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Are Replacement Windows a Waste of Money?

comments (44) January 12th, 2010 in Blogs
RYagid Rob Yagid , senior editor

As some window restoration experts like to say, Once its gone, its gone forever. Oh yeah, and you may not save much money by installing a replacement unit.Click To Enlarge

As some window restoration experts like to say, "Once it's gone, it's gone forever." Oh yeah, and you may not save much money by installing a replacement unit.

I'm currently writing a story on the restoration of old wood windows. I'm trying to determine whether or not it's worth tearing the old units out to install vinyl replacements. The topic hits close to home. I live in a hundred year-old-building that's on The National Register of Historic Places. My windows are original. They leak, they're loud and I love them. Yet, four to five times a year I receive a window replacement advertisement in my mail box. Typically they're marked with claims of huge energy savings. I crumple them up and throw them in the recycling bin, not because I'm oblivious to the idea of saving energy (and money), but because I feel a sense of responsibility for my windows. I can't replace them.

Well through my research, I found that I may not be as crazy as my neighbors think. I'll save the details for the article, but tests show that a properly restored and upgraded wood window can rival the performance of the typical vinyl replacement. Other research shows that the payback period for replacement windows can be as high as 100 years.

In the bid for efficient, comfortable houses more and more homeowners are replacing their windows. In 2001, 61 millions windows were sold nationwide. Of those, 26% were replacements. In a time where old is synonymous with inferiority, and pressure to replace old wood windows are fueled by rising energy costs, it's best to slow down and consider the options carefully.

Read the full article:
Should Your Old Wood Windows Be Saved?

Should Your Old Wood Windows Be Saved?


MORE ON WINDOW REPAIR AND REPLACEMENT: If you do plan on embarking on a window repair or replacement project, here are a few great resources on

Restoring Window Sashes: Yes, they're worth fixing. Those old windows were built better (and from better wood) than anything you can buy today. Read more

Reglazing Windows and Doors: Replacing glass in wooden frames is painless with the right tools and techniques. Read more

Tip: Removing Paint and Putty from Old Windows: Before you reglaze a window, do this important step. Read more

A Buyer's Guide to Windows: If you are going to replace your windows, use this buyer's guide to choose the right material and style. Read more

How to Replace a Window: Go step-by-step through the process of replacing your old wooden windows in this video series for online members. Watch the free preview

posted in: Blogs, energy efficiency, remodeling, weatherizing, windows, replacement
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Comments (44)

JackSmith1 JackSmith1 writes: Hi guys, there is something I can't get about NFRC ratings, what is the purpose of visible transmittance? Maybe i’m getting the language wrong?
Posted: 7:32 am on June 9th

michellekimberly michellekimberly writes: Awesome! Wonderful job and thanks for sharing your blog post with us...I really enjoyed your post..To know more visit us at

Posted: 1:13 am on June 12th

JustAbout JustAbout writes: Good grief. Crown molding is a waste of money in some minds, and it isn't cheap! Most of you seem to be located where you are trying to keep warm, moist air _in_ the house. I am located where we want to do the opposite. Making blanket statements about the effectiveness of low-E, R/U values, vinyl, etc., is very unhelpful.

In these parts, proper installation of low-emisivity coatings in the Attic, in my experience, provide by far the quickest payback for any of the generally available energy related improvements. At least where it is hot in the summer.

I have made some surprising discoveries recently, quite unintentionally. All of this in Houston, Texas, a mostly warm, almost always humid climate:

1) Ceiling insulation can have a very low payback: If the attic has properly installed low-emisivity coating on the underside of the roof decking, the attic is properly vented, and the cooled air inside the house is not being "stirred".

In other words, if one is not cooling with a forced-air central AC with attic ducting which tends to stir room air, cool air tends to pool in the lower half of a room, where people live, effectively reducing the convective and conductive heat flow to the attic. (Heat flows as the square of the difference in temperature.) The higher the ceiling, the more important this fact. The difference in temperature between the floor and the ceiling can be very significant (30 or more degrees F). If there is no place for this cool air to escape, it tends to stay in place

I am not recommending against attic insulation, I'm just reporting what I have found, as it completely runs against all of the information I am reading. I am studying this, and would love to have some serious discussion.

2) Removal of humidity is vastly more important than adding cold air for comfort. Even in a room with stratified air (pretty much every room everywhere), removal of humidity dries all of the air, even the hot air at the ceiling, without air movement. Humidity seems to move independent of the air!

3) Two 5,000 BTU window A/C units, $100 each, running constantly (3.1 Amps each constant draw at 118 volts) has reduced the humidity (from 90+%) to under 50% in a 1700 sq. ft. home in about 3 days and have kept it in that range for some time. Additional A/C units can be used to provide additional cold air when needed. This with no loss from duct work. (An amazingly small amount of electricity, and a total of $600 to purchase A/C units compared to $12,000 for a 2-stage central unit does not compute in my mind. Perhaps the difference is in longevity and perhaps efficiency, but at this rate I can replace the units each year and come out even.)

Here is the idea: multistage units provide, say 1 1/2 ton at low-speed and 3 ton at high speed. Low speed runs long to remove as much humidity as possible. High speed comes on to reduce heat. I accomplished the same thing with my window A/C to test out the theory before I spent the $12,000. Well, the concept works, but now I am wondering why I need to spend the money!

4) Replacing windows has been effective for me because I am forced, due to the way the original aluminum sashes were installed and trimmed in this all-brick 1960 ranch, to reframe the window opening (otherwise there is nothing to attach the new window to!) The result is that the replacement window is tight, and convective air loss is substantially reduced. Low-E2 coatings also add considerably to the efficiency of the new window. When the widows in a given room are replaced, the room is far more comfortable and peak temperatures are noticeably reduced.

