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They’re not exciting, and they’re certainly not the first thing people see when they enter your home, since they are often obscured with drapery, shutters, or blinds. Your windows. When do you really need to replace them and what are the telltale signs it’s time to save up for this sizable investment? Homeowners with older varieties of windows might think about how newer, more energy-saving windows can reduce energy costs as well as enhance the beauty of their homes. Newer windows (which now have high tech UV protection — like having sunglasses for your home) can save your expensive furniture, cabinetry and carpeting from fading, crunching, and deteriorating. They also have noise abatement qualities people rarely consider. But windows aren’t inexpensive. And there are other, less expensive solutions than replacement. Nothing in a home is built to last forever, and windows are no exception. Daily exposure to weather and sunlight affect any window’s efficiency toll; the gas-filled seal on dual pane glass can leak, clouding up windows on the inside, but you may be able to get the seal fixed without replacing the window. If the seal fails repeatedly, however, it could be that the frames are warped and continuing to fix it repeatedly could present a case of diminishing returns.

 

Another reason to not replace a window is breakage. If your home backs up to a golf course, baseball diamond or some spunky Little Leaguer’s backyard and you find a hole in a window when you get home from work, don’t panic. Usually you can simply replace the glass, which is known as reglazing, saving some serious money. Weather-stripping and storm windows may also help hold off the expense of replacing your windows. Replacing windows may sometimes be your only option, however. What if they no longer open? That can happen due to your home’s foundation shifting, the frames deteriorating or the windows being painted shut by some former homeowner (never you, of course). On the other hand, you may have tried to close your windows as tight as possible to prevent a cold winter draft or dust cloud from seeping in, only to become frustrated that it doesn’t seal completely anymore. This can affect your monthly energy bill as well as eliminate an emergency escape route in case of a fire or break-in. Replacing them with new windows that are custom-built to fit the opening has the potential for saving you money every month.

 

A good test to see if your windows are transferring heat or cold is to hold your hand against them during both winter and summer. If you find the window slightly warm is direct sunlight, no big deal. Hot? Chances are good that you are overworking your air conditioner on a daily basis. Also check for drafty air leaks and water condensation around not only the window itself, but around the frames and surrounding drywall. A ton of mold problems begin with leaky windows and that can affect your family’s health. Cold air infiltrates and heat pours out through the same weak seals, finding you pouring money into overly-high utility bills. Older (single-pane) windows are especially prone to leaking and do little to block incoming light, heat and cold. If you don’t want to trust yourself to determine what’s going on with your windows, it’s easy to find someone for an evaluation. Look online for local energy auditors, independent contractors, or window manufacturers, all of whom can inspect your home and make recommendations to improve your home’s energy efficiency. It has been determined that windows are the source of up to 25 percent of energy loss. An auditor's report should tell you how well your windows maintain proper energy and moisture control.

 

If you find it’s time to replace your windows, then it’s also time to become the savvy consumer. In all but the most egregious of cases, you may not have to do it all at once. Replacing a few windows at a time may help you with budget concerns. However, it’s important to look up the different types of windows and frames you will use since this may become a long-term investment. All new windows have energy-saving qualities due to stricter building codes these days, but it’s important to get the facts on the different types of frames available to you. Aluminum frames are rarely used these days, but may be the least expensive. If you are not staying in your home for long, however, and the rest of the windows have such frames, there may be no need to go hog-wild on fancier varieties since you would never see a good return on the investment. Fiberglass (vinyl) are the most common and are used on most newer (many tract) homes. Some manufacturers have their own patented materials made to look like wood and can be outrageously attractive and long-lasting. Real wood, however, is the most costly (and some would argue, the most beautiful) varieties of frames. Wood frames are often used in custom home builds. Look up the National Fenestration Ratings Council (NFRC) for more detailed information on windows and be dubious of opinions and promises made by people showing up at your doorstep. Do extensive research on consumer review web sites such as Yelp! and AngiesList, both on the window manufacturers themselves as well as local installers.