7 Things to Consider When Choosing New Windows

new windows

The first few years of owning your home mean discovering lots of things about it. Every house is different and some almost seem like they have a personality of their own — which isn’t too surprising since they have literally thousands of individual parts that can combine their own quirks in nearly endless ways. Although plenty of these combos create something beautiful, it’s never a guarantee.

Take your windows, for example. As your home shifts and ages, your windows can end up being a huge source of drafts and thermal loss. Sure, you can weatherstrip them and recapture some of that warmth, but ultimately, window technology will leave you behind if you put off replacing those windows for too long.

Windows: Here’s What You Need to Know

Shopping for windows is kind of like shopping for a car. It’s a big investment, you may not know a whole lot about what you’re buying, but you absolutely know that you need to replace your old one(s). You don’t have to go it alone, though. You can take this list of seven things to consider and consult it before pulling out your Visa or Mastercard.

  1. Window configuration and features. Not only do windows come in a huge variety of shapes and sizes, they also come with lots of different features. Simply matching the new windows to those of your existing ones is generally a good bet, but features that newer windows offer, like double hung windows with tilt-in glass sections, can give you added functionality inside the original framework.

  2. Frame materials. Depending on your window budget, you may have a pretty wide selection of materials to choose between. Vinyl and composite windows tend to be popular choices since they neither sweat nor require a lot of maintenance throughout their lifetimes, but other materials like aluminum and wood are commonly used in frames, too.

  3. U-Factor: The U-Factor tells you just how well the window insulates by reducing the rate of heat transfer. You’ll find windows with U-Factors from about 0.25 to 1.25 Btu/h-ft²-°F.. Choose the lowest value that fits reasonably into your budget because the lower the value, the better it’ll insulate.

  4. Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (SHGC): Like the U-Factor, the SHGC is a measurement of how well a window insulates. But this time, we’re talking about how hot the sun makes the window and then how much of that transfers into your home. SHGC, in short, is how well the window blocks incoming heat. Interestingly enough, both ends of this figure can be of use to different kinds of homeowners. If you own a house that uses passive solar heat, you’re going to want to take advantage of this property and go for the highest number you can find (on a scale of 0 to 1). Homeowners with more traditional setups will want the lowest number their money will buy.

  5. Air Leakage (AL). Those drafty drafts are often caused by a property known as air leakage. Windows are tested for just how much air passes through the joints while in the factory. The less air leakage, the better, obviously. Industry standards require an AL at or below 0.3 cf-m/ft².

  6. Visible Transmittance (VT). Because windows are full of neat and precise measures these days, it’s possible to have a window that blocks outside heat without blocking all that precious light. The visible transmittance is the figure that tells you just how bright your room will be after this window goes in. A higher number (on a 0 to 1 scale) means more light.

  7. Condensation Resistance. Although it’s a much smaller concern than the four performance ratings above, condensation resistance should be taken into consideration before you pony up the window dough. Measured on a scale of 0 to 100, the highest figures resist condensation better than those lower down.

What Do Windows Cost?

Of all the possible non-answers to this question there could be, this might be the worst. Windows cost varies widely by size, material, insulating factor and number needed for your home. As aggravating an answer as that may be, a quick flip through your favorite home improvement store catalog will back it up.

A joint report from the National Association of Realtors and the National Association of the Remodeling Industry estimates that replacing old windows with new vinyl windows will run a homeowner around $18,975 or about $35,000 for wood windows.

Since this report is more about return on investment, though, the additional data provided indicates that your money is well-spent: 79 percent of the cost is recovered at the sale for vinyl windows and 57 percent of the cost of wooden windows comes back to your pocket.

Philip Schwartz