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Windows last about 20 years, but the best vinyl windows can last about 30. You’ll likely need to replace your windows at some point during homeownership, and you can use this opportunity to improve both your home’s appearance and energy efficiency. Well-installed replacement windows can seal out drafts and prevent heat transfer, lowering your utility bills. We’ll walk you through the process of replacing vinyl windows and explain when it’s best to hire a pro.
Benefits of Vinyl Windows
Vinyl is the most popular window frame material for American homes as it comes with several advantages. First, vinyl windows are usually the most affordable replacement windows available. Aluminum windows are sometimes less expensive, but they’re also far less energy efficient. Vinyl frames, when filled with insulation material, meet ENERGY STAR requirements for efficiency, reducing your carbon footprint and your energy bills. Since they’re so popular, they’re also available in the widest range of design and size options. Particularly compared to wood windows, vinyl windows are very low maintenance.
Signs You Need to Replace Your Windows
Over time and with changing temperatures, frames can warp, seals can loosen, and glass can crack. Here are some signs that it’s time to install vinyl replacement windows:
- Condensation or fogging between window panes
- Difficulty opening or closing sashes
- Excess noise from outside
- Feeling drafts or cold spots
- Glass that’s cold to the touch
- Increased heating or cooling costs
- Outdated window designs
Preparing for Vinyl Window Replacement
As you get ready to install new windows, here’s what to keep in mind.
Tools and Materials
If you plan to take on the job yourself, here are the tools and materials you’ll need. You can find most of these at The Home Depot or a local hardware store.
2 1/4-inch steel screws
Mildew remover (optional)
Oscillating multitool (optional)
Paintable latex caulk
Window stop material
Safety Measures and Precautions
If you’re replacing a window on your home’s ground floor, safety risks are minimal. However, any job that involves glass and power tools involves some element of risk. Wear gloves when handling exposed wood, and consider hearing and eye protection when using power tools. When moving windows around, slide sashes to their lowest points to prevent them from falling on you.
We recommend waiting for warm, dry weather to take this project on. If things don’t go as planned, you may end up exposing your home to the elements. You can always put up a tarp or plastic sheeting overnight, but this will be easier to live with in warm weather than cold weather.
Measuring Existing Windows
It’s important to measure windows accurately when picking out replacements. Use a tape measure to measure the distance between the inner jamb surfaces—that is, the frame’s sides—parallel to the window sash. Then, measure the height from the windowsill to the top of the window opening. Finally, open the window and measure the frame’s total depth, excluding exterior trim. These three measurements should give you the correct window size.
Buying New Windows
Once you know the size, you’ll need to determine the type of window that best suits your needs. The most common residential styles are single-hung windows with one movable sash and double-hung windows with two movable sashes. However, you can also choose awning windows, which open outward on a hinge at the top, or casement windows, which crank open from a hinge at one side. These styles vary in terms of ventilation and energy efficiency as well as function, so consider which will serve as the best replacement windows in this particular application.
Finally, you’ll need to decide on a glass type. Double-pane windows are substantially more efficient and noise-reducing than their single-pane counterparts, so we highly recommend opting for at least two panes of glass. For more extreme climates, triple-pane windows offer even more efficiency, though the improvement over two panes is more modest. Either way, you can also opt for low-emissivity glass, which is treated to reduce the amount of solar heat that passes through. The more efficient your window, the less strenuously your HVAC system will have to work and the more you’ll save on utility bills.
Types of Vinyl Window Replacements
All window styles are available as either new-construction windows or replacements. New-construction windows are surrounded by a nailing fin flange that anchors directly to wall studs and the window header. They’re the most energy-efficient replacements, but they require stripping the window down to the rough opening, so you would typically only use them in large renovation projects, such as new additions. More often, you’ll use replacement windows, which come in two varieties.
As the name implies, this window type contains a new frame. Full-frame replacement windows are necessary when your existing frames are damaged, rotting, or misaligned. The replacement process is a little more complicated than for other types of retrofit windows, but you won’t need to remove your home’s vinyl siding, stucco, or brickwork to complete it.
Alternatively, pocket or insert window replacements have no frame. Instead, you’ll pop the sashes out of your existing window frame. Obviously, this will only be possible if your existing frames are in good condition. The process is quicker and more DIY-friendly than full-frame replacement, but the end result is slightly less durable and energy efficient.
Step-by-Step Guide to Vinyl Window Installation
Whether you want to install windows yourself or just want to learn the process a pro would follow, here are some installation instructions for insert replacements.
Step 1: Remove the Old Window
- To remove the old window, first use the pry bar to remove the indoor window stops. These are thin wooden strips around the frame’s sides and top. Set them aside to reinstall later.
- You should be able to pop both sashes out, one at a time, without removing exterior stops or the windowsill.
- If the interior stops won’t come free, you may need to use an oscillating multitool to cut them out.
- Remove the sash liners and springs as well as the sash cord pulleys.
