top the natural beauty offered by wood windows, especially if you’re in a home with traditional architecture. Wood windows provide excellent insulation and help prevent condensation from forming, and they can be painted or stained to match any décor. Some of the downsides of wood windows, however, are their susceptibility to rotting, warping, and termites, and the amount of maintenance that’s needed to keep them in good shape.
Composite windows are another modern option for replacement windows. Many composite frames are made from a blend of vinyl and reclaimed wood fiber, making them stronger than most other options. Like vinyl and fiberglass windows, composite windows are resistant to rotting, warping, and moisture damage and offer outstanding thermal performance. However, they are usually more expensive than other windows.
Aluminum windows are extremely strong and allow for a larger viewing area because of their narrow frames. They’re also lightweight, affordable, resistant to insects, and come with baked-on finishes that never need to be repainted. The downside, however is that aluminum windows are the worst option when it comes to energy efficiency, as aluminum is a poor insulator. Aluminum windows are also prone to moisture intrusion and can corrode if they’re subjected to salty air.
Select Your Preferred Window Styles
Okay, so you’ve decided which window material you want. Now, you’ll need to choose the different window styles that you want for your house. For example, in some rooms of your home, the main focus will be an expansive view of the surroundings, while in others, you’ll want windows that allow excellent ventilation. No matter what your priorities are, you’ll have plenty of style options:
Awning windows include a single pane that opens outwardly and is attached by a hinge at the top. They are designed for rooms that need extra ventilation, such as bathrooms or basements. One extra benefit of awning windows is that their design allows them to remain open during a light rain.
Bay & Bow Windows
Bay and bow windows can be a striking architectural addition to any home, while also creating extra interior space. Bay windows feature three individual windows that curve out to form an arc, and they often include two operable windows flanking a fixed picture window. Bow windows are made up of four or more individual windows that are often the same style as each other.
Casement windows are attached to the frame on the side and can be opened outward using a hand crank or by pushing. They can be a single window or a pair in a single frame, and they are another excellent option for rooms that need extra ventilation.
The most popular option is the classic double-hung window, which includes two operable sashes that slide up or down within the frame. Adaptable to almost any home style, double-hung windows are aesthetically pleasing and easy to operate and maintain.
A garden window is basically a mini greenhouse, with four panes of glass forming a box that protrudes from the side of your home. They are most commonly installed above countertops and kitchen sinks, creating the perfect spot to grow herbs for cooking.
Hopper windows are similar to awning windows except for one major difference—they open at the bottom instead of the top. They still provide excellent ventilation but can’t stay open during inclement weather. You typically see hopper windows in basements.
Picture windows are fixed and feature a large pane of glass that is usually devoid of window grids, allowing for expansive views of the surroundings.
Single-hung windows offer the same classic look as double-hung windows but only have one operable sash, as the upper sash is fixed in place.
Sliding windows are easy to operate and can be almost any size, and they provide an especially weather-tight seal that also helps with energy efficiency.
Specialty Shape Windows
If you prefer a more distinctive look for your home, you can choose to have custom windows made in almost any geometric shape.
Defining Details: Decorative Touches That Can Turn Your Windows to Artistic Statements
A lot of thought goes into the selection of replacement windows. You’ve undoubtedly already weighed several big-picture considerations such as framing material, styles, and performance packages as part of your research. While you were right to prioritize these options, don’t forget the decorative touches that will take your windows from the merely functional to the downright fabulous.
Window grids add visual and structural complexity to a window. They can be part of a window’s actual frame, physically holding the interior panes in place, or they can be purely decorative, with the grids overlayed or set in between the glass. Also called muntins or grilles, these design flourishes come in many patterns ranging from minimalistic to flamboyant. Your home’s architectural style will play a large role in determining which configuration can best be integrated into the rest of the exterior. Square grids work well with Colonial and Cape Cod style homes, while prairie grids, which feature a large rectangle framed by smaller rectangles, are good matches for bungalows and Craftsman-style homes.
Etched or grooved glass has a pattern etched directly on the pane. The possibilities for designs are nearly endless since many window manufacturers offer customized options. It’s not uncommon for some homeowners to design their own patterns for reproduction. If carving designs directly onto the glass gives you pause, don’t worry! These engravings in no way compromise the strength or energy efficiency of the window. Frosted and stained glass are also options, but these are more commonly found on smaller specialty windows, doors, and sidelights.
Customize Your New Windows by Choosing Your Preferred Features
Now that you’ve settled on your preferred window type and style, your next step is to choose the features that are important to you. Modern windows offer a wide array of customization options—some of which are related to performance and others that are all about aesthetics. You can choose your preferred:
Energy-Efficient Glass Package
One of the key features of the most energy-efficient windows on the market is glass packages that are engineered to prevent heat transfer. Single-pane windows are the least energy efficient and are most likely to develop issues with condensation. To ensure that your windows offer the performance you’re looking for, choose a double- or triple-pane option with a gas fill between the panes to further reduce heat transfer.
Another glass feature that you should look for is a low-E glass coating. This minimizes the amount of ultraviolet and infrared light that passes through the window without diminishing visible light, thus reducing the amount of heat coming in and protecting your furniture, window treatments, and artwork from fading.
Frame & Sash Options
Though you might think your only color options will be black or white, most window manufacturers offer custom frame and sash colors and finishes. This allows you to tailor your windows to best complement your home’s interior and exterior color scheme.
Are Impact-Resistant Windows Right for You?
Depending on the part of the country you live in, you may need to be more focused on severe weather than other homeowners. Maybe you live in a coastal area that’s affected by tropical storms and hurricanes, or perhaps tornadoes are a regular part of life in your town. If so, you should look for a window contractor that offers impact windows. Engineered to be more durable than others, impact windows feature multiple panes of glass that are coated with a laminate that keeps them intact in the frame, even when they’ve been shattered by flying debris. This will help keep the inside of your home safe while strong winds roar outside.
