Replacement Windows, The Basics
Replacement windows usually refer to new windows that mount within the frame of the existing window. They are typically made without a structural frame; instead, they rely on the strength of the original window for support.
Replacement windows take the place of existing windows when they have become deteriorated, drafty or non-functional. However, replacing original windows on older houses can cause irreparable harm. In many historic preservation districts, window replacement is only an option of last resort. New replacement windows may greatly decrease energy loss and outside noise, compared to a single-pane window.
Replacement Windows Basics, What You Need To Know
The addition of a storm window to a single-pane window can often outperform some replacement units. The majority of newer replacement windows carry the "Energy Star" rating for home efficiency, and may be custom ordered to meet the customers preferences, both functionally, and aesthetically. While most replacement windows are used in residential applications, there are numerous commercial applications as well, such as storefronts, offices, and workshops.
Replacement vs. New-Construction Windows
Replacement windows should be distinguished from new-construction windows. New-construction windows have a "fin" along the outer frame. This fin provides a surface so that the window can be nailed in from the outside of the home before the application of siding. Unfortunately, new-construction windows may be of inferior quality as builders continually try to keep costs low. Replacement windows have no such "fin". This allows them to be installed with minimal disruption to the existing trim/siding. They are set into place in the existing window frame and nails or screws are driven into the window from the inside of the window jamb.
Installation may be done from the inside by the removal of the inside trim, or from the outside by the removal of the outside "stops". Outside installation requires either replacing old stops with new ones, or a custom metal wrap, but can be useful if the inside trim is too precious to be disturbed. All windows should be sealed inside and out with a high quality silicone caulk. While replacing your home windows can be a do it yourself project, it is most often best accomplished by a window replacement contractor.
Replacement Window Materials
Replacement windows are available in several materials including wood, fiberglass, aluminum-clad wood, vinyl-clad wood, vinyl, or recently, a composite of wood and plastic. Vinyl replacement windows are a very popular choice as they are the least expensive and now comes in many pre-molded colors. This also appeals to those seeking a low-maintenance lifestyle, such as condominium owners, senior citizens and lower- or fixed income families.
Most installations are completed with a custom metal "wrap", which acts as an added barrier against the elements. PVC-coated aluminum comes in a myriad of colors and requires no painting. Solid vinyl exterior trim is also an option.
Replacement window screens can be full-sized, half-sized or retractable. A variety of materials, from aluminum to durable vinyl/fiberglass "pet-screens", are available.
Benefits of Replacement Windows
Cost /Benefit Considerations
Replacement windows can increase the resale value of newer homes (post-1970). Replacement windows are sometimes less expensive to install than actually replacing the original window. This is primarily due to the compromise in quality, as replacement windows are rarely equal to the integrity of older wood windows, which were commonly constructed of old-growth woods.
Insulated glazing is one feature that helps save energy. The distinguishing feature being a second layer of glass, or a "double-pane." This second pane creates an air pocket, which is the "insulation" referred to in marketing materials. Another benefit is the option of adding "low E" plastic film, which cuts energy costs up to 30% by greatly reducing temperature transference. Other options include triple-glazing (a third pane of glass), higher quality spacers between the panes, which reduce the failure rate that allows "fogging" or condensation to form between the panes, and sealing gases between the panes that have higher insulative qualities than air, such as argon or krypton gases.
Replacement windows constructed of synthetic materials, such as vinyl, composite and fiberglass, may be limited in the types of paints they will accept. However, most synthetic windows are selected by owners who do not plan to repaint their windows. Aluminum-clad and wood replacement windows may be repainted with any type of paint.
Replacement Window Options
"Double-hung" windows are the most common traditional window. They have an upper sash and a lower sash, both of which slide up and down in the window opening. "Single-hung" windows appear as "double-hung" windows, but their upper sash is fixed in place and does not slide.
Most "hung" models now feature "tilt-in" sashes for easier cleaning of the exterior surfaces. "Casement windows" swing out similar to a door and are typically operated using an interior hand crank.
Sliding windows, or "sliders", are sometimes used in openings that are wider than they are tall.
Non-operable or "fixed" windows are common in larger openings such as picture windows. Replacement picture windows can often be custom manufactured to fit large or irregular openings however at a cost premium.
For restricted budgets, smaller replacement windows can be used in the existing window opening, with plastic trim strips used to infill the resulting gaps. This is considered a lower quality repair and most reputable contractors will be reluctant to perform this type of work, as it is likely to compromise both architectural and resale values in most neighborhoods. Read more on Do It Yourself Window Replacement.
Downsides of Replacement Windows
Due to the heavier weight of insulated glass, the window frames in replacement windows must be made thicker for added support, especially on larger windows. As a consequence, the window glass area is slightly reduced by the resulting thicker frames. This results in a reduction to the amount of light transmitted through the replacement window.
While the reduction in light may be unnoticeable to some, the thicker frame elements can sometimes have a negative aesthetic effect, especially in historic houses.