Replacement Window Buying Guide

Replacing old windows can enhance the look of your home and make it quieter and less drafty. Many double-hung windows currently on the market are now easier to clean and maintain than older windows with combination screens and storm windows.

Use our replacement window buying guide to learn which materials, types, and features are most important to consider. We also provide unbiased ratings to help you choose.

How to Choose Replacement Windows

How We Test
To find out which windows are best at keeping your home comfortable and dry, we tested double-hung windows for resistance to wind and rain. (We don’t test single-hung windows because they’re less common.) Working with an outside lab, we subjected the windows to heavy, wind-driven rain, and winds of 25 and 50 mph at outdoor temperatures of 0°F and 70°F. We found significant differences among brands.

Given the high cost of replacing windows, the more you know, the more informed a choice you can make. Contractors often have their preferred brands, but don’t rely on a contractor to choose your windows for you.

Ways to Save
If your existing frames and sills are still sound and square, you’ll save money on materials and labor by using replacement units. They’re also known as “pocket replacements” and fit into your existing frames. If your frames are too old and deteriorated, you’ll need full replacement windows. These include the frame, sill, jambs, and usually what’s known as a nailing flange, which attaches the window to the outside wall around the opening.

Federal tax credits for Energy Star certified windows expired at the end of the 2016 tax year. But some utilities, as well as city and state programs, offer rebates or incentives if you buy Energy Star windows.

To be clear, though, saving money on your energy bill is not the primary reason to replace your windows. It could take decades to recoup the $8,000 to $24,000 you’ll spend on new windows and installation. 

That said, Energy Star certified windows can lower your energy bill by an average of 12 percent. That’s about $27 to $111 per year for a 2,000-square-foot single-story home with storm windows or double-pane windows and $126 to $465 if your home has just single-pane windows, according to Energy Star.

Finding an Installer
Even the best windows won’t deliver the look or comfort you expect if they’re installed incorrectly. Many major window manufacturers train and certify installers for their specific brand of window. Using the same contractor for purchase and installation can minimize the chances of problems arising later. Get multiple bids and look online for certification from the American Window and Door Institute or Installation Masters. Any bid you receive should include specifics such as window brand and model, number of windows, size, and type, plus any add-on features. Installation details should be noted, and labor and material costs broken out separately.

When you only have a certain portion of your budget to devote to repairs and renovations, you want to be sure that you’re getting the biggest bang for your buck. That means figuring out which repairs will be worth your money—which isn’t always immediately obvious.

For instance, you may think that a major improvement like a kitchen or bathroom remodel would be a sound investment. And who wouldn’t want a luxury whirlpool tub or a built-in glass cooktop? These kinds of renovations do add to your home’s value, but for the money you’ll spend, they’re not as smart an investment as a more practical update, like a window replacement.

Of course, the market value is just one way of looking at an investment. If you consider your home’s energy efficiency when you purchase new windows, they offer potential savings on your monthly utility bills, as well. And beyond monetary returns, efficient windows also add to your home’s overall comfort—a value that’s immeasurable.