7 ways to decide which windows to replace first

Iris Price | Improvement Center Columnist | March 3, 2016

Old wooden windowWhen you close your eyes at night, do you envision money flying out of your old, cold, inefficient windows? Do you fall asleep dreaming about replacement windows for the whole house to save on energy costs?

Probably not, but you might toss and turn worrying that your budget to replace home windows can't support changing them all at the same time. According to the Remodeling 2016 Cost vs. Value report, an upscale vinyl replacement window project costs an average of $14,725 nationally; for wood replacement windows, that figure climbs to $18,087.

Don't lose sleep because you can't upgrade all of your windows. The reality, according to energy.gov, is that while improving your windows' energy efficiency can contribute to lowering your overall energy use, it takes years of energy savings from replacement windows to recover the cost of a whole-house window replacement project. In the meantime you could more affordably upgrade home windows a few at a time with energy-efficient replacements.

So how do you decide which windows to replace first and what type of replacement windows to choose? You prioritize your choices based on reasons other than energy savings.

7 ways to decide which home windows to replace

Which of the following reasons for replacing your windows poses the most urgency for you? If you want…

  1. Curb appeal, then replace your street-facing windows. Who's to say it's not a game changer for how much you enjoy living in your home? Attractive street-facing windows not only make potential buyers and neighbors take notice, they can make you smile every time you come home. When choosing a style to impress, aesthetics count as much as the other reasons on this list. If you like to look out on the street as much as you like giving passers-by a peek at your interior décor, consider bay windows, garden windows for a kitchen overlooking the street, or large picture windows.
  2. Ventilation, then focus on replacing windows that don't open or that aren't airing out the house the way you want. Casement windows work particularly well to direct air into the house even if you don't have an opposing window for cross ventilation.
  3. Easier maintenance, then replace higher-story windows first. Homes with more than one story can pose a problem if you like to clean your own windows and don't trust your ladder-climbing abilities. Windows with panes that you can tilt in allow you to clean your windows as often as you like without hiring a window washer.
  4. Noise reduction, then get replacement windows for the rooms where you need peace and quiet. You might have the convenience of living close to where the action is, but you don't want to hear the action when you it's time to sleep or concentrate. Installing double-pane windows may provide better sound insulation if you currently have single panes in the rooms like bedrooms, a home office, or a media room. Double-pane windows can help, too, if you're generating a lot of noise from inside your home and your neighbors are complaining. For serious noise reduction, get windows with panes at least 1/4" thick, and if possible, with at least two inches of air space between the panes. Use of special sealant is recommended for windows that open. Sealing them permanently to keep out hardcore noise may be necessary.
  5. Comfort, then replace windows in rooms that get too much direct sunlight in summer or stay frigid in winter. Even if you don't think energy-efficiency and lowering your utility bills is enough of a reason to spend the money to replace every window in the house, sometimes extra hot or extra cold rooms make life miserable. Focus on that side of the house or those specific rooms, and get the most energy-efficient windows to combat heat or cold.
  6. Expanded views/more light, then replace windows in your brightest, airiest room first. Maybe you're not selling your home anytime soon and don't care what the neighbors view of your house looks like, but you might want to take better advantage of the view that made you fall in love with your home in the first place. Install a picture window, a larger window, or a high-performance window that allows in more light while reducing heat gain for better energy-efficiency.
  7. UV protection, then replace windows on the side of your home that gets the most sunlight. Replacement windows with low-e coatings can reduce UV rays that cause your furnishings to fade. If you've recently invested in beautiful décor in particular areas of the house or new carpet, you probably want to keep it from looking washed out for as long as possible.

Choose replacement windows that provide features to address your needs, but don't forget about improving energy efficiency. Improve the year-round energy-efficiency of your remaining windows until you can replace them by making use of window coverings with insulating properties, tinted window film, temporary storm windows, and new weather stripping.

About the Author

Iris Price is a single Baby Boomer whose antidote to a lack of retirement funds was to launch a long-delayed career as a writer. While others her age concoct bucket lists and travel the world, she bought a new-construction home and obsessively creates lists of must-have home improvements and personal realization goals. She specializes in writing about home services and self-motivation.