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When is it time to replace windows?

Replacing old windows can enhance the look of your home and make it quieter and less drafty. Many double-hung windows currently on the market are now easier to clean and maintain than older windows with combination screens and storm windows. Use our replacement window buying guide to learn which materials, types, and features are most important to consider. We also provide unbiased ratings to help you choose.

Find the Best Replacement Windows

We test, evaluate, and compare the latest replacement windows to give you the best value for your money. 

How to Choose Replacement Windows

The Research To find out which windows are best at keeping your home comfortable and dry, we tested double-hung windows for resistance to wind and rain. (We don’t test single-hung windows because they’re less common.) Working with an outside lab, we subjected the windows to heavy, wind-driven rain, and winds of 25 and 50 mph at outdoor temperatures of 0°F and 70°F. We found significant differences among brands.

Given the high cost of replacing windows, the more you know, the more informed a choice you can make. Contractors often have their preferred brands, but don’t rely on a contractor to choose your windows for you.

Ways to Save If your existing frames and sills are still sound and square, you’ll save money on materials and labor by using replacement units. They’re also known as “pocket replacements” and fit into your existing frames. If your frames are too old and deteriorated, you’ll need full replacement windows. These include the frame, sill, jambs, and usually what’s known as a nailing flange, which attaches the window to the outside wall around the opening. Federal tax credits for Energy Star certified windows expired at the end of the 2016 tax year. But some utilities, as well as city and state programs, offer rebates or incentives if you buy Energy Star windows.

To be clear, though, saving money on your energy bill is not the primary reason to replace your windows. It could take decades to recoup the $8,000 to $24,000 you’ll spend on new windows and installation. 

That said, Energy Star certified windows can lower your energy bill by an average of 12 percent. That’s about $27 to $111 per year for a 2,000-square-foot single-story home with storm windows or double-pane windows and $126 to $465 if your home has just single-pane windows, according to Energy Star.

Finding an Installer Even the best windows won’t deliver the look or comfort you expect if they’re installed incorrectly. Many major window manufacturers train and certify installers for their specific brand of window. Using the same contractor for purchase and installation can minimize the chances of problems arising later. Get multiple bids and look online for certification from the American Window and Door Institute or Installation Masters. Any bid you receive should include specifics such as window brand and model, number of windows, size, and type, plus any add-on features. Installation details should be noted, and labor and material costs broken out separately. Replacement Window Ratings

Glass Housings: Window Materials Wood and vinyl frames are popular. We also test composite windows that include some made of fiberglass or from a combination of wood and plastic materials. You may still find some all-aluminum windows, but their popularity has declined with the development of vinyl. Our tests find that the material doesn’t guarantee performance and neither does price. You’ll find both excellent and mediocre double-hung wood-frame and vinyl-frame windows. Here are the types of window materials to consider. Wood Frame These window frames are made of solid wood with the exterior covered in aluminum or vinyl to protect the wood from the elements and reduce maintenance because they will not need to be repainted. You can choose from a variety of hardware finishes, allowing you to pick a style that matches your home. Vinyl Frame They’re typically the least expensive and do not need to be painted or stained. They’re usually white, and most can’t be painted, so keep that in mind if you want to coordinate your windows with the color of the exterior paint. Vinyl frames have fewer hardware options. Composite Frame These frames are made from fiberglass or from a combination of materials and typically do not need to be painted or stained—though you may have limited color choices. They're also typically the least expensive type of frame. They may have parts made of solid wood and others from laminated wood or plastic with embedded wood fibers. The combination is typically used to give the look of a solid wood window, while trying to make the underlying structure more stable than that of solid wood. Fiberglass windows are made by embedding fiberglass needles in plastic, making them stronger and stiffer than vinyl, but there aren’t many brands available. 

The Glass Menagerie: Types of Windows In addition to materials, variables include the number of panes, how the windows are hinged, how they operate, and how much ventilation they offer. Here’s a look at the various types. Double-Hung Windows A widely used choice. The lower inside sash slides up, and an upper outside sash slides down, improving air circulation and making full screens ideal. Double-hung windows are easy to clean because you can tilt the sash on any of the windows in our tests. They're also a smart choice if you plan to install a window air conditioner, though most now have a fairly high trim on the sill that may require significant shimming to stabilize the air conditioner. Some double-hung windows in our tests are better than others at keeping out cold air or water. That's important if you live in a place where it's chilly and windy, such as Chicago, or where it's rainy, like the Pacific Northwest.

Double Hung Window Ratings Other Types Awning-Style Windows They're hinged at the top and open outward. Like casements, the sash presses against the frame, so they close very tightly.   Casement-Style Windows Though a smaller part of the market, they provide an unobstructed view. They're hinged on one side, and a crank lets you open them outward. When fully open, casements allow good ventilation and easy cleaning. They're usually more airtight than double-hung because when closed the sash locks tightly against the frame. However, window air conditioners cannot be installed in casement windows. Fixed Windows These are used where lighting but not ventilation is important. They’re airtight and are available with decorative glass accents or in unusual shapes. Hopper-Style Windows The opposite of awning windows, they’re hinged at the bottom and can open either inward or outward. Single-Hung Windows They look like double-hung, but only the bottom sash moves. (They usually cost less as a result.) The top sash is sealed to keep cold air and water out.


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