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How Replacement Window Costs Add Up

Replacement windows can cost $500 each — much more if new frames are required. And it can take decades to recoup the cost of installing energy-efficient windows.
July 23, 2018
Home Ownership Costs, Mortgages
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Home window replacement costs could use a little transparency. Budget estimates can be wide-ranging, and the case for energy-efficient windows may not be open and shut.

The national average window replacement cost is about $500 per window, according to HomeAdvisor, a service-pro referral site. Count the number of windows in your home, and you’ll quickly compute that this is no small upgrade. And that estimate doesn’t include extras, such as replacing frames or choosing modern designer-look treatments.

» MORE: See the cost of other home improvement projects

Window replacement considerations

To begin, you’ll want to choose the right windows. That starts with size and style. Here are the most common types of windows:

  • Double-hung: slide open from the top and bottom.
  • Single-hung: one half remains in place while the other half slides to open.
  • Sliding: move horizontally along a track.
  • Bay: extend out from a room.
  • Casement: placed on side hinges and open outward.
  • Picture: large panes of glass that don’t open; suitable for letting in light and views.
  • Awning: open outward from top-mounted hinges.
  • Transom: above a door or another window.
  • Stationary: fixed panes that don’t open.

If frames have to be replaced, your choices will include wood, vinyl, aluminum or metal frames, as well as those made with composite materials and fiberglass.

Vinyl is a popular choice because of its affordability and durability. But all available materials have pros and cons, and it’s essential to match the architectural style of your home. There’s good reason to consult with a professional contractor.

Glass choices can be a bit mind-boggling, as well. From laminated panes for extra strength to tinted and tempered glass, your decision will be based on priorities related to security, durability, privacy and cost.

You’ll also want to consider the energy efficiency of the windows you install. Glass enhancements can include glazing and coating that reflect heat, as well as gas fills and spacers that form a heat transfer barrier between panes.

How to reduce window installation costs

Costs for window replacements can vary widely due to the range of materials, window styles and enhancements to choose from — and, of course, the labor expense. If your replacement requires new frames, your costs can double, because the window installation is then considered “new construction.”

To trim your budget, you’ll need to choose lower-cost materials and limit the extras. As for labor, getting several estimates from qualified contractors can help you determine if you’re paying a fair price for the work to be done.

Is DIY an option?

Deciding whether replacing your home’s windows is a do-it-yourself project may depend on just how ambitious you are and whether you have to replace the frames or can use window inserts.

To trim your budget, you’ll need to choose lower-cost materials.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s “Building America Solution Center” details the process of window and frame replacements and says that such a project is usually a part of a more extensive renovation project. That’s likely more than most do-it-yourselfers are willing to take on.

HomeAdvisor also says that the tools and expertise required for window replacements “belong to the professionals.”

“In fact, by the time the average homeowner has determined the size of the window they need and compiled a basic list of tools and materials required, a professional can be halfway through the work,” HomeAdvisor adds, perhaps a bit cheekily.

If you’re as scrappy as the woman who built a house from a kit, you may be unfazed.

» MORE: How to pay for home improvements with your home’s equity

Do window upgrades enhance home value?

Window replacements probably add less to your home value than you might think, especially considering the costs. But all significant home improvements fall short of totally recouping your investment. Remodeling magazine says that on a typical vinyl window replacement project, you’ll recover about 74% of the nearly $16,000 average national expense.

What about savings from energy-efficient windows?

Let’s do the math on potential energy savings.

  • Energy efficient windows save from 7% to 15% on your heating and cooling bill, according to the Department of Energy.
  • The DOE also says the average household spends about $2,000 annually on energy costs.
  • And nearly half (48%) of those expenses are allocated to heating and cooling a home, so $960.

With an average cost of $500 per window, according to HomeAdvisor (very high-efficiency windows are likely to cost more), here’s how the numbers add up:

Installation costs: 10 windows x $500 = $5,000

Annual heating/cooling savings: 15% of $960 = $144

Years to recoup costs with annual efficiency savings: $5,000/$144 = over 34 years

Vinyl windows last an average of 20 to 40 years — and most manufacturers offer warranties of only 10 to 20 years — so, the energy savings are likely not realized during the effective lifetime of energy-efficient windows.

But estimates of energy savings vary, and window upgrade options and the climate where you live may lead you to an entirely different conclusion. Talk to a pro before you decide one way or another about energy-efficient windows.

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