I suspect that removing weight casings in old wooden windows would have a similarly positive effect without requiring the replacement of the wooden sash. There are plenty of kits that add counterbalance to wood sashes. I installed them many times when I was a young man and they were far better than weights. These kits also reduced air infiltration dramatically. And they were pretty simple to install! Back when I was "all-thumbs" I completed at least 2 windows a day.

As for vinyl versus wood, aluminum, etc.:

I am a wood-guy, and love wooden sashes. I have used Anderson sashes with vinyl outer wrap, one light per sash. They look excellent from the outside, but they do not look better than a quality all-vinyl sash. From the inside the wood beats vinyl in looks.

Pella, for one premium window manufacturer, makes all vinyl windows. They look and work great, both inside and out (especially in the one-light-per-sash configuration), and I would use them instead of the vinyl-wrapped wood Anderson in subsequent remodels of 1960 homes:

1) The difference in looks from the inside is quite subtle. Most window interiors are covered, which makes this subtle difference completely invisible.

2) Vinyl can be painted pretty much any color you want. Just ask the paint store for the right stuff.

3) Vinyl seems to last longer or at least as long as anodized aluminum in this environment, which eats metals.

4) Plain wood window exteriors will make it about 10 years in this environment.

Now, folks, help me out. Why am I discovering these things and not reading about them in FHB? How do I apply what I am learning?

Posted: 6:41 pm on June 18th

srains srains writes: hi!
i AM fixing and refinishing my old house. but have a question: when i strip off the old putty, should i prime or paint the little seat that the glass sits in prior to reinstalling the glass? or is a light sanding sufficient?
Thanks in advance.

Posted: 7:23 pm on May 11th

MarkAReed MarkAReed writes: will all you crazies with your right wing left wing democrat republican crap stop?! thats just political racism, a way for people to label others so they feel better about themselves. what makes us americans is that 99% of us will never know whats going on in our govenrment, EVER!

Thank you for saying that.
I appoligize for replying to someone talking about the Government outlawing windows and Humvees. Should have left that one alone. I believe most of us work hard to stay up to date on the latest information and technology on all the products we sell/ install. We don't need the Government to force us to do what we have been doing all along, always looking for ways to improve every detail of our craft.
Thats why we are reading this article.
Posted: 11:20 am on February 11th

glacier glacier writes: I've lived in an 1820's cape for 10 years and I've done quite a lot to make it more efficient to heat. Along the way I had to make many choices about what original work/materials to keep.It means carefully defining what it is you value and what way it is best preserved.Ultimately I made no general rules but called each case as I saw it,and felt it.The result is,I guess you could say,eclectic-the 19th century co-existing with the 21st.I should say that I do all interior finish work with hand tools,so the contrast is not as jaring as it might sound.What I notice now is that those things that I valued enough to save still spark the same thrill of reaching across more than a century to the first hands that worked here,and I can take some satisfaction in contributing likewise in my time and place.The principles that make for a comfortable house don't need to detract from its spirit or aesthetic-they just need to be applied with respect and awareness.Yep,the original windows are there-and when I look through them I can see trees that were probably visible to the earlier homeowners.Life is a process we go through-why cut it off for less than serious cause?
Posted: 7:16 pm on January 25th

danman12 danman12 writes: will all you crazies with your right wing left wing democrat republican crap stop?! thats just political racism, a way for people to label others so they feel better about themselves. what makes us americans is that 99% of us will never know whats going on in our govenrment, EVER!

ABOUT WINDOWS:why not replace windows and be done with it. there is more than white vinyl ya know. the cost is high but you can address air and miosture leakage, eliminating maintenance, sealing areas AROUND the window(weight boxes, poor insulation, bad installation) that often get forgotten by most vinyl masters, adding water deflecting flashings, and while speccing your windows to mimic architectural details if necessary.

and lets face it, most windows built after the 50's arent serviceable overall anyway, and if they are the parts arent gonna last as well as new quality windows.

of course im speaking from a chicagoans point of view. maybe in southern cali and the like rebuilding single pane is fine, and maybe you dont mind putting up and taking down storm panels every year in the northeast.

Posted: 10:54 pm on January 24th

studio513 studio513 writes: To MarkAReed:
"My work van that brings all the materials and tools to your green, Al Gore approved house gets worse gas milage than a Humvee. Do you want the government to outlaw my truck too? Or force you to replace your windows? Really?
Then I'm sure you won't mind being forced to pay for health ins. or join Obama's civil army.. unless you're union."

My work truck gets poor mileage too, but it is USED AS A TRUCK in contrast to the yoyo's driving HumVees that usually haul nothing bigger than a bag of dog food. I'm an independent business owner who would benefit greatly from Obama's plan but it looks like the small-brain types are going to prevail again. Hope you don't get sick or hurt.

This isn't about windows, of course, but I'm not inclined to let right wing gas get passed without comment.

Posted: 1:39 pm on January 23rd

studio513 studio513 writes: If you are working on a historical or even just a quite old house, that's one thing. It is important to maintain the integrity of the building, and that may well mean rebuilding some wood sash windows.

On the other hand,if you are dealing with a tract house or some other non-historic creature 40-50 years old, just get rid of those crummy windows they installed in 1961. But don't replace the crummy old windows with crummy new windows. I never recommend windows below the Andersen/Pella/Marvin quality. Those aren't the only manufacturers to consider, but they put down a pretty good baseline.

And I install doublehungs only if a client has a real reason to do it, other than that's what their daddy had. Casements and awnings seal up so much better, they don't have the sash line at eye height, and the whole window opens for ventilation.

It's true that modern glass is still in the 2R to 5R range for insulation, but it's also true that the lower end of any insulation upgrade is where you get your best bang for the buck. Also true that R values arent the whole story for weatherization, infiltration counts too and it's hard to say much good about those old windows with sash weight pockets and so on. And it's also true that the glass in the new windows is amazingly transparent - you will be bringing significantly more light into the home. Which is what the windows are for.
Posted: 1:23 pm on January 23rd

tjh1 tjh1 writes: It's interesting to read all the debate on this forum related to old houses. I live in the SF Bay area in a suburb. All the tract homes built from about 1970 through the mid-80s, mine included have alum frame sliders. Most tract homes from this era have stucco siding with no trim around the outside of the window frame.

