Window Replacement Basics: What You Need to Know

Whether it's a stray rock through a pane of glass, pulleys that won't quit squeaking, or the mysterious draft that has just got to be coming from somewhere, the need for a new window is the sort of thing that presents itself immediately. Here's how to deal with window replacement.

Replacing a window in a house is the kind of thing most homeowners don’t ever consider — until it’s got to be done ASAP. Whether it’s a stray rock through a pane of glass, or pulleys that won’t quit squeaking, or the mysterious draft that has just got to be coming from somewhere, the need for a new window is the sort of thing that presents itself immediately.

There’s something to be said, then, for taking thoughtful and preventive care to consider window replacement. In fact, many windows that work technically fine could still stand to be replaced — consider it an upgrade, not a replacement. After all, the majority of heat and cool lost by a house leaves through the thin panes of glass that separate within from without.

What Causes a Window to Need Replacing?

The first thing to realize is that most window “replacements” only replace parts of the window that need upkeep, not the entire window itself, as the frame is more a part of the house’s structure than it is part of the moving window feature. So when the panes of glass and the moving parts of a window mechanism are replaced, the actual frame stays in place.

It is technically possible to tear out the whole window itself and replace it with new wood, but this process is cumbersome, potentially damaging to a home, and extremely difficult and expensive — the only reason to do so would be if the frame of the window itself were rotting or posing a serious structural threat to part of a wall.

What Do I Need to Know About Materials?

There are a number of options when it comes to materials used to replace windows.

Wood framing: The most common framing in American homes is wood framing. It has a traditional look and is lightweight and relatively inexpensive. However, wood framing must be painted, and paint can chip. Wood is also more susceptible to weather and moisture, and can warp or rot if not treated properly and maintained constantly.

Vinyl framing: One of the benefits of vinyl framing is its cost. Relative to other framing, it is inexpensive. They also do not require painting, resealing or other upkeep, though in time the vinyl frames can fade with long-term sun exposure.

Metal framing: Metal frames are particularly versatile, and can be found in houses as well as in other supplemental structures like sheds, patios, enclosed porches and more. Often metal framing is chosen for aesthetic reasons, to match the rest of the home, but they do not perform well with energy efficiency tests, as metal conducts heat better than wood or vinyl.

Double panes: Also called a double-glazed window, this is the current standard in building. Two thin sheets of glass contain a middle layer of gas (either natural air or an inert gas like argon or krypton) as an insulator. Double-pane windows can almost double the energy efficiency over their previous, outdated single-pane counterparts, saving significant money.

What Can I Do Myself?

While most big jobs will require hiring a window professional, there are a few jobs that homeowners and ambitious DIYers can tackle on their own. With a little research and some patience, a successful job is possible. The jobs include:

  • Glass pane replacement
  • Unsticking a stuck or painted-over window
  • Window grout removal and cleanup
  • Fixing broken window glass
  • Fixing or replacing broken window screens
  • Patching holes in window screens
  • Fixing or repairing window shade mechanisms

When Should I Hire a Professional?

Reaching out to window-replacement companies can be a tricky proposition, and can be as intimidating as trying to hire movers. The industry as a whole is not strictly regulated, and the sales tactics some companies use can be particularly aggressive. The truth of the matter is that the profit margins in replacing windows are high when compared to other construction and manual labor jobs, and the appeal of “easy” — or easier, anyway — money can attract unscrupulous people.

How Much Will Window Replacement Cost?

The cost of specialized labor can be daunting when it comes to window replacements. In a worst case scenario, where a homeowner of an average-sized American home decides to replace every single window in the house, the job could cost thousands of dollars, even up into the double-digit thousands. Keep in mind, though, that the time saved by hiring a window replacement company, and the loss of materials and broken glass you’d inevitably cause on your own, should be a factor swaying you towards hiring professionals. Also, new windows in a house can be a major selling point when placing a house on the market.

How Do I Find the Right Window Replacement Company?

Because the window replacement field can be tricky, it’s advisable to reach out to a number of companies for a written estimate of what the job will cost. Contact more than two or three companies — if you speak with five or six, you’ll see just how widely quotes can vary. Do online research to find a reputable company, and ask around to friends and family who also own houses.

It's also smart to read honest reviews from homeowners just like you. You can use the site to find a window repair company and look into what the community thinks of their business practices and what sort of experience neighbors have had.

When hiring a window replacement company, make sure the company is properly insured, both for liability insurance and workman’s comp. Replacing windows is not a particularly dangerous undertaking, but there are risks involved — glass can break and present a hazard, or the windows being replaced could be high above the ground. Insured companies and workmen protect both themselves and the homeowner.

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