There are probably sexier ways to spend your home improvement money -- on a shiny new bathroom or a glamorous kitchen remodel with stainless steel appliances and granite counter tops, for example. But there are few things as rewarding as replacing your windows and front door, which can yield a variety of benefits, from lowered utility bills to better soundproofing and greater curb appeal.
And if your house is on the market, you may get a bigger rate of return. “Remodeling Magazine's" 2010-2011 Cost Versus Value issue notes that entry door replacements, which typically costs $1,000-$10,000, can recoup anywhere from 63 percent to 135 percent of the cost upon resale. Window replacement, which typically costs $450 to $2,000 per window, can recoup 73 percent to 77 percent of the cost when sold.
There are obvious reasons to replace windows: the wooden frames are rotting or the glass is broken or fogged, transforming your charming historic home into an eyesore that sets neighbors’ tongues wagging. But there are other reasons for replacement that might not be as readily apparent -- or as galling to the neighbors.
For instance, single-pane glass windows, which are present in most homes built before the mid-1990s, are hugely energy inefficient and allow heating and cooling dollars to fly out the window and noise to cascade in. According to Mark Jamerson, owner of Atlanta Area Window and Door in Marietta, the majority of his customers are switching from single pane to double pane glass to gain more energy efficiency in their homes.
“In Atlanta it’s not uncommon to see houses that have 40 windows," said Jamerson. "And people wonder why they’re paying $650 dollars [a month] to cool their houses. It’s because 50 percent of their walls are made up of windows.” More expensive triple-pane glass is generally considered overkill in the South, unless sound is a major issue.
To maximize energy efficiency homeowners should look for a low U-Factor, which measures how well a window prevents heat from escaping the home, and a low Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (SHGC), which refers to the fraction of sunlight that is admitted through the window and released as heat indoors. Low E2 solar control glass is a good choice in hot climates like Georgia’s.
Replacing standard windows with energy efficient windows and doors that meet the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency/U.S. Department of Energy's Energy Star program lowers energy bills by 7 percent to 15 percent, according to www.energystar.gov. As an added bonus, homeowners may also qualify for a tax credit equal to 10 percent of the product cost if they install Energy Star windows and doors in their primary residences by Dec. 31.
Depending on their budgets, homeowners have several options to choose from when replacing windows. Frames come in a variety of materials including vinyl, aluminum- or vinyl-coated wood, paintable fiberglass or PVC composite. And some homeowners still choose wood, although Matt Hoots, president of SawHorse Inc. remodeling company in Atlanta, does not recommend it. “Wood does not belong on the outside of houses in Georgia because it rots,” he said. Katie Yielding Hughes, architectural consultant at Architectural Visions Inc., feels similarly about vinyl. “Vinyl is a terrible material. It’s a petroleum-based product, it off-gases like crazy and expands and contracts so much in UV radiation. It’s just not a good material to use and it’s not going to last.”
Replacing every window in your home can be an expensive proposition. But homeowners have options there, too. If your window frame is in good shape, just replacing single pane window sashes with double pane sashes can save a lot of money. Hoots says some thrifty clients replace windows in sections at a time as they can afford it, generally beginning with the front of the house.
For budget-minded homeowners who want a quick home makeover, few improvements are as inexpensive or as dramatic as a change to the front door.
“I tell people if they want to just do a quick facelift to the front of the house, replace your front entry door with a nice decorative glass front door, maybe some new hardware,” said Heather Elsberry, a sales consultant at Architectural Visions Inc.
Wrought iron details can also make an enormous difference in the look of your front entry when you want it to stand apart from the pack, said Carol Simmons, co-owner of Jennifer's Glassworks, a custom door and window manufacturer in Smyrna. “As long as they’ve got a sad looking door that the builder stuck on there 20 years ago, it’s time to make a change.”
Replacing standard 36-inch wide doors with double doors is a current trend that lends grandeur to the front entry way. Solid wood and fiberglass doors that have the look of real wood are the most popular options. Jamerson and Elsberry both noted that steel doors are on the way out because of their industrial look and their tendency to dent and show imperfections.
Whether for cosmetic reasons or increased energy efficiency, metro Atlanta home experts agree that you can’t lose money when you replace or refresh your windows and doors.
“Passersby don’t see what fixtures you’ve got in the bathroom or what your cabinets look like in the kitchen, but they see that front door,” said Simmons.
Keller Williams Atlanta Perimeter real estate agent Virginia Moran said that new windows make a home competitive even in a challenging resale market. Moran swapped out her single pane windows and storm windows in her own home with double pane windows and said, “I was shocked at how much quieter it was.”
“You can still get a good price on a house that has been cared for,” said Moran, and in terms of giving the impression to buyers that your home is well-tended, “windows are a very obvious sign from the street.”