Choosing the Right Replacement Windows for Your Home

Choosing the Right Replacement Windows for Your Home

Find the right windows for your home and climate

Published: September 2014

Find Ratings

Contrary to what some ads say, saving money on your energy bills is not the reason to replace your windows. That’s because it could take decades to recoup the $8,000 to $24,000 you’ll spend on new windows and installation. Energy Star-qualified windows can lower your energy bills by 7 to 15 percent. That’s only about $27 to $111 per year for a 2,000-square-foot, single-story home with storm or double-pane windows, or $126 to $465 if that home has just single-pane windows. So why bother?

New windows can make your home quieter, more attractive, and less drafty, and they don’t need painting. They’re also easier to clean than old windows with combination storm and screens and can reduce your carbon footprint.

To check which windows can keep out rain and wind without leaking, we tested 21 double-hung and four casement-style windows, two of the most popular configurations. We found significant differences between brands in types and frame materials. Working with an outside lab, we subjected the windows to heavy, wind-driven rain and winds of 25 and 50 mph at outdoor temperatures of 0° F and 70° F.

Replacing windows involves many decisions. If you want new windows, we’ll help you choose the best ones for your home. Here’s what you need to know.

Price doesn’t indicate performance

Among double-hung clad wood windows, a pricey and bottom-rated window from Andersen, $500, wasn’t good at keeping out cold air and was so-so at keeping out rain. A $450 Kolbe vinyl double-hung was impressive, but a top-rated $260 Simonton was even better. All of the casement windows aced all tests. Prices varied by frame material; the top-scoring American Craftsman vinyl window, $260, is the least expensive casement. All prices are for a 3x5-foot window.

Match windows to climate

Look at the overall scores in our window Ratings, then zero in on test results that apply to where you live. If your home is exposed to high winds and cold temperatures, look for windows that were excellent at low-temperature wind resistance.

Don’t overspend on options

Upgrades can easily add 50 percent or more to the base cost of a window. Focus on features that add value. Low-E coatings improve efficiency, but triple glazing probably isn’t necessary unless you live in an extremely cold climate. Double-hung window sashes that tilt in make cleaning easier, and full screens allow optimum airflow when the top window is lowered and bottom window raised. Finer meshed screens let more light through and do not obscure the view as much as standard screens.

Anatomy of a window

1. Frame provides structure.

2. Cladding protects the exterior of a wood or composite window and is made of vinyl, aluminum, or fiberglass, eliminating painting.

3. Sash is the moving part of the window; it can be tilted in for easy cleaning.

4. Insulated glass Double-glazed windows have a sealed space between two panes of glass filled with air or another gas that insulates better than air. Argon gas is standard on many windows, but the energy savings won’t justify paying extra for it.

5. Low-E coating is transparent and improves the efficiency of the glass by reflecting heat yet letting light in. The coating is applied to the outside of glass in warmer climates to reflect the sun’s heat out; in colder areas, it’s applied to the inside glass to keep heat in.

6. Grilles are decorative and are available in different patterns to match architectural styles.

Know the numbers

You’ll see these numbers on Energy Star and National Fenestration Rating Council window labels:

U-factor, or U-value, usually ranges from 0.20 to 1.20. The lower the number, the better the window is at keeping heat in.

Solar heat gain coefficient is between 0 and 1. The lower the number, the better the window is at blocking unwanted heat from the sun. In warm climates, you’ll want the lowest number you can find; in cold areas a higher number is better.

Visible transmittance indicates how much visible light a window lets in and is between 0 and 1. As the number increases, so does the light.

Tallying the cost of added features

Even if you choose budget-friendly windows, upgrades can easily add 50 percent or more to their cost. Here’s a look at upgrades and starting prices for a 3x5-foot double-hung window, according to experts at Pella.



Grilles between the glass (GBG), $20

Installed between layers of insulated glass, these add a more traditional look, without having to clean individual sections of glass.

Hardware-finish upgrades, $50

Oil-rubbed bronze or satin nickel ups the price.

Impact-resistant glass, $325

It may be required in hurricane zones. It also reduces noise.

Jamb extensions, $50

The factory adds depth to the window frame when the frame isn’t as thick as the wall.

Nonstandard colors for exterior cladding, $25

Nice but not necessary.

Prefinished interiors on wood windows, $100

The factory paints or stains the interiors so that you don’t have to.

Simulated divided light grilles (SDL), $150

Grilles are adhered to both the room side and exterior of the glass for a more authentic look. This may be required in historic districts.

Triple insulating glass (triple IG), $100

Adds a third layer of glass, which reduces noise significantly. Energy savings are also improved, but not enough to justify the cost in all but extremely cold climates.



Window washing

Some manufacturers don’t recommend ammonia-based cleaners, such as some Windex products, for cleaning new windows. So check before you spritz.

Editor's Note:

This article also appeared in the October 2014 issue of Consumer Reports magazine

E-mail Newsletters

FREE e-mail Newsletters!
Choose from cars, safety, health, and more!
Already signed-up?
Manage your newsletters here too.

Home & Garden News


Cars Build & Buy Car Buying Service
Save thousands off MSRP with upfront dealer pricing information and a transparent car buying experience.

See your savings


Mobile Get Ratings on the go and compare
while you shop

Learn more