Through hard sell and silliness, vinyl retrofit windows as well as roll up, raised panel steel garage doors have taken over almost every large fenestration on these tract homes, including the 30 year old tract I live in.

I'm all for energy efficiency but........

No one is going to recoup the $6 to $8 thousand per house they've paid for replacement vinyl windows in energy savings or on resale contrary to what some shyster sales rep told them. Even if the windows saved $50/month in heating and cooling costs; well, you do the math. And, a house with retrofit windows compared the same house without might have an extra selling feature but, who is going to pay a few thousand more based on the windows? Actually, I had kind of hoped the housing melt down had convinced people to stop worrying about resale value and start seeing it as a roof over their heads and treat it appropriately.

If I see on more "glow in the dark white" vinyl window replacement with the 2" wide, white vinyl flanges covering the siding around the window complimented by the raised panel, roll up, "glow in the dark white" steel garage door on a Mediterranean/spanish colonial style house I'm going to loose my lunch! Or dinner. The effect is really significant on a moonlit night. My entire neighborhood was overtaken with this craze during a three year period. It's worse than green shag carpeting and we all have to look at it.

You see these retrofits all over the Bay Area suburbs and it is really sad. There are just times when aesthetics outweigh function, even energy saving function.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words and I only wish I had one to attach here. It would seem that many of you would nod in agreement.
Posted: 1:55 am on January 22nd

RobCrampton RobCrampton writes: This is an important Article that you are writing. We did the full remodel as documented here.

Jenny wants to keep the upstairs windows old. I want to save energy. Price of 'old looking' wood double hung windows were $300 in 2004, I used these downstairs to match the dimensions of the corresponding upstairs windows. The upstairs windows are much bigger and would be at least $600 today. We have 8 of these 1901 wood single pane double hung windows in place.

Here is what I did.

During remodel:

1. Upper windows of double hung painted-sealed shut.
2. Outside weights that correspond to the upper windows removed, hard foam 2 inch insulation put in place and spray foam sealed (window safe non violent expansion spray foam)

After major remodel:

3. Remove single pain glass, Routed out the sash from the outside to make it deeper. Put 2007 low e double pain glass into 1901 hand made sash. held in with paint-able caulk.

4. weather stripping in winter

I have done a large picture window, the tops of 2 large double hungs, and the bathroom top and bottom small double hung. The bathroom needed new heavier weights for the bottom sash to accommodate the extra weight of the double pain glass which I bought for $.50 with a trade in of the smaller weights at the local recycled building supply(Re-Store,Seattle).

A rule of thumb for old double hung's that a window sales guy told me is that 1/3 of the energy is lost through the window, 1/3 through infiltration around the window and 1/3 through the place where the weights are. I think my cost was $45 for the upper double hung and $180 for the picture window. The picture window would have been prohibitively expensive as it has a stained glass top section(see pic).

Spent 3 hours getting the 2 uppers in.

I think that I can achieve a majority of the energy savings at a small fraction of the cost and very little loss of historic look. The dinning room double hung windows still have the bottoms single pain and the difference whe you feel them on a cold (or hot) day is immense. If you look closely you can see the inner aluminum edge (between the pains) and the outside finish is not exactly like the old glazing, it is not as deep. The casual observer cannot see this.

An even better job could be done by getting rid of the other weight and better sealing. I will be doing more of these soon and may be taking some IR pictures to see how it works for a local presentation. I am an engineer and like to get the numbers. If you want any pictures let me know.

Robert S. Crampton Ph.D.

Posted: 1:56 pm on January 19th

Snipper12 Snipper12 writes: Windows should be replaced for numerous reasons, Including but not limited to adding R-value for energy savings.
1. Changing/modifying the architectural look of a home.
2. Energy efficiency.
3. Replacing damaged, worn out windows.
4. Creating uniformity at an addition to the home where original design and construction of the windows can not be matched. (with so many custom window manufactures/Restorers available, this should not be a factor)
#1 The old aluminum framed single pane windows we routinely see in California Track homes of the 50s, through the late 70's here on the west coast are ugly and inefficient. Changing the architectural look of the house along with improving the efficiency of the windows thus improving the Cub appeal of the house can be a great incentive to swallow the costs of the changes. Maintenance of new wood windows is greatly diminished by purchasing and installing Aluminum clad windows
#s2 &3. IF you currently have wooden windows, and the exterior architecture should not or cannot be altered, such as with historically significant/protected homes, replacement sashes and components with new weatherstripping and multi-pane glass is the way to go, even if it is done one or two at a time due to budget reasons.
#4. It's common to roll up the costs of this type of work in the remodel/additions budget. Again I emphasize custom window builders are abundant in the industry, and can be found with a little effort

I am not a fan of VINYL windows/doors, siding or any other building product under any conditions. I am a student of the Vinyl siding craze we saw during the 60's & 70's. Given the improvements in durability of the materials during recent years, I am still not convinced. I was involved in plastics industry for a number of years, and do not believe the benefits/durability out-weigh the affects from manufacturing on the environment.
Just because there are federal an state tax incentives available for replacement of inefficient windows & doors, I think it irresponsible to use that as the main criteria for replacement. If it is worth doing, it's worth doing right...................Do your homework, get all the facts and make an informed decision.
Posted: 11:32 am on January 19th

bama_swampfox bama_swampfox writes: I grew up in an old home and have lived in an old home of my own. I came to the same conclusion that vinyl replacement windows are not worth it. A few hours craping old paint, a can of wd-40 and replacing the glazing putty and it's amazing just how good old wood windows are - particularly when you add high quality storms.

