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Replacement Window Buying Guide

Window Image

Windows are a key element of home décor, often taken for granted. They affect light, ventilation and temperature as well as the comfort of the home's occupants. Windows also contribute to architectural identity, conveying period and style. When you're choosing new windows, be sure the styles you select suit your home both practically and aesthetically.

Do I Need New or Replacement Windows?

What's the difference between a replacement window and a "new" window? Aren't they both new? Yes, but there is a difference. Normally used in new construction, "new" windows have a nailing flange used to attach them to the rough opening in the wall. They're attached with nails driven into the exterior casing or brick mould on the outside and through the jambs on the inside.

A replacement window has no nailing flange and fits into an existing window frame. Replacements are easier to install and preferred unless the existing frame is damaged and needs replacing.

Window Styles

Windows come in many shapes, sizes and types and are made from a variety of materials. So how do you select the right ones? There are several things to consider: your budget, your home's style and how you want the window to perform. Think about the relative importance of ventilation and security and how easy it should be to maintain. And decide whether you want to emphasize the window as a focal point or have it serve a more practical purpose.

Windows are either fixed or operable. Fixed windows are stationary units mounted within a frame. They're great for letting in light and exposing views but provide no ventilation. Among the more visually interesting choices are octagonal, half-circle or ellipse windows. There are several different types of operable windows. All operable windows come equipped with hardware for opening and closing the sash, latching and locking.

Sliding Windows
sliding window

These work well at sealing in energy. They may have one or more fixed panels and one or more panels that slide in horizontal tracks. Only half of the total window may be opened for ventilation at one time.

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Double-Hung Windows
double-hung window

Classic in style, double-hung windows have an upper, outside sash that slides down and a lower, inside sash that slides up. Hidden springs, weights or friction devices help lift, lower and position the sash. With certain types, the sash can be removed, rotated or tilted for cleaning. If only one sash slides, the window is called vertical sliding or single-hung.

Shop for Double-hung Windows     

Shop for Single-hung Windows

Casement Windows
casement window

Hung singly or in pairs, a casement window is operated by cranks that swing the sash outward or inward. It opens fully for easy cleaning and offers excellent ventilation because it can scoop in breezes. Casement windows are used primarily in new construction.

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An awning window is like a horizontal, top-hinged casement window that tilts out at the bottom, offering partial ventilation, an unobstructed view and reasonably good security. A top-opening style, typically placed low on a wall, is called a hopper window. Awning windows are used primarily in new construction.

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Accent or Picture Windows
picture window

Style and variety are the key features of this group. Choose a unique shape such as round or octagonal or perhaps a traditional rectangular, bay or bow window.

Shop for Accent and Picture Windows

Glass Block Windows
glass block window


The thick break-resistant glass enhances home security, allowing privacy but still letting light into your home.

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Skylights and tubular skylights provide a lot of natural light with a minimum of space. Many look just like an overhead light fixture – only no electricity. Some kits Tubular skylights are pre-assembled to various degrees to make installation easy.  Due to their relatively small size they work with any roof support type without cutting and reinforcing joists.

Shop for Skylights

Window Materials

Windows are made from a variety of materials, including wood, aluminum, steel, vinyl and fiberglass-or from a combination of these materials. In general, those that offer better weather protection cost more, but they pay off in low maintenance and energy savings.

  • Wood — Wood tends to be the most popular window material, particularly for the parts of a window that are seen from indoors. Wood doesn't conduct cold or allow for condensation as much as other materials. Wood windows typically come unfinished unless you order them otherwise. If you intend to paint them, save work by purchasing them already primed on the exterior or interior surfaces of the frame and sash. You can eliminate painting altogether by buying them pre-painted in some standard colors.
  • Clad-Wood — You'll find that many of today's windows are wood inside and clad on the outside with a tough, attractive exterior jacket of extruded aluminum or vinyl. The cladding, available in a few stock colors, covers both sash and frame; it'll keep windows virtually maintenance-free for years. With vinyl, the color permeates the material so scratches don't show. Aluminum may scratch, but it's tougher, available in a wider variety of colors and easier to paint. (Vinyl and aluminum shouldn't require painting.) Neither type will rust or rot.
  • Aluminum — Aluminum windows are more durable than bare wood, thinner, lighter and easier to handle. They're insulated with a thermal break of extruded vinyl and sometimes also foam, which reduces heat loss and condensation.
  • Vinyl — Vinyl windows are made from rigid, impact-resistant polyvinyl chloride (PVC), with hollow spaces inside to make them resistant to heat loss and condensation. Inexpensive vinyl windows may become harder to operate over time and allowing for air leakage.

Window Orientation and Size

The view out the window is as important as how much light and ventilation the window provides. Windows connect us to the outdoors and enhance the sense of interior space. For this reason, the placement and size of your windows — and what you'll see from them — is no small consideration.

Where your windows are placed, how large they are and what type they have a significant effect on the amount of light and ventilation they provide.

A south-facing window lets in the most light and is desirable in all but the hottest climates. A north-facing window provides soft, diffused light. Because of the low angle of the sun in the morning and late afternoon, light from east- and west-facing windows may be intense.

Unfortunately, glass isn't nearly as good at conserving energy as an insulated wall, so glazed doors and windows can be responsible for a major part of a home's energy loss if they're not well-chosen. Storm windows and doors and window coverings help retard heat movement, but the surest and most effective way to save energy is to utilize high-performance glazing.

An example of high-performance glazing. Check two important ratings when buying windows and glazed doors: the R-value and the overall U-factor. An R-value measures a material's resistance to heat transfer; the higher the R-value, the better the insulating properties of the glazing. The U-factor measures overall energy-efficiency. It tells you the rate at which heat flows through the entire window, door and frame. The lower the U-factor, the more energy-efficient the window or door.

Insulating glazing typically has two, or sometimes three, panes of glass sealed together with either air or argon gas trapped between them to act as an insulator. Some units have a plastic film suspended between two glass panes. If the unit is properly sealed, condensation shouldn't occur between the panes; sometimes a drying agent (called a desiccant) is used in the spacer (the strip inside the panes, which helps keep them apart) as added insurance against condensation.

Window Glass Options

You'll discover that there are also a number of glass products available for special uses, including safety glass and stained glass. Here's a closer look at both high-performance and specialty glazing:

  • Low-Emissive (or low-E) Glass — Low-E glazing has a film applied to one of the glass surfaces or suspended between the panes. This coating or film allows light in, but it prevents some solar rays from being transmitted through the glass. A Low-E coating can help keep your home cool on a hot day by blocking longer-wave radiant heat from entering. On a cold day it can prevent the radiant interior heat from escaping through the glass. Tinted Glass — Usually given either a bronze or gray cast, tinted glass reduces glare and limits the amount of light and heat from the sun (solar gain) in your home.
  • Safety Glass — Safety glass is a good choice if there's any risk of a person walking through a window. Tempered glass is heat-treated during the manufacturing process and crumbles if broken rather than shattering. Laminated glass has a film of plastic that holds the glass together if broken.

Storm Windows

storm window

Storm windows are an economical way to increase the energy efficiency of single-pane windows. Storm windows reduce the flow of outside air into the home. The space between the storm window and the existing window acts as added insulation. Storm windows are usually mounted to the outside of your home’s primary windows.

Shop for Storm Windows