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There is so much to know about windows, much more than meets the eye, and summer is ideal window replacement season. When it comes to the swapping of windows in our beautiful, historic Hingham homes, there are many things to consider. There is aesthetic value, window replacement cost, style of window, whether to renovate, repair or replace and potential benefits to consider on all fronts.
Windows are indeed the eyes of a house, and one of the most standout, character defining features, from both inside and outside. Additionally, windows provide climate control for the inside of your house and add ambient light to your living spaces.
The most common reason we replace our windows is because of their age and the subsequent damage incurred. 100 year old (or, in Hingham, often much older), drafty windows that let heat and energy escape is the number one complaint stated by Massachusetts homeowners. But there is a lot more to this reasoning than one can see on the surface.
Making an educated decision grounded in fact rather than common opinion can make or break the benefits inherent in this type of home renovation. Relative to other home upgrades, replacing windows is easily one of the most expensive projects to take on. It is not a decision to take lightly because once the windows are replaced, there is no turning back.
Once you know why you want to replace house windows, you can more comfortably proceed to making decisions about whether to replace, renovate or repair.
7 Reasons Why Homeowners Replace House Windows
1) Replacing Windows to Reduce Heating Costs
The number one reason we replace our windows is because of loss of heat and the money it costs in energy. Aesthetics and functionality tie for second place. Understanding the mechanics of climate and the materials used to surround our living spaces can help you make an educated decision that you won’t regret.
Replacing windows to save money has been a longstanding belief and action. It has been around for so long that few of us step back and question the science and data to support the belief. Instead, it an accepted fact that to replace old windows with newer, vinyl windows provides instantaneous savings.
The reasoning within this belief has been enlarged over time to rather mythic proportions. Most of us truly believe that poorly maintained, or old windows suck the money right out of our pockets. It is no wonder because many window manufacturers use this as their primary selling statement. In addition, we look at our windows all of the time, and our relaxing, outward gazes make it possible to study any imperfections the windows might have.
We have all felt the cold glass of a window pane in the winter, and even the icy breeze leaking through to the inside on a cold day. If you have ever gone outside to see if you can feel the heat pouring out of your windows, you were likely disappointed and perhaps confused when it could not be traced.
You might be surprised to know that only 10% of almost all heat loss occurs through your windows, and that 90% of heat is actually lost through roof gaps. walls, chimneys and floors. It makes perfect sense. After all, heat does rise, and it is less likely to draw out sideways through gaps in a window. Of course, by creating a cross breeze one can shift the air inside of a room or a house, but in the winter, doing so is unlikely. And one cannot argue the fact that an arctic wind funneled through a pinhole gap in your window drives in unwanted cold air.
Here is a bit of reasoning based on the above percentage of heat loss inside of your home in the New England winter. If you reduce the heat loss in your home by 50% when you replace your draftiest windows, maybe half of your windows, the decrease in loss of heat through your windows is only 5%!
Most engineers agree that replacing windows to save money is nothing more than a sales tactic that has gone a bit too far. So, while you might reduce your energy costs by a fraction, keep in mind the proportionate savings.
2) Replacing Windows to Decrease Maintenance
We find it hard to resist the allure of the term “maintenance-free,” and vinyl replacement windows are touted as being just this Once they are installed, the belief is that window washing comes to be the most time-consuming maintenance project. However, washing windows is also a maintenance task. The features of vinyl replacement windows include no painting, no re-sealing, easy replacement parts and glass, and of course no degrading at all.
Realistically, to keep the appearance of vinyl replacement windows fresh, painting will be necessary. Like aluminum, and like wood, vinyl fades over time. Wood, on the other hand, can be expected to hold up for a couple hundred years. Painted wood is still one of our most durable and reliable materials. Cleaning off bugs, sap, pollen, dust, leaves and hard water stains are all tasks that cannot be escaped. Granted, the tip-in windows are certainly advantageous when it comes to keeping your windows clear and bright.
Double-glazed seals (you all know the look of a window, or worse, a sliding glass door whose seal has been breached causing a foggy, visual obstacle made from condensation) often fail within a period of time because the seal itself degrades when exposed to sunlight, rain water and mildew. The seal is what holds the glass in place, and is generally made from neoprene or plastics. Heat and the ultraviolet light from the sun changes the composition of these materials causing the degradation. Also keep in mind that south-facing insulated glass panes are subject to more wear and tear and can start to break down within the first 12 years.
Human activities can cause glass panes to break. If Johnny accidentally swings his baseball bat and the ball crashes into a double-glazed window pane, replacing that can be quite simple, or it can be next to impossible. If the manufacturers of your particular brand of replacement window have moved ahead, and have modified your product choice, you might end up replacing the entire window unit, sash, frame and all.
