Image: The permanent fog of a 1980s replacement window.
Friday there was an article about replacement windows in the Tribune. Like most consumer-oriented pieces, it warned about the pitfalls and pitches of various types of window replacement – wood is a better insulator but more expensive; plastics can’t match colors and look like crap; installation makes all the difference. The last point is a good one – a large fraction of people who replace their windows don’t get much energy savings because the key is the window frame and if it is not replaced, the air just runs right around those new $500 double-glazed tilt-pacs.
But the key consumer decision was left out of this article, as it usually is. How about repair? The sustainable answer, the answer that employs people but pollutes less.
I don’t care about using wood as a window replacement because the wood you get nowadays is quick-warping, fat-grained, IKEA-knotty sludge next to the wood that is in your 80-year old windows right now. I’m not bothered about aluminum replacements if they look nice. I’ll reserve judgment on the plastics.
What does bother me is the fact that the best choice – repair – is always left out. This is the fault of marketers who have a gimme gotcha scheme better than the cell phone pitch that I am endangering my wife and babies by not owning a cell phone. We have been beaten over the head about replacement windows for 15 years so we can make this huge investment decision without conscious thought.
Yes, it is hard to find contractors to repair windows – but they exist. And your repaired 80-year old window will cost less and last longer than the replacements.
My favorite part of the article was the sidebar “Is It Time For New Windows?” and the very first indicator was “Fogged glass. The seal between panes likely has ruptured.” I love it – this is a problem that can only affect windows built in the last 30 years – which gives you a sense of how long your new investment is going to last.
As the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency’s architect Mike Jackson always says – they are called replacement windows because that is what you have to keep on doing.
Hi Vince, Just read your post and past articles about replacement windows. On atleast a couple of past projects we have recommended restoring the wood windows (& installing new storms, if needed). Unfortunately convincing the clients has proved to be an uphill task. And the reason is their ‘gut feeling’ that aluminum windows with IGU’s is the choice for optimal life-cycle costs & low maintenance. Despite energy & LCA data that proves our point, it really does seem that it’s the market, inundated with false advertising claims, that fogs people’s judgement when it comes to this issue.