Taking the confusion out of Replacement Windows

Thinking of replacing your existing windows? Don't make that call until you understand the lingo. Replacement windows can mean totally different things depending on who you talk to. The real issue is should you "replace" your existing windows with "replacement windows" or "new construction windows." Confused? We explain the differences and tell you what kind of window you'll need.

To Replace or not Replace your Windows
"Replacement Windows" will not be a good choice if your existing windows don't function well and you can feel the cold or warm air coming in etc. The same holds true if your interior and exterior frames and molding are rotten or damaged by water or insects. If the above is true then go with a "New Construction" window and be prepared to pay a higher price.

Now you might be tempted to just order "replacement windows" for less  money and pocket the change. If you do that you will have makde a big mistake. That's because the installer is not going to go beyond looking at the interior part of the windows. They will not going to examine the drywall or plaster to see if there is enough insulation, or replace insect or water damaged wood etc. around the window. So in essence you'll spend the money and be no better off and not realize all of the benefits.

Signs that your windows may be shot
It may not be easy to tell if your windows are functioning well enough to warrant just "replacement windows." So consider the following characteristics about your existing windows. If you answer yes to many of these points, you may want to replace your windows with a "new construction" windows instead of "replacement windows":

  1. Your windows are difficult to open and close.
  2. The wood outside (commonly referred to as "brick mold") is rotten and damaged by water or insects.
  3. The wood frame and interior sill are rotten, won't take paint and are moldy.
  4. The home is old (65 years or older) and you suspect that there is not much insulation around the windows when they were installed
  5. The walls surrounding the window are cold and the glass during the winter has condensation on the inside.
  6. The window frame is cold or hot to the touch in winter and summer, respectfully. This indicates that the cold or heat is being conducted through the window.

Don't forget though that all of the above characteristics are secondary to the major issue of whether the window is functioning well and whether or not you feel air coming in. That means keeping heat and cold air in during the winter and summer, respectively. 

New Construction Windows vs. Replacement Windows
Most people get very confused with the terminology that window manufacturers and sales people use. We're not going to complicate matters here so we'll get down to the basic differences. We suggest that when you talk to a window manufacturer or rep that you speak in terms you know an understand to avoid the confusion.

New Construction windows- when someone speaks to you about this kind of window they are talking about totally removing your existing windows. That includes the glass, the framing on the inside and outside and any mechanical pieces. The end result is that you'll just see the wooden studs on the left, right, top and bottom of the opening. If you are constructing a new addition, this is the only kind of window you will install.

Rough opening of window showing studs

When the old windows are removed, you'll be able to inspect the entire perimeter to see if there's adequate insulation, fill in large gaps, repair rotten wood, etc and do it before installing the "new construction windows." Even if there is insulation, you may notice that it is black. That's a sign that air has been coming in between the rough opening and the window an that you need to seal things up and insulate more. If you don't insulate to prevent air leaks, place flashing to prevent water from entering, you are just wasting your money.

Replacement Windows- usually the only thing that is replaced here are the interor movable parts of the window; these are known as the upper sash and lower sash of a double hung window. Some window manufacturers also replace the left and right frames too. Window manufacturers like Jeld-Wen Windows refer to this as Sash Replacement or Zappack. Jeld-Wen's Sash Pack Video will give you firm understanding of what a "Replacement Window" entails . Obviously "replacement windows" are less costly than "new construction" windows.

Why do I even want to replace my Windows
If your existing windows work reasonably well and the exterior and interior frame, sill and brick mold are in good shape. You might be thinking "Gee, if they work so well then why am I replacing them at all?" That's a good question.

Your savings will vary depending on where you live 

A brand new Energy Star replacement window or new construction window is usually are more efficient. They make a great deal of sense if you are replacing single glass pane windows. If that is the case, you'll get double glass with an inert gas between the glass and glaze that keeps cold air out in winter and in summer prevents the heat from coming in. You will save between $126 and $465 a year depending on where you live and what you pay to heat and cool your home. You will also reduce your carbon foot print.

In our opinon though replacing double pane clear glass is not a good investment unless the windows are in terrible shape. Better to invest those dollars in more insulation, a grey water heat exchanger aka GFX heat exchanger, etc.

Considerations if you are remodeling
What you are typically faced with in an extensive remodel, is whether to replace all of you existing windows. This is not easy to decide and depends on your budget. It's all a matter of how things will look from the street and how they will look from the inside. The geneal rule of thumb is to try to retain the character of the house and existing windows. In our example, the easiest way to make sure everything will match is to order all "new construction" windows. Unfortunately it is the most expensive option.

If your new room or addition faces the street and is adjacent to your existig house here are some options:

  • Make sure all windows are of the same type and features- all double hung or all casement windows at the very least.
  • If the existing windows are in good shape then use them or order "replacement windows" if all windows facing the street will look essentially the same.
  • If the window sizes and brick mold are going to look awkward from the street, then go with "new constructiion" windows.

When "Replacement Windows" make sense
There are several reasons to go with a "replacement window."

  1. Replacement Windows" are less expensive (sometimes 50 percent less) then a "new construction" windows. Prices vary depending on whether you choose wood, aluminum clad or vinyl clad windows. When we use the term "clad" it means that alumiunum or vinyl covers the wood or fiberglass. You won't have to paint aluminum or vinyl clad windows.
  2. With a "replacement window" you will not have to worry about trying to match the existing brick, stucco or wood because these elements are not touched by the installer.
  3. Your existing windows work well and will last for years; you believe they have sufficient insulation.
  4. Even with the government's energy tax credit of $1,500, window replacement is expensive. Also you must select an Energy Star window to qualify. Presdient Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Tax Act of 2009. This bill extends and modifies the tax credits for windows, doors, and skylights into 2010. Just make sure you select an Energy Star windows to qualify.

Considerations if you are remodeling
What you are typically faced with in an extensive remodel, is whether to replace all of you existing windows. This is not easy to decide and depends on your budget. It's all a matter of how things will look from the street and how they will look from the inside. The geneal rule of thumb is to try to retain the character of the house and existing windows. In our example, the easiest way to make sure everything will match is to order all "new construction" windows. Unfortunately it is the most expensive option.

If your new room or addition faces the street and is adjacent to your existig house here are some options:

  • Make sure all windows are of the same type and features- all double hung or all casement windows at the very least.
  • If the existing windows are in good shape then use them or order "replacement windows" if all windows facing the street will look essentially the same.
  • If the window sizes and brick mold are going to look awkward from the street, then go with "new constructiion" windows.

Last word
Choose your windows carefully and read the company's literature. Don't forget to order the brick mold for "new construction" windows. Sealing and insulating around "new construction" windows is critical if you are to realize monetary savings.