For older, wooden windows with singular glass panes, the glass can be cut to order in the exact measurements of each individual pane. If a newer window has a mechanical or functional issue, finding the right aluminum channel or gasket can be problematic for the reason mentioned above. On the other hand, older windows can generally be fixed by going to a hardware store for various hardware and materials.
The life expectancy of vinyl is about 20 years because the plasticizers used in vinyl evaporate over time, making the vinyl brittle and likely to start cracking. The only way vinyl replacement windows become maintenance-free is when you install them, and 10 or 15 years later, you throw them into a landfill because you are having new windows installed, again.
3) Replacing Windows to Decrease Drafts
Most of us think that drafts are a direct and exclusive byproduct of wind and breezes. To understand drafts in relation to our windows, we have to consider the process of convection as their source.
Glass is indeed a conductor for the origin of the mighty draft. When warm air comes into contact with a cold window pane, the air naturally cools and then attracts more warm air to it. This process continues and builds until convection currents are created throughout the room and perhaps through the entire house.
Drafts can operate to bring cold air into your home, and to seep air conditioned air out of your home. There are multiple fixes for drafts.
The installation of interior shutters, shades, or curtains can sometimes block the glass in your windows from the warm air of your home, thus deterring the convection process. An additional layer of glass, or a storm window can be installed outside creating additional air space in between the two sets of windows. This will decrease convection to some degree, but keep in mind that heat will still be drawn to the glass.
Look at the trim around the window and if there are gaps and cracks, the trim can be removed and then replaced by a professional or someone willing to take the time to learn how to properly reinstall it.
4) Replacing Windows to Improve their Longevity
Aluminum windows offer a highly versatile material that allows for custom shapes. It is known to be an extremely durable material that resists rust and rot, however, the metal conducts heat and cold and brings the unwanted air from the outside in. Some manufacturers are using more thermally efficient materials clad in aluminum, and this gives the window the same durability without the conductivity. Expect these windows to last for 15 to 20 years.
Vinyl, as already discussed , suffers degradation in high heat and intense sunlight. Vinyl expands and contracts more than other materials and this is what makes them more prone to failure than other types of windows.
A good wood based window frame is going to last a lot longer than anything else currently available for residential properties. Wood is naturally very thermally efficient, and easy to work with. Wood does require regular painting and sealing to prevent wood rot, but with proper care, can last over 30 years. Wood is also easy to replace parts of, without the hassle of installing a full frame window.
5) Replacing Windows to Improve the Look of Your Home
I don’t think that anyone can argue that a full set of symmetrical, same style windows are not pleasing to the eye! For some people, once they replace one or two windows, the nice look that comes with a full replacement is hard to attain.
6) Replacing Windows to Make Them More Functional
Experts say that if your windows no longer function, as in opens and closes with ease and offers a secure fit, then it is probably time to think about replacements. Trying to hack window mechanics, no matter what the age or type, is almost always an exercise in frustration.
7) Replacing Windows to Increase the Value of My House
The good news is that if you do decide on vinyl replacement windows, your investment might yield a fairly good return when and if you eventually sell your home. Like most home improvements, don’t expect to get your money back in full, but certainly a large percentage.
Storm Windows as an Option
Storm windows preserve your original wood, and are a powerful insulator. The added air space between the storm window and the original window is much greater than the space found in between two tightly squeezed panes of glass (also called a double pane) in a replacement thermo-pane window.
Although air is invisible, it is one of our best insulators. Molecules are so far apart in air itself that heat cannot be transferred through it. A term used when discussing heat transfer is the U-value. This is also the ‘U’ in the acronym “BTU” which is the abbreviation for the British Thermal Unit. The BTU is the amount of work or energy required to raise the temperature of one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit. When thinking about the thermal performance of materials, the lower the U-value the better the performance is said to be.
According to the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-conditioning Engineers, the actual U-value for single glazed, old wooden windows ranges from 0.80 to 0.99. If you add a storm window to the mix, the U-value is reduced to anywhere from 0.44 to 0.49. A double glazed replacement window made from metal has a U-value of about 0.60 and a double-glazed wood window has a U-value of about 0.53. And if you use a Low-E-Coating storm window, you can get the U-value down to around 0.32.
Another benefit to renovating your windows using storms is that the noise heard from the outside is decreased by 50%, and up to 80% if you use laminated glass. Some people actually install interior storm windows as protection from the elements. If this becomes one of your solutions, be sure that the storm windows face the inside of the home in the event of an emergency requiring a window exit.
Hopefully you feel a bit more confident about the reasons why you want to replace your windows, and now the decision comes down to whether you replace or restore your windows, and the process of choosing the correct style and design for your home.
For those of you with a hankering for detailed, technical information about solar cooling loads, solar radiation and the impact of skylights, glass and shades, there is some in-depth material at Energy Models, an online training program using energy modeling and building simulation.