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The energy savings vs. resale value debate by Paul Bianchina
landlord helpQ: I have a 1950s home. Last year I remodeled, but did not change out the windows. I got an estimate yesterday (for new windows) at $8,200. Would that be a good investment? –Gayle H.

A: The answer to that question depends on exactly what you mean by it being a good investment.

First of all, I’m a big fan of changing out older, single-pane windows for new energy-efficient ones. They save on utility costs; they help conserve energy for all of us; and they’ll make your home quieter and more comfortable. So from the standpoint of comfort and reduced utility bills, it’s definitely a good investment.
Most of today’s buyers are looking for energy efficiency when they shop for a home, and many probably would rather not have to tackle a remodeling project as extensive as changing out a house full of windows. So as a selling feature to make a home more attractive to a buyer, again it’s definitely a good investment.

Finally, we would need to look at it from a strictly financial perspective, and that’s a much harder one to answer. If you’re going to stay in the home for awhile, you would need to look at what the monthly energy savings would be, then divide that number into $8,200 to determine how many months it would take to pay back the initial investment.

If you’re planning on selling soon, you should talk to your real estate agent and see what homes like yours are selling for with and without upgraded windows.

The difference in sales prices will be a pretty good indicator as to whether or not you’ll recover the full $8,200. It’s doubtful that you’ll recoup the entire investment, but the home should be easier and faster to sell with the new windows, so you’ll have to factor those savings into the financial mix as well.

Copyright 2010 Inman News
See Paul Bianchina’s feature, Tips on Remodeling to Sell.
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  • Sean Denniston

    From a straight-up energy perspective, I’m not a big fan of replacement windows. They will save energy, that is for certain. However, there are very real questions about whether those savings will cover the cost of the windows and make more sense than other things you could do with the same money. There are a couple of things to remember.

    Residential energy rates are fairly low pretty much everywhere in the US. If you don’t live in a harsher climate or have a lot of window area, it could take decades for those new windows to save the money that they cost. (And of course, if you have a lot of windows, that only increases the up-front cost. This is especially of concern if your replacement windows are vinyl. There are a lot of cheap vinyl windows out there, and it is not uncommon for them to fail in under a decade. Buying higher quality windows just increases the payback period, but at least they might last long enough to pay for themselves.

    The performance gains from replacement windows that people usually see is less because the new windows are so much more efficient, but because the old windows had failed and were drafty and the new windows were tight in addition to being more efficient. In most cases, a large portion of the energy savings of new windows can be gained by a good re-conditioning of the windows, and at a fraction of the cost. Additionally, there are options for adding storm windows which improve the performance of many existing windows – sometimes making them even as good as the standard replacement window – again at a fraction of the cost.

    New windows save energy, but they are one of the less cost-effective ways to do so. Attic insulation, infiltration control, equipment re-conditioning and sometimes even equipment replacement are just some of the measures that are far more cost-effective than new windows.

    Now, if you have other reasons for replacing the windows – they are actually broken, it makes sense in your market from a re-sale perspective, rebates are bringing the price down significantly – then you might want to go ahead anyway. But a pure energy savings payback argument usually just don’t pay off.

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