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I live in the North Eastern corner of US, and my house has 50 year old single-pane wooden windows. They held up not too bad, considering, but now I want to replace them all. Things that are important to me are:

  • Decent energy efficiency (this, hopefully, is easy to judge -- the numbers are "printed on the box")
  • Durability (this is a tough one to know up front. All I know is that I hate broken seals)
  • Maintenance free-ness
  • Not astronomically expensive.

Coming from the IT world, I usually obsess with specs and numbers, and new shiny things tend to excite me -- after reading various stuff online for a bit, my thinking goes: "vinyl is cheap for a reason, wood is nice looking but requires maintenance, and fiberglass is where it's at!" But is it even the right approach? Should I stop obsessing about technology, and instead focus on finding a great manufacturer (under the assumption that great vinyl window will live longer then an average fiberglass one).

I guess my actual questions are:

Is window technology important? And if it is, then what's good? What are the good window manufacturers? What else am I missing (let's talk about just picking the right windows, and not even start on installation)

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+1 - Looking to replace some windows myself and really have no idea what to look for. –  Eric Petroelje Jul 27 '10 at 13:23
    
Why do you want to replace them all? –  Peter Jul 27 '10 at 13:37
    
@Peter I'd imagine because they all suffer from the same problem - they're old, single-paned windows in a cold climate. –  ceejayoz Jul 27 '10 at 15:46
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@Peter -- they also don't slide all that well and are noticeably drafty in the winter. Plus the previous owner was a little paranoid, and "secured" them by screwing bolts through the sashes. Coincidentally, I do have time horizon of 20 years (and the price of energy does not seem to go down). –  user76 Jul 28 '10 at 1:49
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Do you have storm windows? –  dotjoe Jul 28 '10 at 21:59
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4 Answers 4

Good windows are very important in New England. Growing up in an old house in New Hampshire I can tell you first hand that you can feel the heat getting sucked out the windows.

Now technically I don't know much about what makes a window energy efficient, but I do know that people who do know a lot about it give them an "ENERGY STAR" rating. Home Depot will let you filter by windows that have this rating, then you can sort by price. This doesn't answer your entire question but will give you two of you're bullet points (cheap + energy efficient).

If you happen to live in Massachusetts you can give the people at http://www.masssave.com a call and they'll come down and give you a free energy assessment, which I would guess include windows.

Finally, windows qualify for some of those government rebate programs. See: http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=tax_credits.tx_index

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I'd recommend look at the Low-Emissivity and Argon glass types. I recently installed them in my house. They are a little more expensive than regular windows, but they save on cooling and heating costs. My Low-E windows are double paned.

Also, look at good insulation and caulking on/around your windows.

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I replaced the widows in my house this spring, and you're asking a lot of the same questions I asked.

First, the cost of the windows themselves is only part of the equation. You also need to consider the removal of the old windows, installation of the new ones, and the finish work - because chances are, all the trim, and all of the interior sills will also need to be replaced. Installation can actually be 50% of the cost of the job, and a poor installation will ruin any value you might get from buying a top-notch window.

There are a few things to consider when looking at the windows themselves. First, as you point out, is the construction. I ended up going with vinyl - again, a quality vinyl window and a cheap vinyl window are two different things - the local shop here had examples of a number of different windows cut open so you can see the difference. Cheap windows may not be insulated, or may be made up of different pieces glued together, rather than a single extruded piece.

Next, the glass. You can get single, double, or even triple panes. Some use argon between the panes, some don't - the sealed, argon-filled windows offer better insulation. Then there's the low-e coating on the glass - it can be applied in different ways, which will affect the durability and effectiveness of the window.

You need to consider casement vs single hung vs double hung. Are they on a 2nd or 3rd story? You'll probably want to get a window that allows you to clean the outside without having to get up on a ladder - most double-hung windows will allow you to clean it from the inside of the house. If you're putting windows into a bedroom, you have to allow for a certain size for egress - you may need to go with a casement window in that case.

The bottom line is, check around - get at least 3 estimates, unless you're planning on installing them yourself. See what's included in the estimate - one of our estimates included a single line item for "Installation", while another had 3 pages of details, down to the number of board-feet of trim, cans of foam insulation, and the cost of the building permit. Guess which one we went with?

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One important factor when choosing a material is environmental.

Vinyl windows may yellow and/or deform under intense heat and sunlight. Vinyl may also become brittle in extreme cold. So if you live in a place where you regularly expect extremes in temperature, I would avoid vinyl. That being said, I live in a place that has a lot of shade and has normal summers and winters and I'm very happy with my vinyl sliding glass doors.

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