I now live in a house 10 years old and most of the wood windows are roted out. This is from poor design, materials, and assembly. None of the brick mould was was end primed before installation and wicked up water like a sponge. Sure they were caulked but all the caulk in the world didn't make up for a poor product. The gaskets don't seal well and the sash locks are lousy. The wind wistles through and did I mention the fogging between panes?

Long story short, I am replacing them all with high quality replacement ones as my budget permits. For me, in this situation, fixing a poorly made wood window makes no sense. The ones I've installed so far are noticeably quieter, seal perfectly and there a big improvment in reducing solar gain. In my situation, high quality, clad/wood replacement windows are a good investment. Will they pay for themselves? Sure but it will be many years. If the builder had just used a better quality window in the first place....
Posted: 11:17 am on January 19th

Parkus Parkus writes: There is a lot of chat about the importance of R values and U values with regard to windows. Please ponder this question. What is the relevancy of an R2 vs an R4 when the wall housing the window is R19? These values are generally calculated based on the glass only not on the entire window unit much the same way a roll of R19 insulation is calculated based on the R value of the insulation on the roll. Once it is actually installed in the wall, or into the window in the case of the glass, the actual unit R value is reduced.

The more important factor lies in air infiltration meaning how well the entire system (frame, sash, glass, interlocks, weatherstrip, locks, etc.) keeps the outside air from passing through to the inside of the home. Did you ever feel cold air coming through an outlet or light switch in a home? That's air infiltration and he is the real energy thief yet he is ignored much of the time in favor of the more popular R's, U's, Low-E, argon and on it goes. Windows are now carrying DP ratings which requires the testing of an actual unit. It's moving in the right direction but it's still a flawed method.

Low-E is another bill of goods that we've been sold that is touted as an amazing necessity. The fact is that the effectiveness of Low-E glass is miniscule when it comes to energy savings but that's a separate topic in and of itself.

There are some high quality vinyl replacement windows that are quite energy efficient but not for $189 installed. Plus I've yet to see a vinyl windows that I would consider aesthetically comparable to any wood window. There are however a number of manufacturers who produce custom sized wood windows with an extruded aluminum maintenance free exterior that are a true profile match to the old wood windows. They are available in an array of very authentic looking divided light profiles (also maintenance free) to simulate the old true divided lights but they are manufactured in such a way as to minimize the infiltration issues that are so prevalent with the hand made windows of yesteryear. There are lots of exterior color choices but you still have the warmth and feel of real wood on the inside. I'm a bit of a wood snob so when we replaced the old windows in our 200 year old home we went this route and are very pleased with the visual and functional results.

Can you make an old single pane window as energy efficient as a new vinyl or wood replacement unit? You could replace each pane with double pane glass but you'd still need to figure out a way to properly weatherstrip the sash in order to address the infiltration issue. New windows are designed and engineered to take minimize heat loss in ways that would be extremely difficult to achieve in the old windows that we know and love.

I guess the bottom line is what's important to you. If you want to conserve energy then a quality vinyl replacement window when properly installed will work well. If you like efficiency and wood then perhaps a new wood window is for you. However, If you look at an old window and wish it could talk then paint her when she's thirsty and enjoy her regardless of what anyone else has to say. The craftsman who originally made her pretty with nothing but a few tools, muscle and sweat would want it that way!
Posted: 12:49 am on January 19th

dirkfaegre dirkfaegre writes: It's all well and good to put down the R-value of windows. And you're all correct. But you forget one thing. Every doubling of the R-Value (or halving of the U-factor) cuts the energy loss by 1/2. So going from a single pane window that's R-1 to some solution giving you an R-2 cuts the energy loss by 1/2. If you get to R-3 then it's cutting the losses by 2/3. And so the losses add up quickly if there's much glass around.

We recently put a double sided plastic interior 'storm window' over a large single-pane window in the cathedral peak of an old home (where all the heat hangs out) and the homeowner reports marked changes in comfort and fuel use (it may have cut air leakage too).

That said, it's generally better to go for the hidden air leaks than to deal with windows if energy savings is the only consideration (and it probably isn't!)
Posted: 9:15 pm on January 18th

MarkAReed MarkAReed writes: I've been remodeling homes in Lake Forest Il. for the last 28 yrs and have installed many windows. But not one vinyl window.
Maybe I'm getting off track but why does the replacement window have to be vinyl or 100% payback? I'm all about saving money or saving repairable components but windows don't last forever. New windows have come a long way and can make a huge difference in many ways such as energy savings, low maintenence, and a complete asthetic make over. Triple tracks are ugly, period.

So is this a discusion about repairing a few "cute" windows that still look good enough to restore or about the real world?
Most of the windows I've replaced were old and rotted, sometimes because they were badly installed. They were badly designed, poorly insulated, had too many coats of paint, and bad hardware. The interior trim is beat and needs paint, the brick mold is dated and ugly. The home owner is tired of painting them every 5 yrs. and they leak air and have ugly storms.

I just finished installing 36 Pella Architectural series double hung windows and doors with true divided grills in a 1927 shingle style house. We were able to resovle many issues such as upgrading the trim inside and out, adding new flashing and insulation, no maintenence alum clad exterior, and we got rid of the storms. They were identical to the old windows but they made the house look brand new. Expensive and worth every penny. Anything cheaper would have been a sin.

Bottom line is: the customer, the quality of the house, the budget, and even the neighborhood determine what window is best.

And of course, you always get what you pay for.

By the way, a tilt pack replacement window from Marvin is about the same cost as a full window. The cost is in replacing(I call it upgrading) all the trim. Remember you will have to paint it anyway. Why not paint new trim to match the new window?

