The Window Conundrum

The Window Conundrum


Should they stay or should they go?

Window replacement is one of the costliest home improvement projects. Between materials and installation, you could easily be looking at more than $1,000 per window. With so much cash on the line, you really don’t want to make the wrong choice, because it’s not an easy—or inexpensive—one to fix.

So how can you be sure you’re making the right move? First, determine if replacement is really necessary. Are your existing windows repairable instead? This kind of work may not come cheap. Replacing rotted wood, fixing broken mechanisms, and putting in new glass can add up to a few hundred dollars per unit, but the benefits are great. Reusing your older windows allows you to maintain the stylistic integrity of your home. It supports skilled local laborers. And it minimizes the consumption of resources, making it a pleasingly green choice, too.

True, old windows lack some of the benefits of modern technology. Contemporary models offer double (or even triple) glazing and low-e coatings, all of which are designed to minimize heat transfer. But when it comes to energy efficiency in your home, windows are not the biggest factor. Only between 10 percent to 25 percent of a home’s heat is lost through them. If efficiency is your primary concern, best to first tackle that through additional insulation in your walls, attic, and basement.


This is not to say that new windows are always a bad choice. Swapping in wood windows for aluminum sliders is a great move aesthetically, especially for an older home. Still, tread carefully. If you go for a product with low-e coating, ask your installer to bring samples of the glass to your house. Then hold these up to your open windows, so you can see if the light quality differs from what you have. There are some coatings that are nearly colorless, and others that tend toward green, which could really change how the room feels. (Think golden sunlight morphing into something muted and cool.)

Second, be sure to clarify how the new windows will look. Wooden window frames are wider than aluminum ones, meaning the glass openings will be smaller, so they’ll let in less light. Check, too, to see how the installers plan to treat the trim around the window opening. Ask them to bring samples of moulding sizes and styles so you can visualize how it will work in your space. And be sure to clarify if you are planning to stain or paint the new windows. If you’re staining, they’ll need to be crafted from unfinished wood, not anything that is already primed.

As Parks and Recreation’s Andy Dwyer so memorably said, “Windows are the eyes to the house.” And, as with your own eyes, you should ensure your windows are well tended. So arm yourself with information, vet your options, and be prepared to shell out some cash. These eyes may be made of glass, but they need attention, too.

Sarah Coombs is an interior designer based in Alameda.


Published online on April 18, 2017 at 8:00 a.m.

Faces of the East Bay