Qualities to Look for When Choosing a Window Company
When making such a significant long-term investment in your home, it’s crucial that you choose the best window company to meet your specific needs. There are plenty of window installation companies in every part of the country, but not all of them will be the right fit. Once you’ve decided on the type of windows (vinyl, composite, fiberglass, etc.) that will provide the benefits that are most important to you, your next step should be finding a product line from a specific manufacturer that checks all the boxes. Not all replacement window manufacturers are equal, and you should choose a manufacturer that’s been in the game for a long time and has received positive customer reviews. Also, see if the manufacturer has received any significant accreditations, such as ENERGY STAR® certification, or ranks in Window & Door Magazine’s Top 100 Manufacturers.
Another important factor to consider is that the product warranty will be backed by the manufacturer, not the installer (they should provide a workmanship warranty), so it’s important that the manufacturer you choose offers acceptable coverage.
When you’ve settled on the product line that is the best fit for your preferences and budget, you should find the installers near you that offer it. However, just because a company offers the best window brands doesn’t mean it’s the best choice. Be sure to check customer reviews and the Better Business Bureau rating, and make sure the company is properly licensed and insured. If you’ve found a local company that offers the type of product you’re looking for and has outstanding qualifications, it’s time to make the call.
What to Expect After Buying/Preparing for Installation
So you’ve made it through the hard part, which is doing all of the research needed to ensure that you’re buying high-performance windows that fit your needs and budget from a company that you can trust. Now it’s time to hurry up and wait. The window manufacturing process can take weeks or months, so your new window installation project likely won’t be happening right away. There are a variety of factors that can affect the delivery timeline for your windows, including the amount of customization that is needed and issues that are completely out of your control. If your window manufacturer serves an area that has recently been impacted by severe weather, there’s a decent chance they their delivery times will get stretched because demand is higher than usual. For impact windows, the manufacturing time can sometimes be as long as six months.
Once you get the call and your installation date (or dates, if there are a lot of windows to install) has been scheduled, there are steps you’ll need to take to prepare your home. You may need to:
- Deactivate alarms – You may need to have a professional come out to remove your alarm sensors from your windows and reinstall them once installation is completed.
- Clear the area – The installers will need space to work, so you should remove your window treatments and nearby pictures and move furniture that might be in their way.
- Cover your furniture – Removing old windows and installing new ones can great a lot of dust, so you’ll probably want to cover your furniture.
- Do landscaping work – If any of the windows are tough to access because of bushes or branches, you’ll want to trim them back to make the job easier.
- Make a plan for your pets – You don’t want your pets to get in the way or escape out of a window opening, so make arrangements to keep them away.
The Installation Process
There are two different methods that could be used for your home window installation project: pocket window installation and full-frame window installation. During the preparation process, when your window company sent a technician to measure the window openings and check for any issues that will need to be dealt with during installation, a pocket window installation may have been discussed. This process involves leaving the existing window frames in place and a new window is inserted. This technique, which can save considerable money, is sometimes used when a home is newer and in excellent condition or when a historical home is being restored. One of the downsides of a pocket installation is loss of glass area, which can be significant depending on the window manufacturer that you choose.
For a full-frame window installation, the technicians will remove the existing window and the entire frame. Once the replacement window has been secured in place and is level and operating smoothly, the installers will ensure that all gaps around the window are filled with insulating foam and that the perimeter around the frame is caulked and sealed.
Whether you’re having a full-frame or pocket window installation, it’s crucial that your installers are experienced and, preferably, factory trained. The finest replacement windows will only provide the protection and energy efficiency they’re supposed to when they’re installed properly, so you might want to choose a window company that uses full-time employees for its installations—not subcontractors.
What Do Replacement Windows Cost?
There are many factors that can affect the cost of your new replacement windows. Some manufacturers offer you the ability to customize your windows to make them more uniquely you. Obviously, colors, blinds between the glass, and other custom-crafted options can add to the cost of your project.”
Size and type are other factors to consider when determining the price of your replacement windows. A floor-to-ceiling picture window is going to be pricier than a small double-hung window, and custom geometric shapes that require a lot of wasted glass and vinyl extrusions will run you more than standard windows.
Make Your Replacement Windows More Affordable
A window replacement project can be one of the priciest home improvement undertakings, especially if your home is larger and you’ve chosen a wide array of window styles. Fortunately, most window contractors offer financing plans that can help make the project more affordable. This allows you flexibility to determine the best way to spread out your window replacement costs. Options include paying for the entire project up front or paying a portion out of pocket and financing the rest. Some homeowners even determine that the most affordable window replacement payment option is to finance in the short term but pay off the loan sooner than needed.
Most financing plans require no upfront fees and feature low monthly minimum payments. Some also include deferred payment options, so you don’t have to start paying for your new windows until several months down the road.
What Is the Return on Investment for Replacement Windows?
Will replacing old and inefficient windows increase the value of your home? The answer is most definitely yes! According to Remodeling Magazine, vinyl replacement window installation is one of the best home improvement projects to consider in terms of cost vs. value. Nationwide, it’s estimated that homeowners will recoup more than 72% of their investment in vinyl windows if they decide to sell their home. That’s because attractive new windows are sure to improve the curb appeal of any home.
Another important benefit is the savings you’ll see on your monthly energy bills. Energy-efficient vinyl replacement windows that eliminate air drafts and reduce heat transfer will make it easier for your HVAC system to maintain a comfortable temperature inside your home. This may not only increase the lifespan of your heating/cooling system but also lead to a savings on your energy costs.