To Malcbuddy:
My work van that brings all the materials and tools to your green, Al Gore approved house gets worse gas milage than a Humvee. Do you want the government to outlaw my truck too? Or force you to replace your windows? Really?
Then I'm sure you won't mind being forced to pay for health ins. or join Obama's civil army.. unless you're union.
Posted: 9:08 pm on January 18th

tyrerj tyrerj writes: I don't think that it is a waste of money, but do not use Vinyl! Composite, either fiberglass or wood/plastic, will probably look just as good as the originals -- at least from a reasonable distance.

As long as you are doing it, I would use the super insulating SouthWall glazing units (heat mirror).

If the windows are in good condition, you might be able to retrofit them although the thinnest glazing units are 7/8 inch thick and they use thinner glass than the 1 inch thick units.

I would consider replacing the frames since those weight pockets are an issue even if filled with foam. Rough framing results in considerable heat loss. If you can make an exact size frame using plastic lumber and plywood filled with rigid foam you will loose a lot less heat through the frame.

One supplier of fiberglass composite with heat mirror units is:
Posted: 7:55 pm on January 18th

kc2idv kc2idv writes: My parents bought a house that was built in the 1930's in the mid 60's. We have replaced all of the windows twice with double pane windows due to air leaks and condensation etched glass. We save way more by insulating the walls and roof than in replacing the windows. I believe that if you get a quality restoration it is cheaper and better than buying top of the line windows and way better than just replacing the old sash with new but keeping the old frame.
Posted: 7:37 pm on January 18th

Anthony_Gordon Anthony_Gordon writes: I live in Windsor Canada and have removed & rebuilt many older home windows, we are allowed to replace the glass with double pane (gass filled) as long as the replace ment window is the same style ie: sash comply with historic values. The windows are usually rebuilt out of douglas fire and replaced to the same size as when we removed them. We insert a seal system in the sliding area and usually put a tongue and grove seal in the closing area to keep the wet out. using a high end primer before we paint insures a long lasting replacement. We also rebuild doors to historic designations.
Posted: 5:22 pm on January 18th

hopprop hopprop writes: In my experience, old single pane windows not only leak a lot of air, they also leak a lot of noise from outside the house. Cleaning & maintaining old wooden single pane windows with storm windows is a nighmare of a job. The reason all those windows were not maintained was because it was such a hard, mundane, time consumning job. There is also the issue of Lead based paint inside and out, and of course part of that maintenance job is scaping and painting those windows. Add to that the pain of raising and lowering windows painted several times.

Installing new replacement windows should eliminate all of the above. Newer tilt in windows are so much easier to clean, that I might actually clean them from time to time! In my mind, the benefits above are worth the replacement, even if the thermal benefits don't pay for themselves anytime soon.
Posted: 3:49 pm on January 18th

foambob foambob writes: Kiethfitz, I would be careful about using can foam in weight pockets. It is a one part urethane foam and needs moisture to cure. Puttting so much of it in a weight pocket keeps the moisture from getting to it and it won't cure.
Posted: 3:21 pm on January 18th

keithfitz keithfitz writes: I can tell you about my own experience with Restoration versus vinyl replacement.
In my own house I removed the old wood window sashes, Insulated with Weight pockets with Can Foam, and Installed Vinyl Replacements. The Vinyl Replacements cost me about $170 each and about an hour of labor for each window.
About a year or so later I did a full gut rehab on an old home for Clients that wanted the house to be as energy efficient as possible, but replacing the windows was an absolute non starter (especially with Vinyl). They were photographers and loved the old wavy glass. I was a little unsure of how it would work but I decided to repair and rehab all of the old sashes, jams and storm windows. I weatherstripped all of the windows with products from Resource conservation technology based on an article I had read in either Fine Homebuilding or JLC (Sorry I like that mag too). I also removed the old weights, pulleys and ropes and installed Pullman window tensioners The weight pockets were insulated with Can Foam. Once I did one or two of the windows and got an efficient workstation set up the work went pretty quickly. The cost of materials to retro fit the windows was about $50 per opening. It took me about 2 - 3 hours per opening Depending on how beat up the sash was (not including new window trim on the inside and repainting of sashes). After the whole project was complete we did a blower door test and because the whole house was insulated with closed cell spray foam I though that the windows would make or break the test. We ended up with 4.5 Air changes per hour as a pressure difference of 50 pascals. Our goal was 5 so I was very pleased with how the windows performed. I was also really happy with how great the old windows and storms look too. I kind of wish I has kept my old windows too.

Posted: 2:38 pm on January 18th

Gary81454 Gary81454 writes: Depends on the house, of course. I do repair carpentry, and have repaired 1920s double hung windows, to the point where they didn't leak. In a "historically significant" house, restoration is the way to go.
On the other hand, my own townhouse, Ca. 1965, was all aluminum frame windows with all aluminum trim, no wood whatever, and they leaked air, heat and water. They just act like a huge set of heat sinks! After having them replaced with pure, no-filler vinyl with double pane low-e glass, my heating/cooling bill is cut in half. By my calculations, it will take 20 years to save enough in heat/air cond. bills to pay them off. BUT, real estate appraisers say I will recover 80% of the cost of the windows upon sale of the house. So if I keep the house, I will recover the cost in just 4 years.
As to how they seal to the house, I admit it's only a line of caulk, but I think any homeowner who doesn't inspect the outside of his house, top to bottom, on a yearly basis or at least have it done professionally is not being a responsible homeowner and deserves any leaks he gets.
Posted: 1:26 pm on January 18th

BDW BDW writes: I'll be curious what you conclude, and how you measure energy savings and the total cost difference. I have double pane aluminum windows which tend to have condensation problems, and am thinking about replacing them with fiberglass or some other non-vinyl alternative.
Posted: 11:28 am on January 18th

rcavax rcavax writes: I must be missing something. I own a small house built in the 1890s and the windows were mostly rotted out. I decided to build new ones. It took me three days to build 13 windows. The cost was about $400 for wood and glass. The windows are fairly easy to build and require very little tuning. I didn't count the cost of new sash cord, but it was minimal. The new windows don't leak and look exactly like the original windows. I used pressure treated wood for the sills so they won't rot. It was easier to build new windows than to try to retore the old ones. I used standard cut lumber from Home Depot and re-sawed it to size. It was a fun project and the house retained it's original character. What am I missing here?
Posted: 11:10 am on January 18th

malcbuddy malcbuddy writes: Are you kidding?

