Housing & Mortgage
New Windows Aren’t the Biggest Home Energy Saver
And they’re costly; insulate your attic first
The window industry trumpets that its products will slash energy use and that you’ll get most of the cost back when you sell the house.
And yet you will spend between $800 and $2,300 to replace each window. A small house may have eight windows and a big one 20 or more. Costs mount quickly. Replacing all the windows on an average house costs $16,000.
Before you shell out for all new windows, take a deep breath. If you’re looking to save energy, there are cheaper things you could do first. Insulate your attic. It costs about $2,000. The Department of Energy estimates you will save 10% to 50% on your heating bill by insulating your attic.
By contrast, the government says to expect new windows to trim your bill by 7% to 15%, or between $71 to $501 annually. If you’re replacing single-pane windows with newer double-pane windows, your savings will be on the high end. If you’re replacing older double-pane windows with newer double-pane windows, your savings will be on the low end.
Other cheap energy savers, by the way: switching to LED light bulbs instead of incandescent bulbs; unplugging electrical devices when they aren’t in use; and never running half loads in dishwashers and washing machines and dryers.
There’s no disputing that window technology improved greatly. The most efficient windows have inert gases between the panes to create a better barrier, while the glass is treated with a special coating that stops solar heat from getting through. It also reduces ultraviolet light damage to your possessions in the summer.
Even the most upbeat estimates don’t say you’ll get all your money back from new windows. Zillow estimates you’ll recover 73% of your money when you replace windows. That compares to getting back an estimated 98% of your money for replacing a garage door; 81% for remodeling your kitchen; and 76% for adding a deck.
If you live in an older home, with multi-pane windows divided by strips of wood, it will cost more to duplicate that look with modern windows. Be wary of scrimping here. Putting in cheap replacement windows that look out of place can actually lower the value of an older house.
Does this mean you should never replace windows? Of course not. You have to live in the house. A leaky window that spills cold air into your bedroom all winter is miserable. At a certain point, window frames get so decrepit they have to be replaced, or the window will fall, literally, into your yard. New windows, if done right, can spiff up the appearance of your house both inside and out.
Instead of taking an all or nothing approach to new windows, consider strategically replacing them. That balky window in the attic bedroom that no one uses? Don’t worry about it. That kitchen window that you can’t open every time you cook something smoky? Take care of it.
After deciding which windows, your next decision is what type of window frames you want. Aluminum frames, common a few decades ago, are used less today because aluminum is a poor insulator. Most frames today are vinyl or wood. Wood windows cost more, as much as $2,300 apiece, according to Home Depot.
Make sure the crew installing the window has plenty of experience, good recommendations from past customers, and will stand behind their work. Look for a certification from the American Window and Door Institute. Pella and Andersen also certify crews for their windows. Start out with just a window or two until you’re comfortable with a new crew. It takes skill to properly fit a window and insulate the area around the frame.
If you can’t afford new windows, there are low-tech solutions to make your old windows more efficient, such as caulking and sealing gaps. Hardware stores sell window films that cut energy loss. Finally, you can do what our ancestors did to save energy: Hang heavy curtains inside the house.