Posted by & filed under Renovation, Residential, Restoration.

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Windows: To replace or to repair? That is the question. Whether ’tis more ignoble in the wallet to suffer the slings and arrows of replacement expense, or to take up tools against conditions of dilapidation, and, by working on them, repair them.

The nagging controversy of window replacement vs. window repair is one that most homeowners will almost inevitably confront. There are a few different reasons the issue might arise in the first place. Maybe the windows are old and dilapidated, perhaps they are not energy efficient, the frames might be rotted, they may have deteriorated sashes, or they could be leaking air. Despite the issue, the question remains: replace or repair?

The reality is that there are pros and cons to each option. As a general principle, it’s more sustainable to repair things than to replace them. There are many behind-the-scenes detriments to replacement. For one, the windows being taken out will most likely end up in a landfill somewhere. Additionally, we must consider the sneaky embodied energy associated with replacement. Having new windows installed involves a whole process. To begin with, natural resources must be mined and processed. After the raw materials are gathered, the windows must be manufactured; this requires energy and implies, as a byproduct, the release of CO2 into the atmosphere. Next, the windows must be transported to the site. This, too, requires energy and results in greenhouse gas emission. When we adopt this kind of an overview perspective, the option of repair becomes more enticing (from a sustainability perspective) than replacement.

If your current windows are inefficient, the primary motivation for replacing them is reducing your heating and cooling bill. The reality, though, is that a complete window replacement job for the whole house could cost anywhere between $8,000-$24,000. Although your monthly bills would be lower, it could take decades to recover the upfront cost.

Repairs can be made to increase the efficiency of windows that either have an air gap or a poor R-values and U-factors. For one, new caulking and weather stripping can be applied at minimal cost to fix air leaks. A low-E coating can be applied to existing windows to reduce unwanted heat gain. Rotted frames and deteriorated sashes can also be fixed without resorting to replacement.

If you are the owner of an old house that was built before 1950, there’s a good chance your windows might actually be weighted (meaning literally a weight that is connected to the movable sash is located in the walls). Over time, weighted windows are susceptible to damage. For such a dated home, you would be hard pressed to find a window manufacturer that could match the historic style. Replacing them with contemporary windows could completely destroy the historic charm of the house. Luckily, though, repairing these old weighted windows is actually a pretty realistic DIY job. Whatever the problem is – be it that the weight is getting caught on something, the string has broken, the window doesn’t glide smoothly, etc. – it’s something that can be repaired! Check out this great video on how exactly to execute such a repair:

At the end of the day, replace if you must, but it’s better for the environment, your wallet, and possibly the charm of your house if you opt to repair instead.

3 Responses to “Windows: Replacement vs. Repair”

  1. Zequek Estrada

    It kind of makes me happy to learn the repairing old weighted windows isn’t that hard. The current house I live in is pretty old and needs some repairs. However, I don’t know if I trust myself doing a DIY.

  2. Derek Mcdoogle

    You mentioned that if your current windows are inefficient, the primary motivation for replacing them is reducing your heating and cooling bill. My wife and I were going over all of our finances last night and noticed that our energy bill was growing each month. Are there certain types of windows that are better for your home? Hiring a professional to come and repair or install new windows might be a good idea.

  3. James Bergman

    I’m actually really relieved to hear that window repairs are a good choice. I like my windows and want to make them last as long as possible. The only downside to them is that they are not good at insulating my house. However, good thick drapes do a good job of making this heat loss negligible.


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