FAQs (About Replacing Windows)

Why should I replace my windows?

Normally, we take windows for granted, but since you’re reading this, you’re probably already considering replacement due to some frustration of your current windows, perhaps draftiness, broken operation, or wood rot – and these are just a few.

Consider four main factors:

  1. Comfort inside your home (both climate and noise);
  2. Enjoyment of windows that operate properly;
  3. Return on investment (energy savings) and;
  4. Appearance.

New windows bring tangible benefits.

I realize window replacement is a substantial investment, but of the hundreds of homeowners for which I’ve replaced windows, none have ever regretted taking this step. Instead, most have said, “I love my new windows;” “They open easily;” “My furnace/ac runs less;” and “I don’t hear outside noise.” Many have even said, “I wish I had done it sooner.”

Could I just repair my existing windows?

Sometimes yes. I’m all in favor of fixing when practical. Small parts replacement, sticky windows, broken or fogged glass can often be addressed on an individual repair basis. Windows with wood rot can even be repaired, to a degree, by replacing individual components.

However, consider these two things:

  1. Assess the entire window condition. For instance, if the obvious issue is fogged glass, but on a more thorough examination you find the window doesn’t open easily due to broken mechanics, and you find some wood rot on the exterior, you may be better to invest in replacing the entire unit. This is VERY true with wood rot. If the wood rot is extensive, involving several components of the same window, then replace.
  2. If you bring it back to it’s original condition, what is the best it can perform based on the 4 factors mentioned above? Thanks to consumer demands and the Green movement, window technology isn’t even comparable to 20 years ago. The recent benefits include:  Major improvement in energy performance, ease of operation for cleaning, factory color options, durability and low maintenance. Unfortunately, they haven’t yet come up with windows that wash themselves.

How much does window replacement cost?

This varies…dramatically. Comparing advertisements, how much your neighbor spent and just pricing a window on the shelf at a big-box store can be misleading. There are so many variations of window replacement.

Factors include type, size and features of window you are purchasing. Additionally, and an equal element, is the labor to replace the window. This differs by: What type of window is being removed, type of replacement procedure (see “Aside from glass…” below), physical access, size of the unit and the skill level required.

How many bids should I get?

This process hopefully won’t be lengthy. Bids ultimately answer three questions:

  • How much?
  • What do I get for that investment? and
  • Will you have confidence in the installed product for years to come?

The first two questions are fairly straightforward. To answer the third, ask the contractor for referrals. Then ask whom you would call and what service can you expect if there’s a product or installation issue, both now and years down the road. Hopefully it’s the same source. Any cost saved up front is long forgotten if you can’t get prompt, responsible service. This may come with one bid or it may take three. Don’t be pressured; be confident in your decision.

Aside from the glass, how much of the window actually gets replaced?

Compare your existing window loosely to an old car. You could overhaul the car by replacing the rusted body and the engine. This would greatly improve the car’s appearance and performance for a moderate price, but if the car’s frame (which you can’t see) is rusted and weak, you would be better off investing more and replacing the entire car. Either could be a good option based on your existing window condition. (see more)

The replacement process involves either replacing the sash and sash hardware (there are two ways to do this [see below]), or the replacing the entire unit, which includes the frame as well (a full-frame replacement).

  • Sash:  The glass, and glass frame (the panel that moves when you open the window)
  • Sash hardware:  The mechanics that retain the sash and allow it to operate
  • Window frame:  The main perimeter structure, (or four-sided box that contains the sash and hardware, making it a complete self-contained unit). In some cases, especially in wood windows, the complete unit will consist of exterior trim (brick mold casing).

There are three common replacement options. Here is a very broad overview:

The first two (like the car overhaul scenario) have this in common – reusing the existing window frame (and exterior casing), but replacing both sash and all the hardware. These both usually apply only to an existing wood “double hung” window. Both are less invasive, less time consuming and less costly than the third option.

Option #1:

Insert: This is a self-contained unit with new sash, hardware and it’s own frame, placed within the existing frame.

Advantages:  Because of its own frame, it gives a bit more alignment flexibility for the installer and often gives easier “tilt in” ability for window cleaning. Some “casement” inserts are also available.

Drawbacks:  Some “daylight” is lost in width and height because you are placing a frame within a frame. Also, it minimally reduces egress.

Biggest precaution: Don’t try too hard to reuse an existing frame that is structurally unsound or excessively out of square.

Option #2:

Sash kit: This is a set of new sash and hardware, assembled in the existing frame.

Advantages: There is no loss of daylight or egress.

Drawbacks: They are highly dependent on the alignment of the existing frame. There is no “DP rating.” Though most will tilt in for easy cleaning, they are usually not as user friendly as most inserts. They are not available in many lines.

Biggest precaution: Same as for inserts. These should not be used in extreme wind regions.

Option #3:

Full-frame replacement:

(Replacing the entire car.) This is an option for any existing type of window. Sometimes it’s the only option. The entire window unit is replaced with an entire new unit, taking out any uncertainty in the condition of your existing window frames. You also have every feature, benefit and performance rating available from the manufacturer. However, the process is more involved, requires more skill and thus is more costly. In many cases, this can be more than what’s needed.

What is disturbed on the interior? Will I have to repaint the walls?

With an insert or sash kit, very little is disturbed. As far as full frame replacement, a skilled installer can keep it to a minimum. Usually there will be some nail holes to fill and minor painting. This may even be part of your installation package. It’s unlikely that you will have to paint the walls or even disturb wallpaper, but ask your contractor for clarification.

Can I get windows replaced during the winter?

Absolutely. I can’t speak for extremely cold climates, but the majority of the nation carries on with business as usual, except that installers might be a bit more strategic with the replacement process. By secluding each room, doing as much prep as possible before removing the old unit, and removing only one window at a time, in normal replacement situations the exposure time is not extensive. Homeowners find it quite painless and are thrilled with the immediate payoff.

Can I purchase my windows and then hire someone to install them?

You can, but it’s risky. Too often I’ve come upon this situation, only to find out the new window(s) are the wrong size. Window measuring is highly oversimplified by information all around us. There is huge risk of measuring incorrectly and ordering incorrectly. Furthermore, you cannot return specially ordered windows – ever. I always insist on measuring, ordering and furnishing the new windows myself. With that, I take all liability for any errors. That is a valuable insurance policy to protect the homeowner from a mistake costing thousands of dollars.

Preferably, hire a contractor who will furnish and install your new windows. At the very least, involve the installer in the measuring and ordering process and determine up front, who will be liable for measuring/ordering errors.

Are my windows standard sized?

Often yes, but that doesn’t mean the vendor has them on the shelf ready for delivery. It would take a warehouse the size of Manhattan to house them all. Surprisingly, there are hundreds of option combinations for even one size of window. While it often is a cost savings to have standard sizes, in most cases, windows are manufactured after the order is placed regardless of the standard size.

How much will replacement windows reduce my utility bills?

I hesitate to give a dollar figure or percentage because there are so many other variables such as climate and insulation of the home. I usually phrase it by saying, “You will feel the difference, enjoy the difference and often even hear the difference.” It’s usually significant.