Reuben's Home Inspection Blog

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New Windows Are Nice, But You'll Never Get A Payback

I've heard some pretty outrageous claims from window replacement companies.  The most common 'hook' for selling replacement windows is that you'll get a Return OInvestment  (ROI) because of all the money you'll save on your heating bills.  In the real world, the idea that you could ever come close to breaking even on your investment for new windows is impossible at best, and borders on downright dishonesty.  Unfortunately, a lot of consumers believe the window company's claims - I hear this myth repeated many times while doing home inspections throughout Minnesota.

To prove this, I decided to figure out how much money I would need to save every year if I just wanted to break even on the investment of new windows at my house, assuming the windows could last thirty years... although the average life expectancy for replacement windows is actually twenty years.   I've already replaced nine of the twenty-two windows in my house with newer energy-efficient windows.  If I replaced the remaining thirteen windows with incredibly energy efficient windows and I only paid $500 each, I would have to save 46% on my heating bills every year for the next 30 years just to break even!

I arrived at this number by pouring over my gas bills for the last six years, and figured out how much gas I use to heat my house on average every year.

 

  • I use an average of 520 therms per year to heat my house.
  • The average cost of gas is $0.90 / therm, which makes the average cost to heat my house every year $468.

Reuben's Gas Bill

A few details about my house:

  • Built in 1939, 1500 finished sf, 1 1/2 story.
  • 2x4 construction, most walls have about 2" of rock wool insulation.  This means the walls are very poorly insulated, so a lot of my heat loss is happening through the walls.
  • Basement is completely unfinished and uninsulated.
  • Attic / 2nd floor is insulated with about 3" of closed-cell spray foam.
  • Thirteen original single pane windows with removable storm windows installed during the winter.
  • Nine newer Low-E windows (the kind that are supposed to save energy)
  • I keep my house at 72 degrees during the winter, and I use a setback thermostat.

Assuming each new window costs $500, replacing thirteen windows would cost $6500.  To save $6500 over a period of 30 years, I would need to save $216 per year on my heating costs, or 46% or my average annual cost, which is $468.  In reality, I might end up saving somewhere around 5%.  I've already replaced almost half the windows on my house, and I haven't noticed any significant savings on my heating bills.

I'm not writing this to discourage anyone from replacing their windows -  I love new windows, and I dislike my old windows with a passion.  They're a huge pane to maintain, and I'm slowly replacing them... but every time I replace a window, I do it because I like having new windows, not because I think I'm going to save any real money on my heating bill.  A $1500 tax credit still wouldn't even get me close.

ps - when it comes time to sell your home, a house with new windows will sell for more money than a house with old windows.  Home sellers in the Minneapolis area can expect to recoup about 70% of the cost of new windows.


Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections – Email – Minnesota Home Inspections


 

Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections

        

Comment balloon 16 commentsReuben Saltzman • December 08 2009 06:08AM

Comments

Rueben.....isn't your replacement cost on the high side??? I've replaced windows in 3 of my homes within the past 2 years and I paid $250/window.....tilt in, thermal pane, double hung, insert between the glass and low e glass...Harvey Classic window.....all of the builders in this area use Harveys.....maybe you're quoting an Anderson??? why pay for a name?

Posted by Barbara Todaro, "Franklin MA Homes" (RE/MAX Executive Realty ) almost 9 years ago

The price does seem a bit high per window. I think it is better to have an energy audit first before spending money on new windows, or anything else.

Posted by Richard Mielke, REALTOR, Gettysburg Pennsylvania Real Estate (RE/MAX Results) almost 9 years ago

Reuben, the concept of the post makes sense but it would appear that some of your data is a little skewed. Around here, a new top of the line thermal double hung window of average size would sell for $150 with the labor factor being extra. It would probably make more sense to blow-in insulation to increase the heating efficiency within the home and see the energy savings start there.

Posted by Ed Silva, Central CT Real Estate Broker Serving all equally (RE/MAX Professionals, CT 203-206-0754 ) almost 9 years ago

While I would agree with you that they won't pay for themselves quickly, my experience is a little different from yours. I paid $200/window including installation to replace mine. I was replacing wood windows from the 1900-1915 era (yeah, I hated tearing out something that had been here for that long but most were pretty rotten and beyond salvaging). They did not have storm windows. I left the originals along the front facade to keep the historic appearance. In the winter, you almost can't stand to sit in the front room because of the cold coming from the windows. If I'd left them in the whole house I suspect - no numbers to back it up - that my heating bills would be 2-3 times higher. 

