We seem to be surrounded by older homes outfitted with white vinyl replacement windows. They’re hard to miss when you pass through a neighborhood of charming older homes.
The world seems to be sold on the idea that replacing older wood windows with new vinyl ones will increase the efficiency of their home and greatly reduce their heating costs. Unfortunately, this is not the case as demonstrated through building science.
Vinyl replacement windows are simply inserts which are installed into existing window frames after the older wooden sashes are removed. Here is where the myth begins, or lack of understanding building science.
The existing window (and its frame) were installed in the building using antiquated materials and methods, which is most often the actual source of air infiltration making them inefficient. Furthermore, older windows often have concealed counterweights to assist in raising and lowering the operable sashes. These counterweights travel in open spaces concealed behind the wall adjacent to the window which add to the overall inefficiency of the window.
When replacement vinyl windows are installed they do provide a better insulating value for the actual glass area of the existing window. They do not solve the problem of air infiltration around the existing frame and through the concealed counterweight space.
There are several superior alternatives to vinyl replacement windows. The first is to repair the existing wood windows and install new, more advanced storm windows. The second option is to completely remove the existing window units and install new windows units often referred to as “new construction” windows. These new windows may also be vinyl, but they may also be wood units with a clad exterior or all wood units. There is much debate over which product is the best solution. The answer to that question is best found in meeting the desires of the homeowner. New construction vinyl windows offer low maintenance, but cannot be painted if a color change is desired in the future. Wood Windows often offer greater architectural style and detail over their vinyl competitors, and, wood or wood and clad window units, installed properly over greater overall energy efficiency.
Low price building solutions are often too good to be true. In the case of low-cost vinyl replacement windows, it may not be money well spent.