I could not wait to rip the damn things out. Ugly, noisy, drafty, dirty triple tracks? In case you did not notice, on an old settling house, the triple track storms once out of square don't work, are impossible with an air conditioner, leak air and water like a sieve, and don't insulate worth a hoot, and are hard to clean (read never get cleaned) I know, I have owned 3 houses with them since 1976.

Shrink wrap plastic on the inside is more efficient, which does not say much.

As for the old wood windows, by the time you get by the deteriorated wood, lead paint abatement, and replacement of operating and sliding mechanisms, you are at least 2/3 of the way to a Marvin or Bilt Best replacement, so why bother?

You like condensation, drafts, lead dust, stuck windows, broken sash cords, standing on ladders to clean the outside, wiping those silly little panes, and scraping and repainting every 5 years?

When these old windows stick, the nearest dumkopf is ready with a hammer (or shoe) to help it along-----another *%$# repair!

If you are on the historic register and want to pour energy and money down the drain every winter in pursuit of your romantic dream of a connection to history (just get over it, will you?) so be it. (Actually, I no longer think that energy wasting should be a personal choice, as we are sending men and women to die to protect our oil supply, and that little issue about carbon and exploiting the world's resources---maybe we should outlaw these old windows along with the Humvees?)

Oh, and by the way, you are all correct about the plastic replacements----5 year life span at best. Waste of money because they are overpriced. Don't bother with these either.

Posted: 11:06 am on January 18th

CaptGregg CaptGregg writes: I look forward to the article. I am a contractor doing historic restoration in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I have talked for years against replacement windows vs. payback but with little success. Finally someone who agrees with me. I live in an 1882 Victorian that thankfully has 90% of the original windows. I also own a few other old buildings from the 1880's that were converted to apartments in the 1950's. I have had to gradually replace the 1950's Pella windows because they are so bad and not repairable but the original wood double hung ones from the 1880's that remain are still fine and easy to repair/restore. There should be a good business in about 20-25 years in going back and taking out the crap they are installing now and rebuilding the original style!

Posted: 10:28 am on January 18th

Big_B Big_B writes: We live in a 1900's Victorian Farm house, it was owned by my wife when we got married 4 yrs ago. She had previously gotten quotes for replacement of the 33 windows, and at over $33K she decided to wait --- thank goodness.

I'm a contractor / handyman who loves old houses and though some of the windows leaked badly none had ever been weather stripped. I'm a fan of the "Spring Brass" stripping, and have slowly been restoring the worst windows first and working my way through the lot of them.

This past spring we had the whole exterior stripped and repainted and I took that opportunity to caulk-in all of those areas where air infiltrates into the weight pockets and walls. When the exterior was finished I installed Harvey Industry's "True Channel" low infiltration storm windows and we could not be more pleased with the results.

If people would stop and think about the longevity of materials, our WOOD windows are 110yrs old and still in excellent condition with very minimal basic maintenance. There is even a company here in New England that will install insulated glass panels into your existing sashes and apply real wood muntin bar profiles to the glass to replicate the divided lite look that was there.

If all of the wood --- sashes, jambs, parting beads and sills are in good shape, to replace weight cords and apply weather striping should only take 2 - 4 hrs (depending on one sash or two) and should cost between $200 - $300 dollars per window. Sometimes the top sash is so badly painted-in that it is not always economical to do, but also is, consequently, not leaking. Any other restorative work from there is still worth it because you ultimately end up with a superior window that will work for Hundreds of years. --- "I LOVE to do Windows"!
Posted: 9:55 am on January 18th

mrgip mrgip writes: I've been looking at replacement windows for some time now. I bought a 1920s rowhouse in Baltimore that has been maintained to a degree, but the windows have been neglected. They're standard double hung, with triple track storms. I initially thought I would try to restore them, but after doing some research into the cost, I'll probably replace them with fiberglass or clad wood new construction windows. The originals weren't flashed properly, so an extended rain lets some moisture in and the plaster has deteriorated as a result. Between the noise, leakiness and the ugly triple tracks, the originals just aren't worth saving. I'm also considering replacing the old wood sill with a cast stone replacement. It'd eliminate the old wood sill and fit a little better with the rest of the masonry facade.

On the plus side, I'll be able to build a cold frame greenhouse with the old windows.
Posted: 9:39 am on January 18th

MaryMeiyah MaryMeiyah writes: Restoration is the best way to go with architecturally significant homes, but in a house that is an investment property other issues necessitate going with replacement windows. Landlords are frequently sued because of lead paint which comes primarily form the opening and closing of windows that have been previously painted or varnished with products that contain lead. Abatement frequently outweighs the cost of replacement.
Posted: 9:18 am on January 18th

bettst bettst writes: I am rather supprised to see only one post discussing moisture. As a remodeling contractor in Wisconsin (ya hey, it's cold here) I advise my clients that the only reason to replace a window is to prevent moisture from infiltrating the wall. As "Tinker" notes, even a new super insulated window has a very low R-value, and I can add that most older homes have far greater heat losses than the windows. To advise the questioner and echo many of the posts, if energy loss is your concern, then restore the old windows and apply a quality storm window and then consider where else you are losing heat. If moisture is your problem, then the home owner has two options--insert style replacements or full replacement windows. A quality insert replacement window, such as Pella or Marvin, with an aluminum flashed sill can be a real cost savings over full replacement in an old home when you consider that you don't have to disturb those beautiful old and brittle mouldings. If you happen to be residing the house at the same time, I then advise my clients for a full replacement window as the cost is cheaper than a good replacement unit and we can do a better job of insulating around the jamb and protecting the framing sill.
Posted: 9:06 am on January 18th

