Replacement Windows: The Real Story

By Scott Sidler • July 14, 2014

Replacement windows
Copyright: pontuse / 123RF Stock Photo

If you own an old house you are the prime demographic for the replacement windows industry. They would love to convince you to remove all your home’s original windows and replace them with new energy efficient windows. I can hear them beginning to salivate right now. (I have excellent hearing)

The replacement windows industry is out to sell a product and sell it often. I won’t hide my bias here. I am not a fan of replacement windows.

It’s nothing personal. They are clear about their intentions. They want everyone to get rid of their historic windows and install new replacement windows. But I am especially upset with the way they are misleadingly marketing to homeowners.

I have no problem with someone believing in a product and promoting it, but these window manufacturers make extraordinary, and often unfounded, claims about their products. In fact, several replacement window companies were sued by the FTC for making false and misleading claims about how “efficient” their products really are. Read more here.

You see the commercials claiming MASSIVE energy savings, but don’t hear the news coverage about the lawsuits for false and misleading claims so the public continues to believe the lie.

These companies know that if they can get you to bite on the first sale then they will have a customer for life. Once you replace your home’s original windows you are now stuck in a constant cycle of having to replace windows every couple decades.


Don’t fall for the hype: “They are called replacement windows because you have to continually replace them.”   <—Click to Tweet this!


Replacement Window Warranties

Don’t believe me? Let the facts speak for themselves. Here is a breakdown of the warranties offered by four of the largest replacement window manufacturers in the country. These are in their own words from their own websites.

Anderson (Source: Anderson Windows & Doors)

  • 20 yrs on glass
  • 10 year on non-glass parts

Jeld-Wen (Source: Jeld-Wen, Inc.)

  • Wood & Clad Windows: 20 yrs.
  • Vinyl Windows: As long as you own AND occupy your residence, otherwise 10 years (not transferrable after 10 years).

Marvin (Source: Marvin Windows)

  • 20 years on glass
  • 10 years on non-glass parts

Pella (Source: Pella Corporation)

  • 20 years on glass
  • 10 years on non-glass parts


These are not exactly stunning warranties from the Big-4 manufacturers. A 20 year warranty on glass? Since when does glass wear out?

Historic Windows

If you’ve spent more than 5 minutes on this site you’ll know that I am a HUGE proponent of saving original windows. Whether they are wood or steel the original windows are a vastly superior product to anything on the market today (despite what the commercials say).

If you’re wondering what makes them better read my earlier post: 9 Reasons to Keep Your Old Windows

Are replacement windows more energy efficient than un-restored original wood windows? Probably. That’s right, single-paned wood windows that have been neglected for decades are not terribly efficient. But that’s not the end of the story.

What if you restore your original windows? Learn how here: How To: Repair Old Wood Windows

Add simple weatherstripping? Learn how here: How To: Weatherstrip Wood Windows

Add Interior Storm Windows? Learn more here: Indow Windows

In that case, you have an original wood or steel window that has better energy efficiency than a replacement double-paned window. 

The best part of the whole thing is that your home’s original windows, once restored, can last another century with minimal maintenance other than  occasional painting!

Am I biased because I own a historic restoration company? No, I own a historic restoration company because I know the truth and the truth has set me free, as my favorite book says.

The Math Behind Window Replacement

Do replacement windows make good financial sense? Let’s do some math and find out.

According to Remodeling Magazine’s 2014 Cost vs Value Report, replacement windows have a 81% ROI, meaning that for every $1,000 you spend on replacement windows you will recoup $810 in value. I don’t know about you, but I hate to give someone $1,000 in exchange for $810. That’s just not smart math.

What about energy savings? You will get a marked improvement in energy usage if you replace old windows with new initially. Of course, you’ll get the same, if not better, energy savings by restoring, weatherstripping, and adding storms, but let’s focus on the replacement windows right now.

Say you have 15 windows that you plan to replace at $500 each, which comes to a total of $7,500. Since most studies show that windows can account for about 20% of heating and cooling costs (not total utility costs) lets assume that you will save about 10% on your heating and cooling costs with the new windows, which would mean that the new windows have cut those costs in half. That’s a huge improvement!

I’m not sure about your energy costs, but I’ll use my monthly bill and add around 40% percent since we are pretty frugal at my house. Here’s the math below:

  • $7,500 windows costs
  • Monthly utility bill $265
  • 10% reduction = $26.50 in monthly utility savings
  • $7,500 ÷ $26.50 = 283 months
  • 283 months ÷ 12 months in a year = 23.5 years

So, my replacement windows will pay for themselves in approximately 23.5 years. Remember that’s more than 13 years after their warranty is up and they’ll be ready for replacement again.

This math just does not make sense.

The Final Verdict

In the end it’s not just about the math. To me and many others, a home’s original windows are something beautiful. They were custom made by excellent craftsman from fantastic materials. There were built to last. And if you will let them…last they will.


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53 thoughts on “Replacement Windows: The Real Story”

  1. Any advice for a recent purchaser of a “new old” house (built in 2005) with double-hung, 2-over-2 wood replacement windows? The house has 8 or 9 windows, each with a single pane that has fogged because the seal has broken. Since it’s just one pane, I hate to replace the sash. Is it possible just to replace the glass with two plain panes — no IGUs (insulated glass units)? Is a carpenter or a glass replacement company the right contractor for that sort of work?

  2. Great post! I just bought a 1914 home in Chicago, and need to address my window issues. Could you share your insights on how lead paint considerations affect your opinion of restoration with young kids in the house?

    I could happily live with my storm windows and our original windows, but my big concern is lithe lead paint that’s underneath all of the paint on the windows. I also have two young sons, including one who is teething and puts everything in his mouth.

    I know that historically, paint with high lead content was considered ‘better’ because it lasted longer and resisted water better. Of all the places in the house, windows typically have the highest lead paint content as a result. My windows and sills and jams all test positive for lead paint and the wood is degrading significantly. Even in Chicago (where this is a known issue), I cant find anyone to do the restoration work in a lead-safe way. The few compliant contractors I can find are far more expensive than even the most expensive full replacement windows.

    In this situation, what would you do? I’d appreciate any advice you have!

    Thanks so much!

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