When it pays to replace your windows

New windows save energy but the payback time can take years

Published: August 08, 2014 03:00 PM

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Owning a home has its joys but there’s always something to add to the to-do list. Replacing all the windows comes to mind when rooms feel drafty and flyers arrive in the mailbox claiming you’ll save lots of money on heating and cooling. Sounds great, but here’s why saving money isn’t the reason to take on this project, plus a look at the best windows from Consumer Reports’ latest tests.
“If your windows are drafty, don’t easily open or close, you’re tired of painting them, or don’t like the way they look then it’s time for new windows,” says Rico DePaz, the engineer who oversees our window tests. “Sure, you’ll cut your heating and cooling costs, but it could take decades to recoup the thousands of dollars you’ll spend on new windows and installation.”
Estimated savings. Energy Star-qualified windows can lower your energy bills by 7 to 15 percent. Energy Star estimates that’s about $27 to $111 a year for a 2,000-square-foot single-story home with storm or double-pane windows, or $126 to $465 if your home has just single-pane windows. But replacing all the windows is expensive—you can spend anywhere from $8,000 to $24,000 or more. So tally the money you spent on energy for a year or so and take a look at Energy Star’s estimated energy savings by region.

The best from our tests. We tested 21 double-hung and four casement-style windows, two popular choices, with frames made of wood, vinyl, and fiberglass. All were 3x5-foot. 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. We found that price didn’t indicate performance and there were big differences between brands in window types and frame materials. The casements excelled at keeping out cold air and rain and can be used in any area of the country. But among double-hung some are better at keeping out cold air or water so look at the overall scores in our ratings then focus on test results that apply to where you live.
If high winds and cold temperatures are common where  you live, look for windows that excelled at low-temperature wind resistance, such as the top-rated Andersen 400 Series. A double-hung window, the exterior of this wooden window is clad in vinyl so it won’t need painting and at $310 per window it’s a CR Best Buy. If you live in a rainy climate take a look at the Weather Shield EnduraShield, $430 each. Among double-hung wood windows it’s the only one to ace our rain tests and wind resistance was impressive. The wood is clad in fiberglass so put away your paint brush. Four vinyl double-hung windows aced our rain tests and several offer impressive or better wind resistance, including the top-scoring Simonton Pro-Finish Contractor, $260 each.

Our window Ratings tell the full story and given the expense of this project you can rely on the results of our window tests to help you learn as much as you can before talking to installers.

 —Kimberly Janeway (@CRJaneway on Twitter)

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