The Reality of Window Replacement

Ugh. There it is again. A newspaper article in the home section advising you to replace your windows: “The days of painting exterior wood windows are gone. Look for low-maintenance vinyl or aluminum windows that come with a factory finish that should last for years.” Heck, they might even last for 10 whole years.


they could even last for twenty if you don’t mind fog

The article does not address the issue of energy savings, since the article is about low maintenance, but it is worthwhile to review the four pillars of replacement window mythology:

Energy Savings: Heat rises, it doesn’t go sideways. Insulate your roof and you have saved 80% of all the possible energy savings. Replace your windows with brick walls and you only have 20% to play with.

Oh, but they are double-glazed, you say. LIKE EVERY WINDOW DESIGNED FROM 1860 to 1928. Every Victorian and early modern building constructed in a climate that includes winter was double-glazed. We just got rid of a lot of those storm windows because we didn’t like the maintenance.

Cost: Yes, a vinyl or aluminum replacement window costs less. So it lasts less and performs more poorly over time. A repaired original wood window will last another 75 years. Most replacement windows have a 10-15 year warranty: the max is 25, which means they need to be 3 times cheaper than restoring your original wood window to compete over time.

Installation: A tight new window will do NOTHING for heat and AC loss if it is improperly installed. Most air infiltration goes through the frame, not the sash. About a quarter of new windows are improperly installed. Conversely, caulking the exterior brickmold on an existing window, installing jamb liners and fixing putty lines can often save as much as a new window.


Ease of use. My knees will rebel against my staircase LONG before my elbows and shoulders will have any trouble opening and closing my 112-year old wood windows (each sash is 3 feet wide and 3 feet high). If they get sticky, I rub some candle wax in the jamb and put a drop of oil on the metal sash cords.

Maintenance. The context of the article is keeping home maintenance from ruining your weekends. Yes, a real window will require some painting and maintenance now and again. But it CAN BE FIXED. In an hour or two.

A replacement window can’t. It needs to be replaced. That is why they call them REPLACEMENT WINDOWS – because you have to KEEP ON REPLACING THEM. It is a FANTASTIC business model because of this planned obsolescence. These guys will be in business eternally because you have to come back to them every 15 to 20 years.

The article also talks about other low-maintenance home improvements. It notes that cement fiber siding panels “are all the rage, ” come in 20 colors and is competitively priced against vinyl siding. This is like saying that pleather trousers come in 20 colors and are competitively priced against polyester. The real angle is “the panels will last 25 years or more,” but the reality is that goes double and triple for the wood siding and stucco they want you to replace. They can last over 100 years if you aren’t allergic to maintenance.

nice pants, dude

SPOILER ALERT: EVERYTHING REQUIRES MAINTENANCE. If you want a home that DOESN’T require maintenance, well, start emptying your bank account because I also want to sell you hair-loss products and eat-what-you-want diets THAT REALLY WORK.

You can shovel this stuff into any kind of pile you want, but it still smells.

Check previous posts on this issue here. and here. and here.

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2 Responses to “The Reality of Window Replacement”

  1. Sabra Smith Says:

    Waving pom poms and cheering you on! Excellent recap of the fallacies and facts.

  2. adgorn Says:

    Interesting post. Recently I received a letter from the National Trust for Hist Preservation announcing their “National Windows Campaign.” Surprisingly, they don’t have it posted on their website, but you can read a copy someone posted here:

    http://offaydesignstudioblog.typepad.com/historic-interior-design/2010/05/national-trust-for-historic-preservation-national-windows-campaign.html

    I think you and they have similar sentiments. Alan

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