Windows that are more than 15 years old can be keeping your home from prime efficiency and better comfort. Replacing them with energy efficient models will keep your house much more temperate and reduce the workload on your HVAC system. Still, don't expect to recoup your initial outlay quickly.
Keep in mind, windows don't offer the return in energy savings that some home improvement projects do. Most likely, you'll see only a 7 percent to 15 percent reduction on your monthly bill, and models can net you as much as 35 percent. Homeowners who see savings at the upper end of the range have highly inefficient windows, such as single-pane clear glass windows, and are located in warm climates where energy costs are primarily related to cooling.
You should consider replacing your windows to make your house more beautiful and comfortable, not to save money. Given the substantial price tag, you won't recoup your investment through energy savings for many years, if at all. If you're planning to sell your house, you can expect a 60 percent to 70 percent return on your investment in increased home value, but in these uncertain times, that number is highly dependent on your local real estate market.
Windows aren't a one-size-fits-all product in terms of energy efficiency. In warmer climates, it's more important that windows reflect heat in the summer. In colder climates, the best windows act as insulators in winter, trapping heat inside the house.
The National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC) labels windows according to scientific measurements known as U-factor (which measures how well a window insulates) and solar heat gain coefficient (which measures how well it blocks heat from the sun). The measurements are for the entire window system, including the frame, because different frame materials such as vinyl and wood affect the window's performance.
If you want to dig deeper, check out the Efficient Windows Collaborative's Window Selection Tool. You can also research window technologies such as glazing, frames, low-emission coatings and gas fills to see what combination best suits your needs.
But if you want a shortcut to finding windows that will trim your energy bills, just look for the Energy Star label above the NFRC measurements. The Energy Star label uses a map to highlight the geographic areas where the window meets Energy Star standards.
Labor is a substantial part of the cost of a window replacement project, starting at about $150 per window and going up with the level of difficulty involved. Therefore, if you have reasonably advanced carpentry skills, you'll see significant savings if you install your windows yourself. But incorrectly installed windows won't make your house more comfortable and they definitely won't give you the energy savings you want. So don't be tempted to cheap it out if you aren't sure you're up to the task.
Also be wary of contractors who charge rock-bottom rates for window installation. As with any major remodeling job, always check references before you sign on the dotted line.
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