Whether you have original windows or tragically cheap replacements like we do, there will come a time when you’ll need to replace them (or possibly restore them). It’s not something that is done very often so if you are going through it, chances are you have never before, and you may never again. So we thought a complete guide to replacing windows might be helpful.
Where Do You Start
One of the first things you will likely want to consider is if you are replacing your windows as part of a larger renovation project or just as a stand alone project. The main difference is that in a larger renovation you may want to use new construction windows rather than replacement windows. If you are removing interior mouldings and trim in a renovation project you can replace the windows brick to brick, with new brick moulding and a new frame. This option requires removing the interior trim and interior finishing work needs to be done. The advantage is that you can get a slightly larger window, with more glass and more light. You can also avoid having to use flashing around the windows on the exterior, but more on that below.
Replacement windows are smaller than the full opening and designed to sit within the existing frame. It’s a much less invasive installation process so it is what you’ll want to do if you just want to replace your windows without a lot of other peripheral work. Since the windows are installed on top of the existing window frame, the new framing will need to be covered by flashing. Flashing is a material (often sheet metal or aluminum) that is used to weatherproof around the window and to cover the exposed framing.
There are quite a few options out there for window material but we are going to focus on 3: vinyl, aluminum clad wood, and wood.
Vinyl windows get a bit of a bad rap. The technology only became popular in the 1990’s and has improved dramatically since then. You might be familiar with some that were installed many years ago and there are some that are poorly constructed and may not have lasted very long. But there are great vinyl windows that may sometimes be the best option for your project. Vinyl windows are very low maintenance so they don’t require regular upkeep. They come in many colors and finishes and do a pretty good job of replicating a wood look. A well constructed vinyl window can do a great job of insulating. Their biggest drawback for most people are the aesthetics. While they have gotten better, putting a vinyl window on a traditional home like a Brownstone feels a bit wrong. They might be better for modern installations.
Aluminum Clad Wood
Usually referred to as wood clad or just clad, Aluminum clad wood is the best of both worlds. They have the beauty of wood on the interior and the durability of aluminum on the exterior. They also have the advantage of the insulating qualities of wood. It’s a very durable and long lasting option. There is very little maintenance needed since the exterior is clad with aluminum.
Wood windows are beautiful. The look of wood is considered the most high-end and of course what the original windows would have been made of. For that reason anyone who is restoring a historic home and wants to be true to the home’s origins would want to use wood. In fact, if your home is in a landmarked area you will likely have to use wood windows. Wood is a great insulator since it’s excellent at inhibiting the transmission of cold and heat through the frame. The drawback to wood windows is that they require regular maintenance. They need to be painted and sealed throughout their lifetime.
Ordering Your Windows
You can hire a window company to come out to measure, order, and install your windows. If you are doing replacement windows this is likely what you will do. If your window installation is part of a larger renovation project then your contractor might be doing the install. They will measure and they may order the windows, or they may rely on you to order them. Once they arrive your contractor will install them.
You should check with the window supplier for specific lead times, but generally you can expect anything from 6 weeks to 16 weeks, and some custom windows may even take longer. Currently lead times are affected by Covid and they have been unpredictable, so order early!
Your installer will move through your home and remove one window at a time and install the new one. They will insulate around the window frame. Sometimes flashing is used on the outside (especially with replacement windows) to cover the visible frame. On the inside often a piece of trim covers the exposed part of the frame (for replacement windows). Installation for an entire home might take a few days depending on how many windows you have.
Design and Functionality
There are several design options besides the window material. They will come in various colors and hardware options. You can even choose to have grid lines or not to have grid lines. For functionality you can have single hung (one operable sash), double hung(two operable sashes), or casement windows (one pane of glass that tilts open, sometimes with a crank).
New windows can dramatically transform your home. They can give a face lift to every room and the exterior. New windows will also make your home more energy efficient and more comfortable.