coolwillie coolwillie writes: One big energy leak with Sash Cord windows is the the Sash weight pockets on either side. Most replacement window installations don't insulate these pockets, leaving a huge "thermal Hole" in the House wall. That is one reason I developed my method of modifying the original sash to accept vinyl jambliners which eliminates the Sash Weight system, insulates the weight pockets, weatherstrips the sash and makes it tiltable and removable. For details see my website:
Posted: 9:05 am on January 18th

oldmarine56 oldmarine56 writes: In the case of an old house that is truly of historic value, window restoration is the way to go for certain. In my case, in 1988 I bought a 1968 "California style" large ranch in Connecticut. Equipped with "builder's special" "colonial" style double hung windows that leaked badly between the sashes and around the rough openings and they had never been maintained. I replaced them all with Anderson casement windows that architecturally fit the style and were properly installed to control infiltration. I double studded all the outside walls, replaced the original 1 1/2" insulation with 7 1/2" and put an added 10" in the ceiling. Bottom line - the last full year's oil consumption before I bought it was 1500 gallons. it is now under 650 gal. There is a huge number of hommes built in the 50s thru 70s that have really poor, rotting wood windows that were the cheapest available at the time.
Posted: 8:15 am on January 18th

jmo2 jmo2 writes: THANK you for tackling this subject. I'm a huge fan of window restoration versus replacement and rant about this subject on my blog quite often. I even did a series of posts to try and explain infiltration, thermal loss and the cost-benefit analysis of restoration vs. replacement. ( )

I think the current push by the gov't to support weatherization is well-intentioned but misguided on this point. I cringe every time I see old wood windows being ripped out and replaced by vinyl. Many people, especially in urban areas, don't have the skills or tools to restore windows. BUT! The City of Chicago has an opportunity to change all of that if they would grab it. The Park District still runs 17 wood shops within the city limits that are accessible to any homeowner here. If they would run workshops on weatherization and window restoration out of their wood shops, they could reach a number of goals: 1) teaching residents to maintain and fix their own homes through skill development/empowerment, 2) contribute to the green movement by keeping wood windows out of landfills and vinyl out of houses, 3) interest a new generation in woodworking, 4) maintain the historic integrity and aesthetics of bungalow neighborhoods.

Good luck with the article! Looking forward to it.

Posted: 7:38 am on January 18th

trinker trinker writes: Rob,

Good luck on you article. If I remember my old architecture class instruction, a single pane of glass has an R value of about 1 and a 2 pane system has about a 2. Some or the new argon filled low-e systems have a little over 3 so no matter how you slice it, a window is going to be the worst energy loss in your wall unless you have a hole or a fireplace. You need to show some Manual J calculations of configurations with different window types. If they aren't leaking air and are wood, (and you don't have a wall of glass) they won't get you any LEEDs points but there are other places where money might be better spent. I just did a new house that is super tight with double pane low e argon filled windows and Manual J showed that the biggest heat loss would still be infiltration. My vented gas fireplace wiped out all the windows by itself and if I replaced it with a wood burner, half of my heat loss would have been on that one item. Old houses with old single glass windows likely have far bigger infiltration problems that are a better place to start and cheaper to solve. Manual J will likely point you to the fireplaces first. A good thermal gun or a blower door test will likely lead you to a lot of other solutions that will pay bigger dividends and preserve the old time quality and style.

Once again, thanks. You have a long hill in front of you if you are to overcome years of advertising by window and siding companies.
Posted: 5:48 am on January 18th

DanBuilderResnet DanBuilderResnet writes: I am a BPI certified Home Energy Auditer. The first thing homeowners say when we show up is "I know it's the windows" and it almost never is. There have been instances where I was looking at 1/4 gaps around an old wood sash where I recommended replacement, but those times are few. Let's face it though, most homes are not on the National Registry or have any architectural significance. There are a lot of track homes out there that would benefit from some good functioning windows. And since the homeowner's didn't maintain the first set of windows, they need to be something that will survive being ignored in the future.
I do recommend storm windows from time to time, however, that doesn't work for everybody either. I have a leaky, historical house right now with aluminum crank out style windows. The heat never shuts off and they burn through furnaces. Storm windows would solve the leaking problem but would remove all possibility of emergency egress. I'm afraid that replacement windows might be a better solution than a new furnace every few years.
Posted: 4:50 am on January 18th

architectpaul architectpaul writes: I look forward to your article Rob. I've been cringing for many years now over all the ads and fliers for the replacement window market. But my main disgust comes from the installation and water-management side of the equation. Down here in Texas everybody wants their old aluminum windows yanked out and replaced with these entry-level vinyl replacements. What Joe Homeowner doesn't know is that these replacements are installed from the inside and have no perimeter nailing flange that can be flashed to the wall and integrated into the drainage plane of the WRB (water resistive barrier) (assuming there is one, of course). With the typical installation ($189 installed! Any size! Call now!), the only thing keeping water from getting into the wall is a caulk bead around the exterior of the unit. And we all know that caulk eventually fails. Come on in Mr. Rain and Mrs. Wind! Joe Homeowner won't notice until the drywall starts to mold.

Except for cases where the window is well-protected by a porch roof or a generous eave, I'm strongly against the whole notion of replacement windows that are not properly worked into the drainage plane behind the siding/brick/stone/stucco etc.
Posted: 6:53 pm on January 15th

Mike_Guertin Mike_Guertin writes: It's unfortunate that the ARRA (stimulus package) energy efficiency tax credits were positioned to promote windows over other improvements. Homeowners can only take credit for the insulation material in an insulation upgrade (no labor) yet windows garner a labor and material credit. And with so many replacement window specialty companies making it easy for homeowners (they even fill out the paperwork) to get the credit, the owners go with the path of least resistance.

