Replacement windows are big business. Advocates say they save money, conserve energy, last longer, work better, and are good for the environment. But do these claims hold up?
A common claim is that newer windows will deliver big savings on utility bills. However, Energy Star averages for new windows in your Atlanta home are just $84-313 per year. Architectural Digest says replacement windows cost on average $700 apiece, so a home with 25 new windows may realize savings in an about 88 years. The estimated lifespan of newer windows is 15-50 years depending on the type, so you may need to replace the windows again before any savings is realized. It should also be noted that windows compatible with a historic home generally cost more than the average.
Brandon Thiele, founder of Chicago Energy Consultants, told National Public Radio that replacement windows are last on his list of money-saving recommendations for homeowners. He recommends storm windows, sealing holes with caulk, and increasing insulation levels for a more immediate payback.
A second reason people advocate for replacement windows is to save the environment. This claim doesn’t consider the environmental impact of removing all your windows and putting them in a landfill. A study conducted at Temple University found that wood windows have a lower environmental impact than aluminum and PVC windows, which both have shorter life expectancies and disposal challenges. Wood windows are made of individual parts and can generally be repaired instead of requiring full replacement. Wood window restoration and upgrades can also achieve an energy performance indistinguishable from replacement windows.
A third claim made by replacement window companies is that they will improve the value of your home. However, an October 2023 Better Homes & Gardens Magazine article cites a low return of 63% on the investment in replacement windows. Stated another way, you may realize a loss of over one third of what you spent.
Another important consideration for owners of historic homes listed on the National Register is that the original window design is a criterion for being a Contributing structure. Before replacing windows, consider window restoration. Wood windows made prior to the 1940s are likely made from old-growth wood that is more dense, durable, rot resistant, and dimensionally stable than new wood.
Retailers of replacement windows point out that homeowners want windows that open easily and lock securely. Window function can be restored to existing windows by local companies for around the same cost as window replacement in many cases. New and reproduction locks are available on the internet if needed. Contact the Atlanta Preservation Center for guidance on window repair and replacement, including recommendations for service providers.
What about tax credits? The federal government has established tax credits for home energy efficiency improvements. These credits can also be used on less expensive, more environmentally friendly options to replacement windows, including qualifying shades, shutters, awnings, and window film. Additionally, state tax credits are available for restoration and repair of historic homes with original windows. This means you have multiple options for receiving tax credit savings without replacing your windows.
- Wendy Kirkpatrick, History & Preservation
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David Y. Mitchell, Atlanta Preservation Center
Please note that we do not provide tax, legal or accounting advice. This material and any other material we provide has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, tax, legal or accounting advice. You should always consult your own tax, legal, and accounting advisors before engaging in any project.