There are a lot of factors to consider when buying new windows or replacing old ones, so follow this checklist to avoid overlooking anything essential.
It can be stressful to buy new windows or replacement windows. Not only will your decisions play a major role in your home’s appearance and the amount of natural light that comes in, but they will also have implications for everything from security to housework to your energy bill. That’s a lot to keep in mind while buying materials or making a plan with a local window company. Instead of getting lost in the complex details, take these tips to get a handle on the most important factors.
While, of course, you must consider your budget sooner or later, with an elaborate project like window installation or replacement, it’s crucial to figure out how much you’re willing to spend early on in the process. There are quite a few variables that determine the final bill; don’t get too attached to a particular style or material until you’re sure that your wallet can accommodate it. If you’re doing a large job, you’ll also likely consult with a window dealer or contractor early on, and your budget is one of the first things they’ll ask about.
2. Energy Efficiency
Windows don’t just let light into your home. They also let hot and cool air out, potentially driving up your energy bills and creating unnecessary waste. With every choice you make in your window installation journey, you weigh various other factors against energy loss.
Fortunately, technology has come a long way in recent decades, offering a wider range of safe, stylish, and energy-efficient window options. Energy efficiency is also an important consideration as you set your budget, since there are many features you might include that could add to the initial sticker price. But ultimately, they save you money by reducing your energy bill.
There are two key measures to understand when comparing different windows’ energy efficiency:
- U-Factor: The U-Factor indicates the thermal conductivity of your window. In other words, it indicates how much hot air escapes the feature when it’s cold outside and vice-versa. The scale generally ranges from 0.2 to 1.25: the lower the number, the better the window insulates your home.
- Solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC): SHGC quantifies the amount of solar energy the window lets in. You may want a higher SHGC if you’re more concerned about allowing the sun to heat up your home in the winter, and a lower one if maintaining cool indoor temperatures in a hot climate is the priority.
3. Your Home’s Setting
Your home’s architecture and the surrounding landscaping play a key role in the way your windows look and function once installed. In parts of the house that get more direct sunlight—such as west-facing rooms—you may want to spring for additional UV protection or opt for a smaller window. For those areas with less-than-ideal views, or don’t receive much light at all, it doesn’t make sense to pay for an elaborate picture window.
4. The Frame Materials
Window frames come in a range of different materials, each offering advantages and disadvantages when it comes to cost, maintenance, appearance, and insulation. The most common choices include:
- Vinyl: Low-cost, energy-efficient, and highly durable, but they offer a more limited range of design choices and many people don’t like their appearance
- Wood: Provides a classic, easy-to-customize look, and the best possible energy efficiency, but they demand more upkeep than many other options
- Aluminum: Inexpensive and highly durable, but rated worst in terms of energy efficiency
- Fiberglass: Combining durability, strong insulation, and a wide variety of style options, fiberglass frames have a lot to recommend them, but they come with a high price tag
Those aren’t the only options—composite and wood-clad frames, for example, have become more widely available in recent years. There are also other factors that may influence your decision, so fully research the different window frame types before replacing or installing yours.
It’s easy to forget that windows can pose a variety of safety risks. If you have young children, or are planning to have some soon, consider windows that do not open or are double-hung and open only from the top, on the upper floors to avoid any chance someone could tumble out. For windows on lower floors, consider what kind of protection the windows afford against break-ins, whether through their own locking mechanisms or with the addition of security bars.
For each window you install or replace, you need to decide how many panes of glass you want included. Though single-pane is an option, such windows are increasingly unpopular because they shatter easily and let heat escape easily. Double-pane windows are the standard choice. They provide energy efficiency and comfort not only through the extra pane, but with the gas that usually fills the gap between the two, which offers additional insulation.
If you have trouble maintaining your home’s temperature, or you live in a particularly loud area, you can also spring for triple-pane glass. However, the hefty price tag rules out this option for most homeowners without such needs.
The choices don’t end there, however. You can opt for glass with low-emissivity (Low-E) coating, which allows light in while cutting down on heat conductivity, meaning less cold air escapes in the summer and less warm air in the winter. There are further glazing options for those most focused on limiting noise, people who want additionally in case of breakage, and other ways of customizing the glass’s appearance.