Replacement Window Buying Guide

Replacing old windows can enhance the look of your home and make it quieter and less drafty. Many double-hung windows currently on the market are now easier to clean and maintain than older windows with combination screens and storm windows.

And increasingly, value-conscious consumers are no longer captive to standard, fat white synthetic frames that scream “replacement window.”

New colors, especially for the exterior portion of the window, are offering more design options. Anthony Carrino, vice-president of design at Welcome Homes, an online design-build company based in New York City, says he's seeing more replacement windows with black exterior frames. “Utilizing black to make your windows pop off your facade adds both depth and visual interest,” he says.

Another trend: installing windows without muntins, the vertical and horizontal grids that make a full pane of glass look like it’s split into sections, Colonial-style. “Homeowners are definitely looking to maximize glass area and gain a more contemporary look,” says Chad Kleis, vice president of sales at Window World, a manufacturer and installer based in Wilkesboro, N.C. “This gives the customer an open feel with lots of character.”

That said, you need to consider other factors to make your new, efficient windows blend into your existing home. Key is professional installation, especially if you have an older home where, say, window frames have shifted over time and are no longer squared off at the corners. 

Use this replacement window buying guide to learn which materials, types, and features are most important to consider, and to judge an installer. We also provide ratings based on our windows testing to help you choose.

How to Choose Replacement Windows

How We Test
To find out which windows are best at keeping your home comfortable and dry, we tested double-hung windows for resistance to wind and rain. (We don’t test single-hung windows because they’re less common.) 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 significant differences among brands.

Given the high cost of replacing windows, the more you know, the more informed a choice you can make. Contractors often have their preferred brands, but don’t rely on a contractor to choose your windows for you.

Ways to Save
If your existing frames and sills are still sound and square, you’ll save money on materials and labor by using replacement units. They’re also known as “pocket replacements” and fit into your existing frames. If your frames are too old and deteriorated, you’ll need full replacement windows, also known as “new construction” windows. These include the frame, sill, jambs, and usually what’s known as a nailing flange, which attaches the window to the outside wall around the opening.

Homeowners who install Energy Star certified windows through 2021 are eligible for a federal tax credit of 10 percent of the windows’ cost, up to $200 total. The credit does not apply to installation costs but does apply to both replacement windows and new construction. (Note: You won’t qualify if you’ve already used up the IRS’ lifetime limitation of $500 on home energy-efficiency upgrades.) 

Energy Star certified windows can lower your energy bill by about $27 to $197 per year for a 2,000-square-foot single-story home with storm windows or double-pane, clear glass windows, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, which runs the Energy Star program. The savings to replace single-pane windows can range from about $101 to $583. The range of savings depends on local climate conditions, utility rates, and the characteristics of an individual home.

And when you sell your home, you may be able to recoup a large portion of the project costs. According to national estimates by Remodeling magazine, 69 percent of a window-replacement job is recouped in the selling price. A window-replacement job is among the top 10 home projects in terms of return on investment.

Nevertheless, taking on a window replacement job is not for the fiscally faint of heart. The national average cost to replace one window is around $500, says Thumbtack, an online local-services marketplace. Nationally, average costs to replace all the windows in a home range from $8,379 to $14,175, depending on the window style, region, and other factors. That figure includes all labor, permitting, and disposal costs.

Finding an Installer
Even the best windows won’t deliver the look or comfort you expect if they’re installed incorrectly. Many major window manufacturers train and certify installers for their specific brand of window. Using the same contractor for purchase and installation means that if a problem arises later, there will be no doubt who is responsible for fixing it; the window seller can't blame it on the installer, or vice versa. Get multiple bids and look online for certification from the American Window and Door Institute or Installation Masters. Any bid you receive should include specifics such as window brand and model, number of windows, size, and type, plus any add-on features. Installation details should be noted, and labor and material costs broken out separately.

Glass Housings: Window Materials

Increasingly, solid wood windows are becoming a niche market. Instead, homeowners are flocking to wood-look vinyl windows. They’re also seeking out wood-look composite frames that include some made of fiberglass, or a combination of wood and plastic. We test both vinyl and composite windows at Consumer Reports. You may still find some all-aluminum windows, but their popularity has declined with the development of vinyl. Our tests find that what material a window frame is made of doesn’t guarantee performance, and neither does price. For instance, you’ll find excellent vinyl-frame and composite double-hung windows that perform better than more-pricey wood. In fact, the highest-rated wood window in our tests is on a par, performance-wise, with a vinyl window half its price. Here are the types of window materials to consider.

A wood window frame.

Wood Frame

These window frames are made of solid wood, with the exterior covered in aluminum or vinyl to protect the wood from the elements and reduce maintenance because they will not need to be repainted. You can choose from a variety of hardware finishes, allowing you to pick a style that matches your home.

Double-hung windows Ratings
A vinyl window frame.

Vinyl Frame

They’re typically the least expensive and do not need to be painted or stained. They’re usually white, and most can’t be painted, so keep that in mind if you want to coordinate your windows with the color of the exterior paint. Vinyl frames have fewer hardware options.

Double-hung windows Ratings
A fiberglass window frame.

Composite Frame

These frames, typically in the midprice range, are made from fiberglass or a combination of materials and typically do not need to be painted or stained. They may have parts made of solid wood and others from laminated wood, or plastic with embedded wood fibers. The combination is typically used to give the look of a solid wood window, while trying to make the underlying structure more stable than that of solid wood. Fiberglass windows are made by embedding fiberglass needles in plastic, making them stronger and stiffer than vinyl, but there aren’t many brands available.  

