New Windows...are they Worth the Pane?

Picture of two old arched windows on the side of a brick building.

Replacing your home's original windows might not help you accomplish what you were hoping at least not as well as you might have hoped, especially considering the price. Windows have an effect on how a home looks, feels and performs. Some of these ways are better known than others and simple solutions to resolve older window shortcomings are often overlooked. I hope a better understanding of windows and their role in home comfort and efficiency helps you make a more informed decision about whether replacing your home's old windows is worth the "Pane"!

While the window replacement industry seeks to provide firm comfort and efficiency justification for the cost of replacing your home's older windows, in most cases, there is little truth in these claims. Or at least it doesn't require replacing the window to enjoy the benefits that new windows provide. This has to do with how our homes manage heat and how our bodies perceive comfort. Think of radiant heat like the warmth you feel on your skin from the sun even when the air around you is cold. We use window treatments like shades and curtains to control radiant heat gain and loss through windows. Conductive heat transfer unlike radiant heat moves through materials that are touching each other. We slow down conductive heat transfer in our homes with insulation. Convective heat transfer is the exchange of cold air with warm air. Convective heat transfer is why we look for ways to seal up cool drafts that make us uncomfortable. While these explanations are gross simplification thermodynamic principles it establishes the role that windows play in separating outdoor discomfort with the expense of indoor comfort made possible with modern heating and cooling equipment.

What the building industry has learned, but doesn't necessarily share with homeowners, is that the primary source of discomfort associated with older windows doesn't require replacement to resolve. Instead of thousands of dollars to replace your windows, air sealing your windows can be done seasonally for less than a hundred dollars and permanent professional window restoration can be done for much less than the cost of replacement. This is because the ability to overcome the most significant shortcoming of older windows, air leakage, can be resolved much more affordably by improving your existing windows than it can by replacing them. The next source of discomfort has to do with the temperature of the window its self compared to the room and how that affects room temperature and average radiant surface temperatures. Window glass temperature can actually draw heat from your skin during the winter months making your feel cold even when the room temperature is comfortable. Granted modern windows offer some perceived comfort improvement in this area it is nominal compared to the price and has little comparison to what you can accomplish with the variety of window treatments available like curtains and shades that will accomplish more for less than you would have spent on new windows.

Despite all of the good reasons for keeping one's older windows. When it comes to informed decision-making about improving the performance of the home concerning comfort, affordability, and durability our windows can be a distraction lead by our deceptive senses from the primary cause of home issues related to air leaks at the ceiling and floors. Oftentimes the benefits of prescribed building envelope improvements including selective air sealing and insulation improvements will dwarf the gains you sought to accomplish by improving or replacing one's windows for a fraction of the cost. In summary, if you want to improve your home's performance focus on what you can't see, like air leaks at the ceiling, floors, and ductwork the benefits you gain here will be layered and compounding. If you want to replace your old windows do it because you wanted to, not because it was the best or cost-effective way of solving a building performance issue.