What are my options?
How much will it cost?

It’s December in Portland; frigid winds blast through the Gorge. Your house creaks, your drapes dance, and you hear the furnace fire up again. The thermostat is set at seventy. It feels snug and warm for a few minutes but as soon as the furnace shuts down, the warm air is literally sucked away. You need new windows but aren’t sure what your options are and how much it will cost you. In this article, I will outline your options and give rough estimates for a typical window found in many of Portland’s homes. My goal is to help you find a balance between aesthetics, window performance, and staying within a budget.

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A Typical Window: Pictured below is a 30 inch by 60 inch window typical of old homes in Portland. The glass is single pane and the rope attaching the counterweights has snapped. The sashes are loose and the glazing holding the glass in place is flaking away. The top sash does not open because it has been painted shut. The lower sash opens and closes but it fits loosely. Heat is loss not only from conduction but also from the seal between the sash and the window jamb. The window jamb and sills are solid and even though the trim has many layers of paint it looks good and matches the rest of the house.


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Options and Rough Estimates for this Window

All estimates are based on the above window and include materials and labor. Painting is not included. Most of my clients save money by painting themselves. Many variables can change the cost.  A detailed estimate will be provided after our meeting.

Storm Windows:  Storm windows are efficient for weatherizing old windows but they are often ugly and cumbersome to install and remove. There is, however, a new product designed and built right here in Portland called Indo Windows that is making headlines for its affordability and performance. They are easy to install and have a clean look. Although Indo Windows can be used on most windows, I feel this option is perfect for large picture windows (windows that do not open). Homeowners are reluctant to dispose of the old wavy glass that gives their house character. I personally wouldn’t install Indo Windows on the sample window because I’d have to remove and store it every summer but I’m a fan of the product. They are lightweight, durable and they work!  As a father of two sons under three years old, I also see Indo Windows as a safety product and plan on investing in them for our living room play area. The eighth inch glass found in old windows shatters in giant decapitating shards should a thrown toy find its mark. A $250 Indo Window not only saves energy, it can save a trip to the ER. I am in the process of becoming a sub-dealer with Green Depot, a distributor for Indo Windows.

photo(42) See their Website for more information.

Sash Kits: This option involves removing the old sashes and replacing them with  double-pane sashes. It’s more affordable than a complete wood window replacement because it’s less invasive. The existing window jamb and trim remains on the interior and exterior but the problem is performance because the seal relies on an outward pinch. Strong winds will often still create a draft. Most old existing jambs are not square resulting in a slight trapezoidal shape. Even an eighth of an inch difference from top to bottom is enough to loosen the seal or bind the window when opening and closing. Wood products also need to be painted every eight years or more and this option doesn’t qualify for Oregon Energy Trust Rebates because they are considered window parts. I installed these in my own house and wish I would have saved money by going with vinyl windows.

Window Inserts: Like the sash kit option, the old window jamb is left in place leaving the trim in tact and minimizing the invasiveness of the project. The old sashes are removed and a tight fitting window with its own jamb is inserted into the opening. The window is foamed or caulked in leaving absolutely no room for air to penetrate around the new window. Vinyl is the cheapest option for this but this limits color options. White and a tan/beige color is usually all that’s available in vinyl. Aluminum clad windows and wood window inserts can be painted any color but they cost considerably more. This option is the best option if you don’t mind having the old trim around the windows.

Full Window Replacement: This is the most time consuming and expensive option. The entire window including the jamb is removed so the interior and exterior sill and trim is compromised. After the window is installed, new sills and trim will have to be installed. The process can lead to siding repair on the exterior and dry wall repair on the interior. This option may be necessary if the existing window jamb is rotted.  For homeowners wishing to bring their wood work back to stain-grade, this option is the best.

Restoration: This is not something I offer but there are several local companies that refurbish old sashes. They will replace the counterweights, lubricate the pulleys, and replace the glass if needed. Although some companies replace the single pane glass with double pane, most restorations keep the single pane glass. There are conflicting studies about the how much energy is lost through windows.  Some studies state that up to 30% of heat loss is through a house’s windows and other studies downplay the importance of modern windows. I tend to agree with the higher estimates. From my own experience, the single pane glass fails in comparison to modern double-pane or triple-pane windows. Place your cheek on a single pane window and a double-pane window during a cold snap or a heat wave.  You will feel the difference. Stopping heat loss through conduction is just as important as plugging the drafts. This option is for you if keeping the original materials and character is more important than performance.

Contact local companies for estimates.


So what’s the best value? Being a practical guy, the best value in my opinion is vinyl if you don’t mind the limited color options. Trim can still be painted your color of choice and no maintenance is required. I buy vinyl windows from Empire Pacific, Ply Gem and Jeldwen, Milgard, and Pella and am constantly on the lookout for new product lines. New color options in vinyl are coming out every year. Many homeowners I visit are concerned about keeping their house period-correct for resale value, but the reality is unless the house is located in a historic high-end neighborhood, spending $15,000 on wood windows will not yield returns. Save the aesthetic itch for the kitchen remodel. 🙂

Examples of a vinyl windows with different colored trim


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Sample Estimate with Vinyl Windows and Indo Windows

10 Ply Gem Windows Installed: $4000

2 Indo Windows for old picture windows: $450

8% Company Overhead:  $355

Disposal Fee: $200

Energy Trust Rebate: -$150

Total Estimate: $4855

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Sample Estimate for new Wood Windows (Marvin)

10 new wood windows: $11,000

Visit the Oregon Energy Trust website for a list of energy savings improvements incentives.


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