Forget what the ads say. Saving money on your energy bill is not the 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. Energy Star-qualified windows can lower your energy bills by 7 to 15 percent. That's only $27 to $111 a year for a 2,000-square-foot single-story home with storm windows or double-pane windows, $126 to $465 if your home has just single-pane windows, according to Energy Star.
But new windows can enhance the look of your home and make it less drafty and quieter, and they're easier to clean and maintain than old windows with combination storm and screens. Use this buying guide to help you before you shop or request bids.
To find out which windows will keep your home comfortable and dry, we tested 21 double-hung and 4 casement-style windows for air- and water leakage. We found significant differences between brands in types and frame materials. 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. Given the high cost of replacing windows, the more you know, the better so don't rely on a contractor to choose. Use our Ratings to guide you and search manufacturer websites for ideas and design tools.
You'll save money on materials and labor by using partial replacement units when the existing frames and sills are sound and square. They're also known as pocket replacements and fit into existing frames. Otherwise you'll need full replacement windows. They include the frame, sill, jambs, and usually a nailing flange that attaches the window to the outside wall around the opening. Prices can vary among dealers and manufacturers offer special deals, so check their websites and shop around. There are no federal tax credits planned for Energy Star-qualified windows in 2014 or 2015, but some utilities and city and state programs offer rebates or incentives to buy Energy Star windows. Go to stores and check out the windows, inspect the frames and try the handles.