Need Advice: New Construction vs. Replacement Windows

jclark42August 31, 2010

Hi Everyone,

I'm looking for some impartial advice on a window replacement project we're working on. My wife and I are pretty confused and would appreciate any advice you can provide. Here's the story..

We live in a 18 year old house in Connecticut. We've been here seven years and intend to stay here for life. We are faced with having to replace our windows for a couple of reasons: First, more than half of the windows have significant rot/water damage to the exterior trim, sills, and drip edges. All of the exterior trim is finger-joint pine. The ends were not primed, painted, or caulked and water wicked up through the end grain and rotted them out. The most heavily damaged windows are now leaking through the stops during heavy rainfalls. Second, the current windows are incredibly inefficient. In the winter they leak so much cold air that I'm forced to cover them with the shrink-wrap window sheets to help keep the cold wind out. Third, I want to take advantage of the tax rebate before it expires. We've decided to have the work done even though it's not the best time for us financially. I don't want any more water damage than we already have, and I don't want to pass up the rebate. We are both of the mindset that if we're going to do something like this we're going to do it once and do it right.

So, we have 35 windows to replace. Our current windows are solid pine- stained on the inside, a look we want to preserve to match our existing woodwork. The windows are a mix of about half single windows and half double and triple mullion. Of the 35 windows we will need to completely replace the rotted outside trim and drip edge on 30 of them. The rotted sills will need to be replaced on about half of them. I've decided to use Azek for the trim so we don't need to worry about rot again.

We've been working with a contractor I know well and trust as an honest person. I'm a woodworker, but I have almost no experience when it comes to construction or exterior trim so I have to rely on him completely. Our contractor has been pushing us towards replacement windows and has dismissed the idea of new construction windows almost completely.

My question is this- if we're going to rip out all of the exterior trim, and there is significant damage to the sills and mullions, does it make sense to consider replacements, or should we be looking at new construction?

Here are some photos in case it helps:



Exterior showing extent of rotted trim and sills:

The exterior is cedar clapboard which is in good shape for the most part.

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I would recommend 2 things. First, go with new construction windows. You sense on this is correct. Second, please fire the contractor friend who recommended replacement windows. It is so clearly obvious the best way to go is with new construction that I'm scratching my head wodering how anyone could think replacement inserts is a better way to go. Get a professional window installer, not someone with just general construction knowledge. My concern would be that water is penetrating and causing the rot. I suspect the entire window framing needs to be re-flashed correctly this time.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2010 at 1:58AM
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Windows on Washington Ltd


If you are pulling the exterior trim, go flanged/new construction.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2010 at 4:00PM
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If your pics are showing your worst window, then these are very repairable windows. Why don't you and your carpenter friend just fix them. Between the two of you, you certainly have the skills and tools. And it will save you a ton of money.

There is a lot of information of the web about restoring old wood windows. Just do a search on "restoring your old windows" on Google or your favorite search engine. Restoration is recommended by objective authorities (that, people who don't profit from replacement window sales) such as the Technical Services division of the National Park Service, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Restoration rather than replacement:

1. Is about as thermally efficient as buying replacement thermal windows when quality storm combination windows are added. In some studies old windows + storm windows have outperformed dual-glazed thermal windows.

2. Restored windows last much longer. Replacement windows that reach 40 years (10-25 years is more common) before having to be replaced are rare. Many authorities are now suggesting that windows be replaced every 25 years. Restored windows can reach 200 years easily;

3. Restored windows have minimum adverse impact on the environment. Whatever impact their manufacture could have has already occurred. Manufacturing new replacement windows adds a lot of greenhouse gasses to the air just from the electricity required.

4. Replacement windows do not perform nearly as well as manufacturer's test results suggest, and you are unlikely to realize much in the way of actual savings in heating/cooling costs;

5. Restoration is cheaper by far -- generally half the cost of replacement windows.

    Bookmark   January 2, 2011 at 4:55PM
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Windows on Washington Ltd


We have discussed this replacement vs. restoration comparison before. I don't take any issue with your recommendation, just some of your questionable facts.

1. Not true...Restoration is a great option but their performance numbers do not approach good insulated glass systems that are now available. Whether or not the cost differential (if there is one) is worth it depends on the restoration or replacement cost.

2. Not True....Who says that replacement windows only last 10-25 years?

3. Questionable....There is more energy consumed in the manufacture of a window as compared to a restoration. If you are going to do some protracted energy comparisons, which window uses less energy over its lifetime. Lets add the energy of removing the storm windows every spring and summer.

4. Not True...Please see the below referenced post that goes into this in much more detail. Will you see 40% savings as some manufacturers claim, not at all. Will you see some improvement in consumption if your window contractor knows his craft, 100% chance.

5. Not True...depends entirely on the type of restoration and what is required. For comparisons sake, why don't you give me the round about cost for a wood window to have new weatherstripping, balances, exterior paint, new glazing putty, sill replacement, and a storm window installed. I can tell you that a replacement window to those same energy efficiency requirements will cost anywhere from $450-$600 for a good replacement window.

Here is a link that might be useful: Replacement vs. Restoration Discussion

    Bookmark   January 2, 2011 at 9:35PM
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Hi everyone,

Thanks for the responses. It's been more than four months since my original query so I thought I'd post an update. After talking with several other contractors and vendors, we decided that going with replacement windows was clearly the wrong choice, so we switched contractors to someone with more large-scale remodeling experience and went with new construction windows.

In the end we chose Anderson 400s and used Azek trim on the outside. The old windows came out and we found some damage to the underlying sheathing and framing, but not too much. The new windows were installed and insulated properly and the difference is huge. While we were at it we also replaced most of the edge and corner trim and drip caps on the house as this was rotting off as well. The project is taking a lot longer (we're hopefully wrapping up this week) and is costing a lot more than we thought, but I'm glad we caught this when we did as the damage would have been a lot worse if we had waited.

Interestingly, the cost of the new construction windows was actually less than the replacement windows. The labor was more, of course, but we were already being forced to replace the rotting exterior trim so that was all equal. We did have to replace the interior trim, which was not inexpensive, but in the end the project wound up costing the same because the windows were less expensive. The difference in the new trim is amazing- it's nice to have real window sills and stools, with a less generic casing around them.

The question of new windows vs. restoration was never an issue- the old windows (only 18 years old) were of poor quality, poorly installed, and leaked cold air to the point that we had to install plastic sheeting over the openings in the winter. Also, many of the window sills, mullions, and jams were rotting, so the amount of work to restore the existing windows would have been huge, We were going with new windows one way or the other.

Thanks again for your help,


    Bookmark   January 3, 2011 at 11:28AM
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Thank you for posting the update. There was never any question in my mind that new construction windows were the best way to go. Enjoy your new windows.

    Bookmark   January 3, 2011 at 11:38AM
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Windows on Washington Ltd

Great update.

As it was stated by Sky and myself, new construction was far and away your best option in this case.

Congrats and post up some pictures when you get a chance.

    Bookmark   January 3, 2011 at 2:14PM
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