Double-hung windows Ratings

The Glass Menagerie: Types of Windows

In addition to materials, variables include the number of panes, how the windows are hinged, how they operate, and how much ventilation they offer. Here’s a look at the various types.

A double-hung window.

Double-Hung Windows

This is the most common type of window in homes built in the 1980s and later. The lower inside sash slides up and an upper outside sash slides down, improving air circulation and making full screens ideal.

Double-hung windows are easy to clean because you can tilt the sash on any of the windows in our tests. They're also a smart choice if you plan to install a window air conditioner, though most now have a fairly high trim on the sill that may require significant shimming to stabilize the air conditioner.

Some double-hung windows in our tests are better than others at keeping out cold air or water. That's important if you live in a place where it's chilly and windy, such as Chicago, or where it's rainy, like the Pacific Northwest. 

Double-hung windows Ratings
A casement-style window and an awning-style window.

Other Types

Awning-Style Windows
They're hinged at the top and open outward. Like casements, the sash presses against the frame, so they close very tightly.  

Casement-Style Windows
Though a smaller part of the market, they provide an unobstructed view. They're hinged on one side, and a crank lets you open them outward. When fully open, casements allow good ventilation and easy cleaning. They're usually more airtight than double-hung windows because when closed the sash locks tightly against the frame. However, window air conditioners cannot be installed in casement windows.

Fixed Windows
These are used where lighting but not ventilation is important. They’re airtight and are available with decorative glass accents or in unusual shapes.

Hopper-Style Windows
The opposite of awning windows, they’re hinged at the bottom and can open either inward or outward.

Single-Hung Windows
They look like double-hung, but only the bottom sash moves. (They usually cost less as a result.) The top sash is sealed to keep cold air and water out.

Double-hung windows Ratings

Video Buying Guide

Watch our buying guide video below for more information on how to find the best windows for your house, and handy shopping tips for when you’re at the store.  

Features to Look For

Here are a handful of important features to consider when you are shopping for new or replacement windows.

Replacement Window Brands

Andersen, Marvin, and Pella are the leading window brands. Many leading manufacturers in the window industry market multiple brands. Andersen and Marvin sell some lines only to authorized installers, and home centers such as Lowe's and Home Depot sell multiple lines. Use these profiles to compare windows by brands.

Alside vinyl windows have several replacement and new-construction lines, including double-hung, casement, and bay windows. Alside windows are custom made to fit existing window openings. They are sold predominantly in the Eastern and Midwestern parts of the country at independent home centers and Lowe's.
Andersen is one of the leading manufacturers and marketers of windows. Renewal by Andersen windows are available in multiple replacement and new-construction lines in widely sold double-hung and casement styles. Andersen window lines include wood, clad, vinyl, and composite construction, and also low-emissivity (low-E) and argon-filled (gas-filled) glass for high efficiency. The company markets a line of stock sizes and has extensive special-order and custom options. They're widely available through independent home centers, dealers, and Home Depot. Andersen also markets a line of composite windows under the Renewal by Andersen name through certified installers.
Atrium vinyl windows have several replacement and new-construction lines, including double-hung, casement, and sliding windows. Atrium offers a wide selection of custom-built vinyl windows in a variety of styles and colors, as well as a variety of glass and grid options, including low-emissivity (low-E), argon-filled, and triple-pane glass. They are sold at independent home centers and through Lowe's ReliaBilt service.
Jeld-Wen is one of the leading manufacturers and marketers of windows, which are available in multiple replacement and new-construction lines in widely sold double-hung and casement styles. Jeld-Wen window lines include wood, clad, vinyl, and aluminum construction, along with low-emissivity (low-E) and argon-filled (gas-filled) glass for high efficiency, and are sold through independent home centers and dealers.
One of the leading manufacturers and marketers, Marvin offers windows in multiple replacement and new-construction lines in widely sold double-hung and casement styles. The company's window lines include wood, clad, and composite construction, along with low-emissivity (low-E) and argon-filled (gas-filled) glass for high efficiency. Marvin markets a line of stock sizes and has extensive special-order and custom options. They're sold through independent home centers and dealers, and are premium-priced.
One of the leading manufacturers and marketers, Pella makes its windows available in multiple replacement and new-construction lines in widely sold double-hung and casement styles. Pella window lines include wood, clad, vinyl, and aluminum construction, plus low-emissivity (low-E) and argon-filled (gas-filled) glass for high efficiency. The company markets a line of stock sizes and has extensive special-order and custom options. Its windows are widely available through Pella company-owned stores, dealers, independent home centers, and Lowe's. Pella also markets a line of windows under the ThermaStar by Pella name at Lowe's.
ReliaBilt vinyl windows are available in multiple replacement and new-construction lines in widely sold double-hung and casement styles, plus low-emissivity (low-E) and argon-filled (gas-filled) glass for high efficiency. ReliaBilt windows are available in stock sizes and extensive special-order and custom options. They're sold at Lowe's.
Simonton vinyl windows are available in multiple replacement and new-construction lines in widely sold double-hung and casement styles, along with low-emissivity (low-E) and argon-filled (gas-filled) glass for high efficiency. Simonton windows are available in stock sizes and extensive special-order and custom options. They're sold at Home Depot and through dealers.
Window World is one of the leading manufacturers, dealers, and marketers of replacement windows. The company sells a variety of window configurations, including double-hung, casement, and bay. Window World offers a variety of stock window sizes and provides installation. Its windows are sold at Window World retail centers and through partnerships with independent home centers.
Weather Shield wood-clad windows are available in multiple replacement and new-construction lines in widely sold double-hung and casement styles, along with low-emissivity (low-E) and argon-filled glass for high efficiency. Weather Shield windows are available in stock sizes and extensive special-order and custom options. They're sold through dealers.
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