Amid the storms, new windows sound good

Hirschwindows_3As wind slams against the old, rattling, leaky, single-pane windows in my house (not pictured here), a tempest brews inside about the merits of keeping the curtains closed in the daytime to keep the house warmer (which is about the most depressing idea I’ve heard in a long time).

And so getting new, snug, dual-pane, highly insulating windows is starting to sound pretty good to me. I’ve visited dozens, maybe hundreds, of remodeled homes with new windows and homeowners report the difference is drastic in how comfortable and quiet their homes have become.

And I mentioned recently, Remodeling magazine’s Cost vs. Value Report calculates that in the Los Angeles area,window replacements actually return more than they cost upon the sale of a house.

So the question is: What’s involved in replacing windows?

I came across a fascinating series of books by R.S. Means that shows how much remodeling projects cost, item by item of material and hour by hour of labor.

Here’s what Exterior Home Improvements Costs said was involved for an expert to replace a 3-foot-by-5-foot window, parts and labor:

Demolition, remove existing window sashes and interior trim: 0.4 hour labor
Window, vinyl replacement unit, 3′ by 5′, insulated glass: 1 hour labor, $774
Caulk exterior perimeter: 16 linear ft., 1 hour labor, $2.88
Insulate voids as necessary: 16 sq. ft., 0.1 hour labor, $6.34
Install window trim: 1 opening, 0.6 hour labor, $36
Paint, interior, trim, primer and two coats, brushwork: 16 linear ft., 0.4 hour labor, $1.54

Totals: Labor: 3 hours, Materials: $820.76

And, the piece concludes, a contractor’s fee for this job would be: $1,340.

The book says this project is not recommended for DIY beginners, and that experienced do-it-yourselfers should add 50% to the labor estimates.

Are these numbers accurate? It’s hard to say. They are based on good data, but all situations are different. And if you’re talking about breaking out exterior stucco that needs to be patched, and redoing flashing, those are whole other stories. And here’s something I know to be true: Measuring the exact size of your windows to order new ones is difficult. Scan the classified ads sometime and look for new windows for sale with this notation: "Ordered wrong size." If you’re going to be replacing several, buy them from a local store that will come out and measure for you. Then, if the sizes are wrong, it’s on them.

Some other books in the R.S. Means renovation cost series are:

Interior Home Improvement Costs
Kitchen & Bath Project Costs
Home Addition & Renovation Project Costs

4 Comments on Amid the storms, new windows sound good

  1. Brent

    That’s good information, Kevin. How about writing an article for Kathy so we can learn a bit more?
    As it turns out, the newest version of the book you recommend, _ Working Windows, Third Edition: A Guide to the Repair and Restoration of Wood Windows_ by Terry Meany, is due out in the future and you can pre-order from Amazon about $11.
    After some looking in Fine Homebuilding Magazine, I found one of their advertisers,, who have an array of seals that can be milled into existing woodwork.

  2. Kevin

    As someone who restores traditional windows for a living, I’m admittedly not an unbiased person when it comes to vinyl windows.
    That being said, the more I learn about vinyl windows, the better I feel about what I do.
    The best option aesthetically, economically & environmentally? Fix what you have or put new dual-glazed wood sash in your existing jambs. It is possible to have new sash made to match the original in every way (though the douglas fir is not as old-growth as what you have now).
    See these articles for more info:
    Also, see the section of Jane Powell’s book Bungalow Details: Exterior for a great discussion of window replacement versus repair.
    Also, do some web research on what the vinyl/PVC industry has done to surrounding communities in Louisiana, where it is largely concentrated. Those toxins will be entering the groundwater when your windows are sent to the landfill in 10 to 30 years.
    Finally, read this book to learn how to do basic repairs yourself, iincluding weatherstripping. It’s entertaining and informative:

  3. Brent

    I’d be more interested in repairing, retrofitting, and updating my 1950s era windows with good window seals. It’s pretty hard to replace the aesthetic value of true divided light, double hung window with an economical vinyl insert. For example, I feel that you lose a ton of aesthetic value when light can no longer bounce of a real muntin.
    I’ve heard of places that sell rubber gaskets that you can place in a newly-routed groove in your old window and which do a good job of keeping the drafts out. I’ve also read about double paned window glass, fitted to each light. I’d love to know more about those options before I went forward with boring vinyl.

  4. Aimee

    The numbers are probably right. We want to replace our windows too (they are just old, though not single pane) so we don’t have to keep our drapes pulled. It is really depressing and dark… so if you can afford to do the windows,I would totally go for it!