This cold house
by John Neiuber, president, Claremont Heritage
It seems to happen around dinnertime. The phone rings, you anticipate it to be a solicitation call of some kind and you are, unfortunately, not disappointed. Only instead of your credit card company attempting to sell you income protection or life insurance, it is a representative from a remodeling company whose workers happen to be in the area.
They are selling replacement windows and you may qualify to receive rebates and tax credits. The rebates and tax credits pique your interest so, instead of your usual response of “No, thank you,” or some other unprintable utterance, as you quickly hang up to avoid any further conversation, you give the representative an opportunity to pitch you. After all, you know your windows are old and leaking air, so why not?
Claremont is now a “maintenance community.” Available land for new homes has been developed and new construction is typically limited to the occasional empty lot. When homes age or turn over, they are ripe for remodeling. Herein lies the problem. Arming yourself with good information will help make decisions that maintain the character of your home and, at the same time, allow you to weatherize and renovate for 21st century living and sensibilities.
Windows are often one of the character-defining features of a home. To replace the windows will alter the historic fabric and change the look of the home, which can affect the value and appeal of the property. And those new double-paned windows that are “maintenance-free” and offer rebates and tax credits are calling to you.
Whether it is summer or winter, energy moves through the walls, roof and cracks of your home. Windows and doors account for about 20 percent of energy loss, according to the vast majority of experts. The walls account for about 15 percent of your energy loss, the ceiling for about 10 percent, floors and below-grade space for about 20 percent. Infiltration and air leakage accounts for the most at around 35 percent.
Most homeowners spend their dollars on insulation, then follow with windows when weatherizing. Insulation and window replacement are not the best and most cost-effective investments to begin with.
Reducing air leaks around plumbing vents, electrical outlets, switches and recessed lights that are exposed to the attic, attic stairs, vertical plumbing stacks open in a basement, caulking around windows and door trims, among other culprits, is much less costly and should be undertaken first. Combining the insulation values for walls, ceilings and floors (if applicable) will resolve 25 to 45 percent of your energy loss.
A study published in October of 2012, “Saving Windows, Saving Money: Evaluating the Energy Performance of Window Retrofit and Replacement,” commissioned by the Preservation Green Lab and funded by The National Park Service’s National Center for Preservation Technology and Training, analyzed decades of research and showed that a number of retrofit strategies for windows come very close to the energy benefits of high-performance replacement windows and at a fraction of the cost.
Findings from the cost analysis showed that replacement windows are the most expensive option, costing at least double that of common retrofit options. For homeowners this is a major consideration.
One of the biggest myths about replacement windows is that they will save you money. Properly installed, high-quality replacement windows could save you about $50 a month on your heating or cooling bills. But this is after spending an average of $12,000 to install the windows in a typical home.
Let’s be generous and say you heat your home an average of 6 months, which is usually not the case in Claremont. The savings would be about $300 a year. At this rate, it would take 40 years to begin to recoup in energy savings the amount spent on the new windows.
Other studies have shown it takes in excess of 200 years to recoup in energy savings what was spent on replacement windows. The typical replacement window often fails within 20 years. In the time it would take to recoup the original investment, the replacement windows will have had to be replaced again at least once.
Other myths about replacement windows are that they are guaranteed and that they are maintenance free. Many window replacement companies guarantee you will save 40 percent on your heating and cooling costs. If you read the fine print, it states that if you don’t save that 40 percent, the maximum refund is $500. Many replacement windows come with “limited lifetime warrantees.” Read the fine print again: Most warrantee the glass for 20 years, installation for 2 years and the other components for 10 years. The “lifetime” in the guarantee describes the lifetime of the product, not the lifetime of your home.
The maintenance-free claim is made mostly by companies selling vinyl and aluminum windows. In reality, these windows cannot be maintained or repaired. If the insulated glass breaks or the vinyl warps, the entire window must be replaced.
The final myth surrounding replacement windows is that they are the environmentally responsible choice. To determine the total environmental impact of a replacement window, one needs to consider the embodied energy of the new and existing windows, the impact of manufacturing new products and the expected lifecycle of the product.
Embodied energy includes energy expended to produce raw materials, for transportation, to create and ship the new product and for installation. Tearing out historic windows wastes embodied energy and requires additional energy for removal and disposal. Taking the study into account, along with the carbon footprint to produce a new window and the loss of embodied energy, clearly demonstrates the advantages of retrofit strategies for existing windows.
Chances are the windows in your house help define its character, style of architecture and charm. The old windows are built with high-quality materials such as old-growth wood that, if maintained properly, can last hundreds of years. The old windows were built to fit their openings and can easily be repaired.
Energy-efficiency and preservation need not be mutually exclusive. You can preserve your windows and be energy-efficient at the same time. Retrofit, not replace. Take “this cold house” and make it “this old house,” once again.