Step 2: Prepare the Window Frame
- Check the frame’s condition before proceeding. If there is damage, rot, or a substantial amount of mold, you may need to put the job on hold and replace the frame as well.
- Clean the frame to remove any mildew, dirt, or grime.
- Ensure that the frame is plumb, or level, so that the new window insert will fit in smoothly. To do this, measure both frame diagonals from the top corner to the opposing bottom corner. If these measurements are within 1/4 inch of each other, the frame is plumb.
- If the frame is not plumb, you may need to remove the trim and adjust the frame’s width with shims, or thin pieces of wood. If the difference is too large, though, the frame itself may need repair or replacement.
Step 3: Install the New Vinyl Window
- Test the new pocket replacement window’s fit by inserting it into the opening.
- Once you’ve confirmed the fit, use the caulking gun to run a bead of silicone caulk around the exterior window stops’ inside surfaces.
- Center the new window in the frame, and press it back against the exterior stops. There will be small gaps around the frame, but they should be even on each side. Use a tape measure to confirm.
- Fill in the gaps with shims and insulation material. The fit should be snug, but not so snug that the frames bow and impede the function of the window.
- Open the window and install the mounting screws through the shims and into the frame. Use your power drill to drill a pilot hole through the shims so they don’t split. Don’t overtighten the screws, which could move the frame slightly out of alignment.
Step 4: Finish and Seal the New Window
- There will likely still be gaps around the shims, so fill them in with insulating material, such as expanding foam or backer rods. Don’t use loose insulation or fiberglass batting, which won’t work properly when squished into small spaces.
- Reinstall the interior window stops, or add new replacement stops if the old ones were in poor condition.
- If you intend to paint the frame, apply paintable latex caulk to any seams between the frame and insert replacement. Wipe the lines with a wet fingertip to remove excess and smooth the surface.
- If desired, paint the interior trim.
Professional vs. DIY Vinyl Window Installation
Under certain circumstances, homeowners can install replacement windows themselves. If you’re replacing only one or two windows on your home’s ground floor, follow the instructions above and take all necessary safety precautions. Make sure to fill all cavities with insulation and seal all gaps to ensure the energy efficiency of new windows. No matter how high-quality the window itself is, your heating and cooling costs may rise if the space around it is leaky or poorly insulated.
Because windows are so important to a home’s energy efficiency, you may want to leave window replacement to the professionals. This is especially true if you’re replacing all your home’s windows at once or if the windows are located above the ground floor. Although you’ll pay a bit more for labor, here are the advantages of hiring a professional window installer:
- Professionals will be able to finish the job more quickly than you will, leaving your home open to the elements for less time.
- The warranties on many new windows require them to be installed by a professional, so you may void the warranties if you try to install the windows yourself.
- Trusted window contractors have the expertise to complete a more durable and energy-efficient installation. They’ll also know how to spot potential problems and make necessary repairs.
- You’ll save your own time and effort by leaving the work to the pros.
What to Expect When Hiring a Professional Installer
The first stage of hiring a window contractor often involves a consultation and pricing estimate. Some companies offer this for free; others will charge a fee. During this consultation, be sure to ask any questions you have about window manufacturer recommendations. Top window brands include Andersen, Pella, and Jeld-Wen, but the contractor might have a preferred brand. If you’re deciding between window styles, a pro can provide more information.
At this stage, you should also ask whether the installer provides trim or repair work and what the pricing estimate does and doesn’t cover. Inquire about the contractor’s experience and any certifications. You can request references for satisfied customers and ask to see previous work.
Make sure you know who will actually be entering your house to complete the job, whether it’s the contractor you’re speaking to or a colleague or subcontractor. This person should be bonded and insured, with a current contractor’s license. Ask about warranties, both on the windows themselves and on the installation workmanship, as well as timelines for project completion. Make sure you understand the payment process, and don’t pay more than 20% to 30% up-front.
Once you’ve completed the consultation, check the company’s Better Business Bureau (BBB) page for rating and accreditation status. This site will also show you customer complaints and reviews, and you can check out ratings on trusted review sites such as Trustpilot and Google Reviews. We recommend getting quotes from at least three companies before making your choice. This will give you a better idea of the price range in your geographic area.
While vinyl window installation is a project you could take on yourself, generally speaking, you’ll get better results by hiring a professional. Many homeowners upgrade their windows to improve their home’s energy efficiency, and professionals know how to properly seal and insulate windows to get the most out of them. We recommend factoring labor into window replacement expenses, particularly if you’re replacing all your home’s windows.
Vinyl Window Installation FAQ
What is the average installation time for vinyl windows?
DIYers usually take three to four hours to install a vinyl replacement window.
What is the downside of vinyl windows?
Vinyl windows have a number of advantages, but they also have their drawbacks:Color may fade over timeDifficult to paintMay warp or bow with changing temperaturesNot as durable as wood, fiberglass, or compositeNot as energy efficient as fiberglass or composite
Should I install vinyl replacement windows from the inside or outside?
You should install replacement windows from the inside. Only new construction windows require access to both the inside and outside.