Is window replacement a good investment? Or can existing windows be fixed for less?

REMODELING magazine’s annual Cost vs. Value Report shows the return-on-investment for twenty-two different home remodeling projects, including kitchen remodeling, a bathroom addition and window replacement.

Window replacement, whether with wood, vinyl or aluminum windows, pays back only 70% of your out-of-pocket investment. If you spend $20,000 to replace your windows, your estimated return on investment is $14,000. This is based on the replacement of a 3×5 double hung insulated unit which costs $1600.00 for vinyl and $2,000.00 for a wood window.

You’d think that the energy savings on better windows, new windows with insulated double glazing, would pay you back quickly, with lower monthly heating bills. But research shows that it takes up to 50 years to realize the energy savings payback on window replacement projects.

I admit to a bias about tearing out old windows to replace them with new. I’m a historic preservationist who sees a greater cost vs. value in the restoration of your original windows. If your windows were built before 1950, are not rotted, but need a little maintenance, they are likely made better than the new ones, with old growth wood and beautiful wavy glass. They are single glazed which means you will not collect film and condensation between two panes of double glaze glass. And your window frames are likely made of wood or metal, not plastic.  

I’m also a home remodeler who knows that there are better ways to improve your home than window replacement. Here are projects which will give you a better return on your investment and save on energy bills:

1. Insulate your home.  The return on investment for insulating your attic and walls is a three year payback. Weather stripping is also cost effective.

2. Update your HVAC. Over the past ten years the quality and efficiency of heating and cooling equipment   is much improved. If you can use your existing duct work, an HVAC remodel can be as little at $6,000.00.

3. Add interior storm windows. This is a great way to prevent cold and draft in winter. It is much more cost effective than window replacement.

4. Repair your existing windows! Many homeowners assume that an inoperable window needs to be replaced when all it needs is repair. If it’s painted shut, this is an easy fix. If the hardware is broken, this too is an inexpensive repair. 

The historic double hung window system was invented 200 hundred years ago in the pre- industrial era. Things made by hand then, can be repaired by hand now. Back then, windows were made to last 100 years, with old growth wood sash, solid hardware and sturdy frames. Whereas today’s new windows are made with softer new growth wood which has a shorter life span of only 30 years.

For information on how to preserve your old windows visit the Window Preservation Alliance.