Typical reasons for replacing old windows are to increase the energy efficiency of the home, to bring in more light, or because damaged window frames are beyond repair. On the other hand, upgrading existing windows with repairs or improving their energy efficiency will save money, and can retain the integral charm that the windows give your home.
The original wood windows of many older homes are architectural elements that enhance their charm, or in some cases, maintain their historic integrity. However, they are far less likely to be in good condition or energy-efficient. This brings up the dilemma of whether they should be restored to their original good condition or replaced with new windows. You will need to decide whether new windows will be compatible with your home’s style and age, or if they will detract from it.
Replacing old windows will lower your energy bills but it may take years to recoup the expense. Here is advice from Consumer Reports experts on when to repair your windows and when to replace them.
Points that Favor Replacing Old Windows
New windows will be well-insulated, reducing outdoor noise and lowering energy costs.
New windows, without springs or pulleys, will easily open and stay open.
Custom-built replicated old windows can be a costly endeavor.
If the existing windows are single-pane, simply restoring them will not result in energy savings.
Friction on sashes of old windows (pre 1970s) can release lead dust* into the air, risking lead poisoning.
The restoration of a home's windows can take a long time.
Window replacement is less disruptive than window restoration.
Points that Favor Restoring Old Windows
If existing windows are in pretty good shape, restoration costs will be low.
Air leakage and deteriorated frames and sashes can be remedied by window restoration.
You wish to apply for a landmark or historic designation for the home.
Damage to surrounding areas during restoration is usually minimal.
Old windows often contain lead paint, which requires special removal.*
If your home is in a historic district, your only option may be to restore the windows.
Replacing windows with stained glass or decorative grilles could reduce the home’s value.
Hiring a professional installer for replacement windows is a must for ensuring their maximum energy efficiency. Using a restoration specialist to repair old windows is a must for retaining the integrity of a historic home's windows. Your local preservation society or commission should be able to suggest a skilled craftsman or contractor to do the repairs.
* Lead-based Paint Removal -- a contractor who disturbs lead-based paint must be trained in lead-safe practices. Check the Environmental Protection Agency website for a list of certified professionals.