Replacement of just about anything is a difficult option to weigh. Or it is on an editor’s salary, at least.

Old socks and shoes? You know when it’s their time to go. Cell phones and computers? They may not let your toes hang out, but they have other means for informing us when their time has come. In a world where constant improvement is slowing, however, it’s becoming more difficult—including for windows.

It used to be easy. In fact, I can remember when it was as simple as knowing whether you had single- or double-pane glass. But that was before selecting glass became like a trip to Baskin Robbins.

Low-E coatings (and on which surfaces), spacer systems, numerous types of gas fill—that’s just the start of it. Luckily, NFRC labels do a good job of making comparisons between finished products an apples-to-apples process, but that’s only when it comes to selecting new windows. Those ratings and labels do nothing to establish how replacement products compare to what you already have.

This week, it’s been all about appliances for me, which have gone one by one in a fashion that leaves me scratching my head and doubting the current state of quality across numerous brands. First it was the microwave; then it was the dishwasher; then the inside of my refrigerator began disintegrating. And I’m not exaggerating when I say: That’s just the start of things. Meanwhile, I’m the product of a “renaissance” upbringing, so, like my father before me, I don’t reach for the phone when these things happen; I reach for my tool kit. At the same time, there comes a point at which it’s time to wave the white flag—most notably when your wife drops a measuring cup, shattering the glass top on your range, then overloads the washer to a degree that it crawls across the room, devouring itself in the process. At the risk of sounding bitter or judgmental, however, let me assure you that in the spirit of getting through day-to-day life, to those accidents I say: “[$tuff] happens.” It was, however, time to call a repair man. So you could argue that those accidents were, in some twisted way, a blessing. When the technician said my washer wasn’t fixable? It came almost as a relief. By that point, the idea buying something new sounded wonderful to me.

Except when it comes to windows …

For this, we move to my mother’s house—a 40-year-old Colonial that’s hit the end of a bell curve for exterior products.

One rotted window sill? Nothing a good set of chisels (or … okay, you got me … a good oscillating tool) can’t help fix. A few sections of rotted trim? Even easier. Another rotted window sill? Get the tools back out. A few boards of rotted siding? Let’s see what we have stored in the shed. I’ll admit, I’ll keep fixing and fixing. But by the time this cycle repeats itself enough times over—even for a glutton like me—reality sets in. It’s probably time for total replacement—of siding and trim, at least. But, if you’re pulling those components off, you have no choice but to ask: What about windows?

There, I say, things get complicated.

They’re wood; they’re double pane; no fogging; with a good set of storm windows on top, they aren’t drafty; they open and close well. Aside from a few rotted sills, she has no complaints (and therefore I have no complaints). But, if you’re going to pull all of the siding off of a house, isn’t that the time to replace windows? Without a doubt—if they’re anywhere near the end of their lifespan, there’s a serious argument to be made. Of course, now, when it’s all said and done, we’re talking about a $40,000 to $50,000 project (I’m guessing). At that rate, suddenly those double-pane windows start to look a little more solid. Sure, there are gains to be made in efficiency, but let’s be honest—I’ve done the math (a few hundred times over, over the years)—and when you’re sitting on windows that are “good enough,” the decision isn’t so easy.

Let’s just say that they’re rated (and presumably still perform at) U-factor 0.40, or even 0.45; by replacing them with windows rated at even 0.22, when and what’s the payoff? Especially considering that she might be there only for another 10 or so years (about how long it will take for me to convince her that she doesn’t need a farm). As a journalist who worked in consumer media for years, I can tell you: When it comes to replacement windows, the answer is never simple.

So here I am: Stuck between windows that are good enough and the option for nailing fins. I can always pocket the difference for now and pocket windows later.

What I really need is a good, honest sales person.


  1. I guffawed at the thought of a washer “crawl” across the room. [Stuff] certainly does happen. But for the windows side of things, something tells me you’ve asked the right audience this question. Good luck!

  2. Tremendous take and approach on such a tough question. Love how you ended it. Can’t wait to read the follow up. Great work as always!

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