Photo by Maxwell Hamilton

Update: Replacing the windows in your home presents you with an almost bewildering array of options. There are now more materials than ever before, and concerns about the environment mean that the green credentials of your windows are a big concern. You also need to think about the style of your home, and whether ornate, classic windows will look out of place on a sleek, modern home, or simple, UPVC windows will spoil the authentic look of a period home.

Windows in our homes not only have a utilitarian purpose but also serve as an expression of our tastes and our living styles. This is the reason why so many homeowners pay particular attention to getting the exact replacement window that will best complement their homes. This article provides you with useful information on the variables to consider before selecting a replacement window.

Retrofit Vs New Construction: Both have their merits and which is right for you will depend on the nature of your project. The cost of installing a retrofit window is approximately half that of a new construction window. In retrofitting, an exisiting square frame (window opening) is used for installation and the existing window trims are usually left untouched. New construction windows are either nailed or screwed as a unit to the wall’s structural framing after removal of interior and exterior trims. Retrofits are advisable for houses with a stucco exterior and substantial trims around the windows. If done right, a retrofit will provide as good a seal as a new construction.

Materials: Vinyl, aluminum, wood are primarily used as window replacment materials. Each has its own advantages as described below.

Vinyl
The most popular option, more durable than aluminum and wood , resistant to corrossion, swelling, and peeling, reduced energy bills due to good insulation properties of vinyl, medium to high R-value, low maintenance, competitive pricing, moldable into a variety of shapes, resistant to scratches, fits well with most structural designs, covers a wide range of prices. Disadvantages of vinyl windows include its properties change with temperature, repainting is not recommended, needs to be shielded from very high temperatures, since vinyl is extruded, it not as easy to shape as aluminum.
Aluminum
Three times as strong as vinyl and twenty times as strong as wood, cheaper than vinyl, low maintenance, easy to repaint, second only to Vinyl in durability, maintains its properties under all weather conditions, easier than vinyl to shape and bend, does not rust or crack, complements a range of architectural styles. Disadvantages include: aluminum is a poor insulator, poor R-value, reduced energy savings, requires addition of sealants to improve thermal resistance and reduce condensation, exposed metal may get oxidized.
Wood
The most elegant and appealing replacement window option, maximum color options, retains its properties under a range of temperature conditions, unlimited design options, excellent insulator so it affords better energy savings, higher R-values. On the flip side, wood is more expensive than vinyl and aluminum, requires regular maintenance, i.e. painting or staining, it needs protection from moisture to prevent it from cracking and splitting, weaker than vinyl and aluminum.
Wood Clad
An option of aluminum clad or vinyl-clad windows allows you the benefits of easy maintenance afforded by aluminum and vinyl to go along with the beauty, elegance, and thermal properties of wood. Swelling and cracking of wood is prevented. Factors to consider include ease of operating the windows and quality of paint and finish opted for as these affect the resilience and appearance of the window.

Glass: The type of glazing that your window has will affect the insulating and sound proofing properties of the window. The weather in your region and the noise levels in your area are some of the factors you need to consider before deciding on a single, double, or triple pane window and if low emmisivity coating is required.


Single Pane Windows
These type of windows have only one sheet of glass. They have a high U-value of 1, which means that they offer poor protection against heat gain in summer, heat loss in the winter, also they are not very effective in keeping noise out. Single pane windows are not widely available today, they are inexpensive and are easier to install, as they are light in weight.
Double Pane Windows
These windows have two sheets of glass separated by a gap of one half to one inch that contains either air or an insulating inert gas, such as argon.. These windows have a low U-value of approximately 0.5, which means enhanced insulating properties and greater energy savings.
Triple Pane Windows
Three sheets of glass with layers of insulating gas between them makes these windows the most energy efficient. However, their cost and difficulty in installation due to their weight are a drawback. With two layers of air / gas, the chances of a failure of the insulating seal are higher.
Low Emissivity Windows
These windows have a coating that reduces the heat loss due to radiation by 40% to 70% but allows the light to pass. Thus, low–e windows have better insulation properties. Application of low–e coating can reduce the emmisivity of clear glass from 0.85 to 0.15. Double pane windows with a low–e coating offer similar insulation as a triple pane window but without the increase in weight.

How to find the right contractor?: The right contractor can install your new windows at a reasonable costs and in a timely fashion. Credibility and reliability are important. Some things to look out for before selecting a contractor include the following:

  • Obtain references from a prospective contractor and check with them. Assess his work first hand and go through his portfolio.
  • Ensure that the contractor is licensed, has insurance coverage, and a building permit for your city.
  • Share your project details with the contractor and listen to his inputs, compare inputs of contractors.
  • Compare the costing details provided by contractors.

Should you do it yourself? There are some pros and cons to adopting a “do it yourself” strategy. Windows can be installed successfully as a do-it-yourself project, but consider carefully before you make your decision. The following points are worth considering.

  • The nature of change, whether cosmetic or structural to your home and your level of expertise.
  • The availability of the right tools
  • The scope of a project, if it can be handled by you working alone, in terms of both time and effort.
  • Savings by doing it yourself versus the quality of your work as against the cost of getting the work done by a professional and the quality of his work.