Is it time for new windows or are there options?

Jeffrey Anderson | Improvement Center Columnist | July 27, 2015

When it comes to windows, the philosophy of many homeowners is "let there be light." How could there be such a thing as too many windows? They can help make rooms brighter and also allow a bit of Mother Nature inside. However, when your home windows get to be a little long in the tooth, problems can appear that put a strain on your wallet as well as your patience. And when that happens, you may find yourself not quite as happy with all of that glass. So if you've got a house with plenty of windows and plenty of problems, what are some of the most common issues? And can they be repaired or is getting new windows your best option?

Purchasing replacement windows for your home can be a major investment so it only makes sense to explore your repair options prior to making the big decision. However, there can be a fine line between repair and turning your old home windows into a money pit. While every situation can be a little different, here are some of the most common window problems and options for making them go away:

  • Operational issues. As a house gets older, gradual settlement of the structure can eventually cause operational problems for windows and doors. These issues might be evidenced by a sash that's out of level or that won't close enough so the lock can engage. Gaps around the sashes or window frame can also be examples of structural changes in a home. If the window is still in good shape other than these problems, removing the interior trim and making some adjustments to the window unit or surrounding framing may correct the problem. Only experienced DIYers should attempt this type of repair without the help of a window contractor.
  • Broken or missing parts. A lot of design and engineering goes into the development of home windows so when a component is missing or broken, there's a good chance the unit isn't functioning as it should. Depending on the age of the window, parts may be available from the manufacturer or a local distributor. Larger manufacturers with a national presence often have regional customer service reps who can visit your home. Some parts of a window can easily be installed by a homeowner, but for ballasts, springs, or more complex components, using a window contractor or customer service rep is highly recommended. When only one or two windows in your home need parts, repairing them might be your best option providing the components are available, but if most of the units are falling apart, new replacement windows might be the best move.
  • Rotting or decay. Wood looks beautiful and offers many finish options, but also has a big downside - rot and decay can happen if not properly protected. If your older home windows are wood, at least some of them are probably starting to show their age. When sills and frames begin to decay, water intrusion can happen; if a sash starts to rot, glass panes can loosen allowing outside air in. Fortunately, small areas of wood decay can often be repaired. Most home improvement stores such as Lowes and Home Depot sell various products that can be used to patch wood. Once the repair has dried, a little bit of sanding is usually needed and then paint or stain can be applied so that your window is good as new. For smaller wood repairs, such as minor cracks, caulk may be all that's needed. However, repairing wood windows is much like those with broken or missing parts - if more than half those in the entire house need help, going with new replacement windows might be the smarter choice.
  • Drafts. In many cases, window drafts are caused by missing or broken parts, structural issues, or wood decay, and making the repairs discussed above should solve the problem. However, missing or insufficient insulation around the window frame can also contribute to air intrusion. When air can be felt coming inside at the perimeter of a window on a windy day, removing the interior trim and adding insulation around the frame should solve the problem. Batt insulation can be pushed into the gaps or spray foam in cans available at most home improvement stores can also be used - just be careful not to use too much as it may expand to the point where the window is difficult to operate.
  • Inefficiency. The window issue that probably affects your wallet the most is unfortunately the one without a simple repair and that is inefficiency. To make matters worse, if one window in your home is inefficient, there's a good chance they all are if all were installed at about the same time. The good news is that installing storm units or new windows with today's high efficiency designs should take care of the problem - perhaps for as long as you're in the home. And depending on how old your existing windows are, you could see a drastic reduction in your home energy costs. The government's Energy Star site estimates that replacing your old windows with Energy Star certified units may lower your home energy costs by as much as 12 percent.

So if your home has lots of windows, be glad that the light can shine in to brighten your rooms. Any sort of problems with the units can usually be repaired or solved by installing new windows.

About the Author

Jeffrey Anderson has a Degree in English from V.M.I., and served as an officer in the Marine Corps. He worked in Residential and Commercial construction management for 25 years before retiring to write full time. He spends his time writing, remodeling his old farmhouse, and in animal rescue.