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Replace windows when they start to fail

Rain, sun, heat and cold - not to mention thousands of openings and closings - eventually cause windows to fail. When normal maintenance can no longer keep the windows running smoothly, it's time to install replacements.

Shop for replacements at home centers, lumber yards and window specialty stores. Professional installation may be included in the cost.Here's a checklist to simplify your choices:

Style

Buy a window that's the same style as the old one, to maintain the character of the house. One of the most common types is a double-hung, one-over-one window. Another common type is the casement window, which swings outward like a door.

Replace a window with a new one that's as close as possible in size to the old one. Choosing a larger or smaller window will change the appearance of your house, especially from the outside. Even worse, installing it will entail extra work and expense.

If you do want to change the size of your windows, get a larger size. It's easier to cut the walls back than to extend them and have to match the exterior and interior wall finishes.

Materials

Replacement windows can be wood, wood clad in vinyl or aluminum, all-vinyl, or all-aluminum. Each has its advantages.

Wood windows maintain a traditional look and can be painted or stained. But they need to be refinished periodically to protect them from the elements.

Aluminum- and vinyl-clad windows combine the attractiveness of wood in the interior of the house with a maintenance-free exterior.

All-vinyl and all-aluminum windows require no maintenance, but some people consider them less attractive than wood on the inside of the house.

Both the aluminum- or vinyl-clad and the all-vinyl and all-aluminum windows are easier to install than all-wood windows. Examine each type and compare prices before you order. Replacement windows require carpentry skills; they are best installed by the dealer or the manufacturer.

Note that all-vinyl windows are sensitive to heat. If you live in a hot climate or if a window has an unprotected southern exposure, make sure to buy vinyl windows specially designed to withstand high temperatures.

Glass

Most windows today come with a double-pane glass for energy efficiency, which means you can do away with storm windows. Some windows are triple- or even quadruple-glazed to reduce heat flow significantly.

Other options make glass even more efficient:

The practice of multiplying panes to increase efficiency is often augmented by the use of low-E (for emissivity) glass. This blocks the sun's heat-carrying infrared. They also reflect back as much as 95 percent of the ultraviolet rays that cause colors to fade.

Make sure replacement windows have at least a 10-year warranty against failure of the seals between the glass and the sash. Seal failure allows air and the moisture it carries to seep between the panes.