Replacement Windows: Is the Value Worth the Cost?

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If you’re like most people, you have enough projects on your home improvement to-do list to fill whole pages, but you’re not made out of money. When you only have a certain portion of your budget to devote to repairs and renovations, you want to be sure that you’re getting the biggest bang for your buck. That means figuring out which repairs will be worth your money—which isn’t always immediately obvious.

For instance, you may think that a major improvement like a kitchen or bathroom remodel would be a sound investment. And who wouldn’t want a luxury whirlpool tub or a built-in glass cooktop? These kinds of renovations do add to your home’s value, but for the money you’ll spend, they’re not as smart an investment as a more practical update, like a window replacement.

Of course, the market value is just one way of looking at an investment. If you consider your home’s energy efficiency when you purchase new windows, they offer potential savings on your monthly utility bills, as well. And beyond monetary returns, efficient windows also add to your home’s overall comfort—a value that’s immeasurable.

measuring window

Window Replacements Are a Valuable Investment

Overall, the cost of replacement windows is worth the money you’ll spend—you’ll recoup about 70 to 80 percent of your costs on your home’s market value. So if your window replacement cost is $400, you can expect that to increase your home’s value by $280 to $320. To give you some perspective, replacing a home’s entry door returned around 97 percent of the initial investment, while adding a sunroom returned just 52 percent. Very few improvements recoup 100 percent or more of their costs.

The specific value of your window replacement depends on your area’s market, as well as what kind of window and the type of window frame you choose to purchase. If you’re looking for a good buy on a budget, you may want to go with vinyl window frames. They’re cheaper than fiberglass and composite frames—the cost for replacing and installing a standard double-hung window with insulated vinyl runs between $550 and $1,000 per window. They also offer comparable energy efficiency than fiberglass and composite alternatives, and they’re much more durable than wood. Wooden window frames clad in aluminum, vinyl, or fiberglass are also rated highly for attractiveness, but these tend to cost more, and the same windows as above would cost between $750 and $1150 each.

How Window Type Affects the Cost of Replacement Windows

The window type will also affect the cost of window replacement. There are plenty of different windows styles, ranging from custom architectural pieces to sturdy double-hung models, but the most popular kinds are casement windows, double hung windows, and single-hung windows, which typically also offer the best values. Casement windows, while slightly more expensive, tend to keep out drafts and cold air better than double- and single-hung windows, so they’re a smart buy if you live in the chilly north. Single-hung windows, on the other hand, are cheaper, but they’re less popular than double-hung windows because the top sash is inoperable, which makes them less functional and harder to clean.

If aesthetics are important in your decision, picture windows might be your best bet. These feature a wide, single pane of glass so you can get a clean and uninterrupted view of the outdoors from your breakfast table or living room. Their simple design also makes them a nice complement to modern architecture. The asking price for picture windows is about on par with casement windows, ranging between $340 and $800.

Another attractive choice popular with many homeowners is to convert the window into a French door. It’s an affordable way to get more light into your home, which goes over well with buyers who are looking for more openness in home plans.

If your frames and sills are still in good condition, however, the cheapest way to replace your windows is to make a partial repair. A pocket replacement is made to fit within your window’s existing frames, rather than installing a new outer frame and sill. However, bear in mind that a pocket replacement may not be as energy efficient as total replacements, because there may be gaps between the frame and replacement pieces.

windows white house

Energy Efficient Windows Offer Energy Savings—But Their Exact Value is Up for Debate

As we mentioned earlier, your home’s market price isn’t the only kind of value offered by replacement windows. Energy-efficient windows can also save money on your energy bills. And that goes hand in hand with your home’s valuation because buyers tend to jump on homes that have lower electricity bills, particularly in areas with high energy costs, like those in the Northeast and California.

Exactly which energy efficiency features offer the best value is a matter of some controversy among window professionals. However, one thing they generally all agree on is that single-pane windows, which offer no insulation between the glass panes, are leaky and inefficient. If you have these installed on your home without storm windows, you could be losing up to 20 percent of your home’s heating to the outdoors, according to the Department of Energy.

On the other hand, double-pane window models, also known as insulated or double-glazed windows, have two layers of glass in each window, which helps to slow drafts and reduce energy leaks. Many of these are filled with an insulating gas, like argon or krypton, that absorbs winds before they can penetrate the interior of your home. These windows are almost always more expensive than single-pane windows, sometimes costing 30 to 50 percent more. Double-hung windows will indeed save you money on your heating costs—particularly if you have old, leaking single-pane windows. Still, most experts agree that those savings are not enough to completely recoup the costs of new windows plus the cost of installation, particularly if you will be replacing multiple windows in your home. However, when you combine double-pane windows with advanced weatherstripping techniques, such as the use of double-sided adhesive tape in the place of silicone or putty, the overall savings will be significantly higher.

Another matter of some debate is whether or not ENERGY-STAR certified windows are worth the cost. These windows, which have been rated by the Department of Energy and the EPA for high energy performance, represent a savings of anywhere between $27 to $465 per year on your energy costs. Generally, if you live in an area with extremely low or high temperatures, you’ll see the most difference in your energy expenses, particularly if you’re replacing outdated single-pane windows.

Those savings may not be enough to completely earn back the cost of installation, but when you factor in government incentives, the price is much more competitive. Check the DSIRE, or the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency, which lists all existing incentives and policies for renewables and energy efficient products.

For homes in warmer climates, however, another option is to purchase windows with spectrally selective low-emissivity coatings. Argon-filled double-pane windows may help with heating, but they’re less effective at reducing cooling costs. Low-e coatings, on the other hand, reflect air conditioning back into a home’s interior and reduce overall solar heat gain by up to 70 percent. Low-e glass is more expensive, but the price has come down in recent years. For instance, a standard low-e window from the Home Depot now costs under $400.

Other Benefits of Energy Efficient Windows

Of course, the cost of windows is not the only way to measure their worth. More efficient windows will also keep you more comfortable, as well. Additionally, the Department of Energy has found that replacing outdated single-pane windows has a positive environmental impact. The energy saved in heating and cooling offsets up to 6,205 pounds of CO2 emissions—the equivalent of 317 gallons of gasoline!

Taken as a whole, the higher market value, energy savings, and increased comfort level of new windows make a strong argument for a replacement project, particularly if you have outdated, inefficient windows. With that in mind, it’s time to check one home improvement project off your list!

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