How to Choose a Replacement Window
Replacing windows isn’t worth the investment, but sometimes age, damage, or drastic heat loss/gain can necessitate it. It’s not a remodel option that’s done too often, so homeowners and house flippers alike tend to be unfamiliar with the process of picking new windows. That doesn’t mean you have to make the mistake of buying an overly expensive window you don’t need or buying a cheap one that doesn’t meet your needs.
To help you with the process of picking a window to replace the old one, we put together this handy guide of qualities to look out for.
Materials Make a Difference
There are only a few common materials used for window frames: fiberglass, aluminum, wood, and vinyl. What frame material you choose makes a big difference in both performance, maintenance, and price.
Wood is often the priciest option (in part due to the range of options, and the value of the woods you can choose), and it’s also the hardest to maintain. It requires regular painting or staining to protect it from the elements and is susceptible to water damage and rotting (which could possibly be the reason you were replacing the old window). Still, it tends to be the most aesthetically pleasing option, especially for really old homes.
Fiberglass requires much less maintenance, but it’s expensive and struggles to keep the rain out. Aluminum is cheaper, holds the elements out really well, and requires very little in the way of maintenance. The downside is, it’s a solid heat conductor, so it can contribute pretty heavily to heat loss/gain, depending on what kind of climate you live in.
Vinyl has, over the last decade or so, become the standard option for most builders and home buyers, due to its “best of all worlds” attributes. It’s inexpensive, durable, non-conductive, requires very little maintenance, and effective at keeping out wind and rain. The primary downside is the limited color palette available to buyers, so for those looking for a specific color may be disappointed.
While vinyl is often the preferred choice, the one you choose should be based on your needs and your budget.
Energy Efficiency to Match Your Climate
Just because a window is energy efficient doesn’t mean that it’s designed for your climate. While they may seem the same, there’s actually a significant difference between keeping heat outside, and keeping warmth indoors. Here’s how to know if the window is built for your climate:
- Low-E coating—this is a transparent coating that’s applied to the window to help it reflect heat while still allowing light to pass through; it’s applied to the outside of the window in warm climates, and to the inside in cold climates.
- Double pane/triple pane—double pane (sometimes called “dual pane” or “double glazed”) windows have two panes of glass, with the space between them filled with air, argon, or some other insulative gas. These days, double pane is the standard, due to its superior insulation over single panes. Triple pane windows work the same way but add a third pane. The cost of triple pane windows isn’t usually recouped very well by energy savings unless you live in very cold climates.
- Air vs. argon—air is the standard filler gas for most windows. Argon is a better insulator than normal air, but like triple paned windows it’s more expensive, usually more than it’s worth in energy savings.
- U-factor/U-value—this is a number, between 0.20 and 1.20, that indicates how well the window keeps heat in the house. The lower the number, the more insulative the window.
- Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (SHGC)—This value, between 0 and 1, indicates how effectively the window keeps heat out of the house. The lower the number, the better the window.
- Visible Transmittance—this value, between 0 and 1, indicates how much light the window lets in. The higher the value, the more light passes through the window.
Consider Safety and Security
There’s a number of reasons you’d want to consider how strong a window is before buying it. The two big ones are to prevent burglary and to protect against storms like hurricanes. In both cases, you’ll want to consider the whole window: the frame, the hardware, and the glass itself. Windows built for security reinforce all three. The glass, for instance, is reinforced with an interlayer of polyvinyl butyral (this is what makes it “impact resistant”). Security glass will cost you extra, though, so be sure you really need it before you buy it.
Double-Hung or Casement?
Lastly, you’ll want to consider whether you need the window to be double-hung or a casement window. Casement windows are the kind operated by a crank to open and close, while double-hung windows slide part of the window up and down or sideways to open an close them. Casement windows are usually preferred for hard-to-reach windows (such as above the kitchen sink). Typically, casement windows are also more airtight, as the hardware used to latch it tends to clamp it down tight. Double-hung windows are typically easier to operate, and thus more convenient.
Window shopping doesn’t need to be difficult. The above tips should help you find a window that meets your needs without breaking the bank. Remember, price doesn’t always equate to quality, and you can often get what you need for pretty cheap. For more advice on home remodels, and how to make the most of home improvement, contact the pros at Real Estate Elevated.