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Are You Sure You Need to Replace Your Windows?

The most common statement I hear after "My home is uncomfortable" is "I must need new windows". My Pavlovian response has become "Are you sure?" followed by "Why do you think its the windows that are causing your problems?" The stock answer time and time again is "Well, they are single pane windows and they're drafty in the winter and hot in the summer." So they have now dedicated themselves (and $10,000 to $20,000) to replacing windows that for all intensive purposes, may be fine. Now I am not saying that replacing single pane, wood framed windows with new high efficiency windows wouldn't be a good thing, but its one of the most expensive options and its pretty low on the totem pole for return on investment, where the return is comfort.

Lets look at some common issues associated with windows, that if properly addressed, could save you a bundle. As most of you already know, most of the homes in Georgia (especially in the Atlanta suburbs) were built in record time. So how much attention to detail do you think was paid to the proper installation of your windows (and doors for that matter)?

Unsealed Framing Cavities

If you pull the interior trim off of most windows, you will find something that looks just like this. A large gap, with maybe a piece of insulation crammed in there. This is a huge source for air to pour into or out of the house. Filling this gap with a low expansion foam will not only insulate the area, but will also stop air infiltration. This is a job that can be performed by the savvy do-it-yourselfer, but if you have a lot of windows and a lot of trim, having a professional do it will insure its done properly and the trim will be replaced, caulked, and touched up.

Old and Worn Weather Stripping

Another common issue is worn weather stripping. By simply replacing the existing 10 - 20 - 30.... year old weather stripping, the sash makes better contact with the sill. This also reduces air infiltration. Weather stripping can be purchased at your local hardware store. Replacing the weather stripping on all the windows in the house will cost you an after noon of your time and maybe a $100 or so.

Lack of Proper Shading

For those summer heating issues, consider adding blinds. As you know, they come in many styles and colors, and can add a nice look to any room. Adding shading not only allows you to control the amount of light coming in the window, but it can also help you direct it as well. You can also consider adding awnings to the exterior (assuming you HOA will allow you to do so). Another option if you don't want shades or awnings is window tinting.

Convective Air Currents...... (Say What?)

When warm air comes into contact with a cool object, that air cools, causing it to drop. As this process continues over and over, a moving air current is created (#3 on the diagram). Considering the size and surface area of our windows, this can be a serious issue. Luckily, our winters are fairly short. A low cost alternative is a window insulation kit (which is fairly popular in the Northeast. Basically, the kit includes double sided tape, which you attach to the interior side of the window frame, and window film. The clear plastic film is stretched across the opening, attached to the double sided tape, then shrunk to fit with a hair dryer. When combined with sealing the cavities and new weather stripping, it can be quite effective. Not the most attractive method, but again its a lot less expensive than new windows.

Finally, I'll leave you with a little story. A recent customer in Alpharetta was referred to me because he was convinced that he needed new windows because they were "leaky, crappy windows". He had double pane windows, but they were the older narrow aluminum framed ones. He was suffering from serious comfort issues, especially in the Master Bedroom, which had a vaulted ceiling. I performed an energy audit on the home. During the blower door test, I found little to no air leakage at the windows. What I did find was mass quantities of air pouring out of his supply and return air vents. A duct blaster test confirmed those findings. Meaning, his issue wasn't the windows at all, but duct leakage. An issue fixable at a fraction of the cost of new windows. In other words, even if he HAD spent money on new windows, his problems still would not have been addressed. GET AN ENERGY AUDIT!

So as was said in a previous blog, "Don't throw money at your problems, throw knowledge. It's a lot cheaper".

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