Replacement windows: An overview on materials, glass and energy efficient options

August 29, 2011

Consumers today have a wide variety of replacement windows to select from. New and replacement windows come in a wide range of materials, insulation options and prices. The qualities of a medium-range, value window and a low-range, premium window may be nearly the same. Even if cost-cutting is your main concern, you'll find the best value in a replacement product by comparing materials, glass and energy efficiency options.

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Window materials set the baseline for your total window installation cost. Better Homes and Gardens (BHG) recommends that you evaluate frame quality with your budget in mind. Consumers can choose from these frame materials:

  • Wood
  • Vinyl
  • Composites
  • Metal

Value window frames are typically manufactured from vinyl, one of the fastest-growing material choices in the nation for its low cost, ease of maintenance and durability. Wood is still the material of choice in premium window frames and adds value along with preserving the historical accuracy of your architecture. Metal is more durable than wood, but not as attractive.


All worthy windows today come with at least double-panes of glass separated by energy-efficient spacers. There's wide variance in cost between inexpensive windows with air-filled thermal breaks and high-quality windows filled with argon or another insulating gas.

The greater the insulation qualities of the gas fill and total number of panes, the higher the quality of the window. Budget accordingly. If you choose increased energy features, it may raise your total window installation cost.

The Department of Energy recommends Energy Star-rated windows--products that meet these two minimum requirements:

  1. Heat gain and loss (air leakage, solar heat gain coefficient, and U-factor)
  2. Sunlight transmittance (conduction through the frame)


Energy-efficient options

Depending on your climate and your budget, glass features like these can be a worthwhile investment:

  1. Heat-absorbing glass
  2. Low emission (low-e) coating
  3. Laminated glass
  4. Reflective glass
  5. Tinted glass

Premium windows come with high-rated e-coatings and tints that protect your home from sunlight and heat transmittance. The coatings keep cooling bills down and protect your furnishings from cracking or fading. At the same time, many value windows come with a range of coatings, too.

When shopping, check the Energy Star label on the window models to compare heat gain and loss. Read the manufacturer's warranty, especially if you plan on remaining in your home for years to come.

Proper coatings and energy-saving options can cut your utility bills by as much as 15 percent, according to the Department of Energy. If your existing frames won't require structural repairs, you can add new windows from $300-$700 a window, according to Cost Helper. Top of the line, premium windows can run as high as $1,000 each.

The assortment of options--even from a single manufacturer--makes it easy to build the right solution for your home, climate type and budget. There's no reason to compromise on performance.


Energy Star • Residential Windows, Doors and Skylights

About the Author

Woodrow Aames has written articles and profiles for Yahoo, Microsoft Network, Microsoft Encarta, and other websites and print magazines around the world. He holds an MFA degree and has taught English abroad.

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