I have to admit, I'm a fan of replacement windows. Right job, right conditions, realization of what the energy benefits (and functionality benefits) are and the right window for the project - they make sense. But they aren't a cure for heating bills.

Posted: 9:58 pm on January 14th

spazapple spazapple writes: This is a much-needed investigative thread. A bit ironic that on bottom of this page, a pop-up ad from BuyerZone asks you to click to compare new window installation quotes - am happy to see that they do offer to help with "Existing window repair!" I hope Rob's piece documents the degradation and replacement costs of the factory replacements themselves.

I'm a pres. carpenter here in NH who has tried over the years to show historical societies, owners of public bldgs, homeownwers that there are advantages to retaining 18th/19th C sash, that they can be tuned and repaired, that storm panels can be applied. (I was fortunate to have been trained in the Preservation Carpentry program at Boston's North Bennett Street School) It's a win-win if the owner is a steward of the place; if not, the quick-fix porn often wins out. I've developed cost figures for many types of repair, and present these to a potential customer. Most of mine are local. I stand behind my work.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has a piece that summarizes reasons for retaining and maintaining such windows (see ...may need to launch Adobe Acrobat to scale to printable size)

As well, there's a professional group of window restorers that are a great resource if you live in New England ( )

John Leeke has the years of window restoration technical cred to speak for all of us who seek to help owners of historic buildings with their windows, and their energy and weathering needs. Although Ken Salazar is doing a fine job, John would make a fine Secretary of the Interior, although we'd have to enlarge the role to add and Exterior as well.
Posted: 12:02 pm on January 14th

johnleeke johnleeke writes: It is a sad day when usually thoughtful people go “gizmo green” and support the window replacement pirates and their petro-chemical corporate masters in their marketing schemes as they bamboozle the American public into trashing perfectly good wood windows. These windows can always be maintained, repaired and upgraded to equal the energy performance of replacement windows at lower initial and long-term cost, while supporting local economies and communities. Wouldn’t you rather help a local carpenter support his family, rather than let the pirates get their hooks into your pocketbooks and stuff your money into their corporate coffers to pay excessive executive salaries and bonuses?

Here is a list of studies and expert opinions that conclude it does not make economic or energy conservation sense to replace existing windows:

Also, you readers might be interested in my new book, Save America's Windows:
See the sample pages there, or let me know if you would like me to send you a review copy.

Feel free to call if you'd like to talk about windows.

John Leeke
by hammer and hand great works do stand
by mind and heart we share the art
Posted: 10:56 pm on January 13th

Ruth Ruth writes: Hah, I knew I was right when I resisted all that marketing pressure. My house (parts of it) date back to the 18th century, and the windows, quirky and leaky as they are, certainly add character.
Posted: 2:30 pm on January 13th

jross jross writes: If you have single-pane windows, good storms will do the trick. The payback, depending on how leaky the rest of the house is, will be under ten years and possibly as low as three and a half years (according to the U.S. DOE EERE home Page []). You can buy storms or make your own for a fraction or replacements and think of all the landfill space saved when original windows are kept in place.
Posted: 9:56 am on January 13th

Dave_R Dave_R writes: The short answer to your question is yes, they are a waste of money. Unfortunately, there are far less contractors and companies devoted to repair and restoration of original windows as there are replacements. Additionally, replacement windows (as you point out) are marketed so heavily that the public has no choice but to believe that new saves them money, even if they cost thousands to replace.

I completely agree with John. I have just purchased a 175 year old home with 49 original and 11 replacement windows. The character has been destroyed by the replacements. Fortunately, they are mostly in the back of the house. I'm considering ripping them out and fabricating "originals". I have no plan to replace them (the quote I got was over $60,000. Not cheap.). It would have taken an excess of 100 years to payback, easily.

From the extensive research that I have done, it appears that old wooden windows, when properly maintained and restored can be made to be as efficient (if not more) than new replacements. Things like adding weatherstripping, replacing leaky pulleys, insulating unused weight pockets, sealing gaps in the casing, etc.. will make big differences. I've even found that you can get replacement single pane glass for the sashes with the same low-e coating as fancy new windows.
A great companion article or sidebar might be an update to this 2006 winner: "Building a storm sash" (Fine Homebuilding 182, pp. 82-85 ) or building interior storms for "Historic buildings" Since my new home has historic arched windows without storms or screens, I am building interior storms with the bottom 'lite' being removable so that it can be swapped out for a screen in the summer. This should further increase the energy efficiency at a relatively low cost when compared to replacements.

I'm glad that the alternatives to replacement are going to get some attention. Our consumer society needs to start re-thinking some of it's "old is bad" mentality and maybe more tradespeople will take up the art of window restoration.

Posted: 9:37 am on January 13th

JohnDPoole JohnDPoole writes: To me, any cost versus savings potential isn't as much an issue as how they can alter the character of a vintage home. My mother's house, for example, is an early 1900's saltbox with colonial-revival (6/1) style windows. The original wooden windows were beautifully crafted & stained & varnished, and never leaked air. Granted, they lacked low-E and double glass (we had storm windows that attached from the outside). But they were beautiful to look at. About 17 years ago, they were all replaced with vinyl windows of the same style (6/1 with bogus muntins), and all white.

Now, they are brittle, and the sashes are beginning to split and break apart during normal use. So I figure they were designed for about a 20-year life cycle. But the old wooden windows are sadly gone, and would still be looking great today and fully functional (with proper regular maintenance, of course) had we not been sold back then on the idea of "no-maintenance" vinyl replacements. The loss of those beautiful, original windows is a major regret of mine that I wish I could undo.
Posted: 5:55 pm on January 12th

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