Posted by Julia Odom, Chattanooga Homes for Sale (Select Realty Professionals) almost 9 years ago

Reuben, while some of the others may be correct in different window pricing the fact remains, and your article is spot on! I have been telling clients this for years. The big benefit is specifically on the resale and maintenance side. As you expressed if your looking for a payback through windows it flat out isn't going to happen. Your best bet from an energy standpoint is to have some form of an energy audit performed and find out where heat losses are occuring in your home. Good article Reuben.

Posted by Randy King (Prokore Inspections) almost 9 years ago

Wow, the common theme here seems to be that windows cost a lot less in other parts of the country!  

I spoke with several different contractors about prices, and they all said that about the cheapest window replacement would be about $500.  This assumes that the old double-hung window would be removed, the counter-weights in the walls removed, and the space that the counterweights used to occupy would be filled in with foam insulation.  

Any other type of window replacement, ie - newer window with newer window, would be a terrible example for this blog, because there really wouldn't be any savings in energy, if any.

I already had a contractor friend tell me this morning that I low-balled the price of the windows!

Randy has a great point - energy audits are a much better way to look at saving energy.

Even if you could replace a window for $250, the numbers still don't add up.  

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) almost 9 years ago

Energy Audits first - ROI - 12 months, then caulking - ROI - 2 months, insulation ROI 3-10 months, and yes your are correct - Windows and doors maybe take 5-8 years. 

Posted by Ed Newman (Alamo Infrared, LLC) almost 9 years ago

Reuben, I agree with you.  Given that there are going to be some minor regional price differences, I would find 500 per window to be a reasonable amount.  Regardless payback will be a LONG time at even 1/2 that price.  Do it for maintenace, sound control and just plain comfort---not for saving money however.

Posted by Charles Buell, Seattle Home Inspector (Charles Buell Inspections Inc.) almost 9 years ago

Ed - my point is that you'll never get a ROI on window replacements.  Not 5-8 years, not 15, not 30... never.  

How could you?

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) almost 9 years ago

The thing that struck me is the cost of your gas, not the windows (gasoline prices are over $3.00 a gallon right now - things are expensive here because of the isolation).  I pulled out my gas bill and our cost here in Eureka, CA is $0.98 per therm for the baseline use, then it goes up to $1.23.  It is pretty easy to go over the baseline use.  At over 2 times your cost of gas, that would certainly make a difference in payback time!

edit - I reread your post and you say the cost averages $0.90 per therm, but the picture of the bill shows $0.45 per therm.

Posted by Ralph Brady, The premier inspector in Humboldt (Brady Home Inspection) almost 9 years ago

Charles - exactly.  I just broke one of my old storm windows putting it back up, and I've spent WAY too much time replacing the one broken pane of glass.  Remove glass, remove putty, buy new glass, buy new putty, install putty, let it dry, paint it... yuck.  I want new windows.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) almost 9 years ago

Why do you think the window manufacturers don't use R value for the windows insulating value?  They use this arcane U value because the actual R value of  "insulated glass is about 1.5.  Single pane glass is slightly under 1.  Charlie was right on about reasons for buying windows.  I don't believe "top of the line" windows can be bough anywhere for $150.  Yes inexpensive vinyl (single, not double hung) can be gotten for that price.  Top of the line implies way more expensive materials and detailing.

Posted by David Helm, Bellingham, Wa. Licensed Home Insp (Helm Home Inspections) almost 9 years ago

Ralph - Yeah, the prices fluctuate all over the place.  I think this month I'm paying MORE than 90 cents / therm.

David - I've never even heard of cheap, crappy windows for $150.

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) almost 9 years ago

You are preaching to the choir my friend. I have been telling my clients the same thing for some time. I do perform energy audits and I have the numbers to back up exactly what your saying. Most times the cost of replacing the windows is not even paid back in thirty years.

One thing energy audits are not or more correctly what are not energy audits are infrared scans. IR cameras are tools that help provide information during an audit. What they can not do is provide numbers on ROI. Only an energy audit can do that.

I wrote a very similar blog (I just found it and it was 2 years ago!) about windows. I put some figures in the piece from actual audits. As I said your figures are right on.

Lastly I also believe the window manufacturers are being dishonest with the public. People are believing they are going to save all this $ on energy and learn afterward the promises were not true.

Posted by James Quarello, Connecticut Home Inspector (JRV Home Inspection Services, LLC) almost 9 years ago

James - the one huge thing you mentioned in your blog that I didn't even bring up here is the fact that most estimates for energy savings are comparing single pane windows.  I've also never seen a house that had single pane windows installed during the winter.  

 

Posted by Reuben Saltzman, Delivering the Unbiased Truth. (Structure Tech Home Inspections) almost 9 years ago

Don't forget that the comfort factor.  You should be feeling more comfortable.  Before I replaced my windows I could see the curtains moving from the air.

Posted by Gene Allen, Realty Consultant for Cary Real Estate (Fathom Realty) almost 9 years ago

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