Angie's List: Repair or replace? Best options for drafty windows in your home

If you're planning to stay in your home for a few more years, updating old windows with energy efficient ones is one of the best investments you can make. Short term: you'll save up to 30 percent on energy bills. Long term: you can expect a 70-80 percent return on your investment.

If your home has single-pane windows, consider replacing them with new, energy-efficient windows. While this investment may be costly to homeowners up front, the new windows will pay off in energy savings.

Signs of inefficient windows include condensation, drafts and warped frames due to infiltration of moisture.

Angie's List, the nation's premier provider of local consumer reviews, asked highly rated window contractors about the best window options for your home.

Windows materials range from wood, metal, fiberglass and vinyl.

  • Vinyl is the most popular choice because of their durability and the fact that they are low maintenance.
  • If you want the look and feel of wood, fiberglass is probably your best bet; but it's not inexpensive.
  • If the look and feel of wood is truly a high priority, you might be better off adding high-quality secondary storm windows with a low-emissivity glass to your existing windows. They'll offer the energy performance of many replacement windows, and often, improved noise reduction.
  • Storm windows can be a good option for homes in a historic district because of their flat, narrow profiles and relative concealability.
  • There are a variety of composite windows on the market that also look like wood, but you'll likely find the cost is similar to fiberglass.

If you're in the market for new energy efficient windows, look for these indicators:

  • U-factor: Indicates a window's overall insulating value. An efficient window should be rated 3.0 or below.
  • Solar heat gain co-efficient: Measures how well a window deflects incoming solar heat. An efficient window should be rated 3.0 or below.
  • Design pressure rating: The design pressure rating represents how well the window drains water and how strong the window frame is. You want a window with a design pressure rating between 35 and 45. The higher the number, the better the frame, the more rain drainage it can withstand, and the more wind pressure it can endure.

Angie's List Tips for Hiring a Window Company:

  • Who to hire: Work with a reputable contractor who has good references, proper insurance, a solid business record and certified installers.
  • Shop around: Get bids from at least three different reputable window companies. The salesperson should show samples of the products and provide pricing and the ratings for each window type so you can compare what fits your style and budget. Avoid companies who won't provide the American Architectural Manufacturer's Association's (AAMA) ratings
  • Window costs:  While size, materials and other variables play a role in window replacement costs, expect to pay approximately $350 to $500 per window for vinyl replacement windows - this price typically includes installation. Affordability is almost always a concern when shopping for windows, but it's important to avoid low-performing vinyl windows that won't offer long-term energy savings. You want a vinyl window with a good air infiltration rating.
  • Installation counts: Bad installation can compromise the effectiveness of even the best windows. Be sure the windows are installed according to manufacturer's instructions; otherwise, your warranty may be void.
  • Ask about lead certification: Contractors performing renovation, repair, and painting projects that disturb lead-based paint in homes built before 1978 must be certified and follow specific work practices to prevent lead contamination.
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