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Boston Window Replacement Guide
Boston is well known for its brutal winters and record-breaking snowfalls; but most people don’t realize that summers can be just as bad with high humidity levels and temperatures that soar well into the 90s. With a climate like that it is virtually impossible for old, worn out windows to be able to offer a homeowner much comfort, let alone energy efficiency. In fact, the National Association of Realtors (NAR) found that 47 percent of survey participants chose to replace their windows was for just those reasons.
Considering most window renovations come with a price tag between $10,000 and $20,000, it’s important to have a solid base of understanding about when a replacement is actually necessary, what materials will best be able to combat Boston’s intense weather, and any municipal regulations that might be involved in a renovation of this magnitude. This Boston Window Replacement Guide will help give you just that, so you can confidently make decisions that will improve your home.
How to Know When a Window Replacement is Necessary in Your Boston Home
Depending upon the materials, a window assembly can last anywhere from 10 to 40 years before needing to be replaced; so, age alone isn’t always the best indicator as to whether a window is past its prime or not. However, if your older windows have begun to leak or rot, or are are no longer dimensionally stable, then it is time to give them some much needed attention. Rotten wooden frames can easily be repaired with some epoxy and a little elbow grease, allowing them to eek out a few more years of use, so long as the damage is not too extensive. With warped windows, on the other hand, there are very few tricks that will help them to have a tighter seal; although, you can use inexpensive weather stripping to add a small layer of insulation against the elements. If these windows are no longer able to open easily or at all, it is wise to move forward with a replacement so that your family has a usable emergency exit if it were ever needed. Similarly, leaky windows can present a host of issues for both your home and your family in the form of structural decay within the exterior walls and mold growth. In this instance, before you place your new windows, have your contractor thoroughly inspect the integrity of your walls to make sure that any issues are not present.
Even when a window’s framing is fairly sound, the glass itself can be incredibly energy inefficient, especially if they are single-pane windows. If your budget will not allow for a complete window replacement, installing inexpensive insulation sheeting on the glass itself or hanging thicker draperies over the windows is a great improvement, albeit a temporary one. A more permanent solution that will definitely improve your home’s energy efficiency is to install storm windows with a low emissivity (low E) coating. These windows are incredibly easy to hang and are a fraction of the cost of a full window with most ranging in price from $60 to $200 a piece. If none of these options provide you with the security and efficiency you are looking for, then it’s time to start researching new windows and budgeting for a major renovation. Most homeowners who go this route, though, are elated that they did. Plus, they get the added bonus of a major bump in their home’s property value, sometimes upwards of 80 percent of the cost of the renovation, according to NAR!
Window Materials Matter in Boston
The most important step in this process is making sure you make a wise investment, and the best way to do that is to understand what types of window materials are suited to the extreme Boston climate.
Energy Star and the 2012 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) have made it incredibly easy to determine which windows will give you the best energy efficiency by only providing their stamp of approval to windows that have met very strict benchmarks. These windows will have been evaluated to determine the rate at which heat is transferred from the home’s interior to outside (U-value), how much solar heat radiation is able to enter the home through the glass itself (Solar Heat Gain Coefficient, SHGC), and the volume of air leakage due to pressure and temperature changes. In general, you should look for windows with a U-value less than or equal to 0.22 and a SHGC of 0.4 or below. In order to ensure sufficient insulation and limited air leakage, triple-paned windows that have been gas-filled are definitely ideal. Low E coatings are, also, a wise addition since they further aid in blocking out any unwanted radiant solar heat. Obviously, there is a fair amount of latitude when it comes to what will work best in Boston, and you should have a professional evaluate your own home’s orientation and level of shading to determine which specific criteria will work best for you.
As for framing materials, technology flooded the market with new options and greatly improved upon the classics; however, the three most common materials are still wood, vinyl, and aluminum. You will absolutely want to avoid any type of metal framing, like aluminum, or windows that contain interior metal workings since this will greatly reduce their ability to block out freezing temperatures. So long as you choose thermally improved and insulated framing, either wood or vinyl will be excellent choices. In deciding between the two, it all comes down to aesthetic, budget, and longevity. Wood is easily the most classic, durable, and versatile of the two, though, it will require some maintenance and is one of the more expensive options. On the other hand, vinyl is completely maintenance-free, quite affordable, and vastly improved from the vinyl of the past in terms of durability. However, color selection tends to be limited and is unchangeable, and it is still prone to structural degradation over time from the elements.
Window Building Permits, Inspections, and Fees for Boston Residents
The City of Boston requires that a building permit be obtained before beginning a renovation of this time. Though a homeowner can file the necessary paperwork, it is prefered that your registered Home Improvement Contractor (HIC) be the one to do so. An application can be submitted either in person at the Permits and Licenses office located on the 5th floor of 1010 Massachusetts Avenue, Boston, MA 02118 or online at the Permits and Licenses webpage. So long as no structural changes are planned and your home does not fall within a historical district, you will not most likely not need to submit plans for review.
A fee of $20 plus $10 for every $1,000 of the projected cost of the renovation will be assessed for most applications at the same time you file your paperwork. For example, if your renovation is projected to run $12,000, your fee should be $140.
Once work has been completed, you can schedule a final inspection with a city official on their website. If you have any questions along the way, feel free to contact the permit counter at (617) 961-3271.