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Window Repairs vs. Window Replacement: Which Do You Need?

It’s hard to figure out when you should replace or repair something. For example, cracks or leaks could indicate that you need window repairs—or should you consider replacement instead? 

Choosing between fixing your windows and getting new ones is complicated. One thing you have to consider is cost. Commercial windows are expensive because they’re often customized and require onsite glazing

Outfitting a building with new windows can cost thousands of dollars. Opting for repair is reasonable when it may save you more money. 

But sometimes, repairing an item is as costly as purchasing an updated version. Window management is tricky, so below, we discuss when it’s better to repair or replace your windows.

When to Get Window Repairs

Window repairs are the best choice when the problem is relatively small or affects non-essential window parts. However, you should keep in mind that certain types of windows aren’t easy to repair. 

Older, single-pane glass is relatively simple to fix. Double and triple-pane windows are more complicated to repair. If your windows take too much damage, repairs could be impossible. 

Broken Muntins or Mullions

Muntins are vertical dividers that separate windows into sections. Muntins used to serve as structural support but are more decorative elements nowadays. Mullions are pieces that separate glass panes from each other. 

Rotted or broken muntins and mullions are a relatively simple fix. The window glass will need removal and cleaning.

Once the repair person cleans the old adhesive from the surface, they can add new putty and replace broken muntins and mullions. 

Missing or Rotting Drip Caps

The drip cap acts like a shield that keeps moisture from getting into the window from above. A rotted or missing drip cap is problematic because water will get inside the building and potentially cause damage. 

Replacing a drip cap isn’t an extensive or complex job. This repair is as easy as purchasing a new drip cap, nailing, and caulking it into place.

Please note—we’re not saying you be the one to perform these repairs.

Commercial windows are more complicated to install, and you should leave repairs to professionally trained repairers. We’re only detailing how simple these particular window repairs are. 

Damaged Exterior Window Casing

Exterior window casing is the molding you see on the outside building windows. The exterior window casing covers the space between window frames and the wall. 

Window casing creates a seal that keeps the elements out of buildings and adds aesthetic appeal. All exterior window casing repair involves is removing the damaged one and replacing it with new molding. 

Difficult or Stuck Sashes

A window sash surrounds and holds the glass panels in place. Some sash windows don’t open. Those that do allow you to move one panel up and down on a track to open them. 

There are various reasons windows stick when you try to open them. Sometimes paint gets between the frame and sash. The sash may have also slipped off the track that helps you lift the window. 

Windows often get stuck because the mechanism that allows them to move breaks.

For example, spring-type sashes stick because the spring piece inside loosens. Regardless of why the sash isn’t moving, you can easily replace it.

Small Leaks

Spotting water inside a building near the windows doesn’t necessarily mean a leak. It may be that the water is coming from a source near the window’s exterior. 

Window seals are supposed to keep water out of buildings, but only to a certain extent. Water coming too forcefully may be too much for the seal to keep out. 

Poorly draining gutters may explain the source of the water inside your building. Re-routing your drainage system may keep moisture from entering through your windows. 

Drafty Windows

It’s possible to fix drafty windows with a bit of caulk. Small spaces in your windows can be closed off with caulking fairly quickly. Certain caulks work better in specific areas.

Vinyl latex caulk is better utilized in damp areas and has a life expectancy of five years. 

Acrylic latex caulking does better in dryer areas and can last for around 15 years. Other reasons for drafty windows aren’t so easy to fix. Cracked glass and ill-fitting windows will require a window replacement. 

When to Get New Windows

As a general rule of thumb, window replacement is the best option when a repair is too costly, complicated, or impossible to perform.

The damages listed below are so severe that window repairs are not worth the trouble and won’t help fix the existing damage. 

Severe Water Leaks

Exposing the exterior window casing to too much water isn’t that big of a deal. As previously said, it’s not difficult to replace damaged window casing. The real issue is if water begins to leak through the window.

A leaking window won’t keep moisture out no matter what you do. Re-routing your drainage system won’t help because your damaged window is the problem. 

Once the window begins leaking, it loses the ability to protect the interior from the elements. Too much water exposure can also rot and mold the surrounding walls. 

If you’ve definitively proven moisture is coming from the window, you should seriously consider shopping for new windows. 

Foggy Windows

If the windows in your building look cloudy, you’ve got a real problem. Fogged-over windows happen when condensation gets in between the double or triple-paned insulated glass unit.

The IGU increases the R-value of glass windows which makes them well insulated. Older windows had the IGUs inserted by glaziers, but newer windows come with built-in IGUs. 

The new method of construction means that the IGU isn’t removable. If the seal around the insulated glass unit breaks, you or the repair technician can do nothing to remove the IGU. 

There is a way to repair foggy windows that involves drilling small holes inside the glass and removing the air in the IGU.

Once the air is gone, the technician re-seals the window. The issue is that this procedure is so exceedingly rare that very few companies offer the service. 

Replacing the window is a more practical, readily available option. 

Broken Internal Muntins or Mullions

As we’ve discussed, it’s impossible to reach a window’s IGU. Damaged muntins and mullions are unreachable and are stuck in disrepair once broken. 

Luckily, muntins and mullions inside windows serve no functional purpose. These parts don’t affect how your window works at all. Unfortunately, if the broken pieces bother you, you’ll need new windows. 

Structural Issues

If the external window structure has failed, you need a new window. Often, the structural damage isn’t limited to the window, but the surroundings may also be damaged. 

Housing siding, insulation, studs, and sheathing may need replacing. You’ll need new construction windows when replacing all the surrounding material near the windows. 

People use new construction windows on new buildings or when they add on to the property. New construction windows install directly into building frames via nail fin frames before adding trim or siding. 

Replacement windows (or retrofit windows) are made explicitly, so the surrounding exterior materials don’t need to be removed for installation. 

Cold Glass

Older homes are likelier to have single-pane windows. It’s not uncommon for the glass to feel cold to the touch because they don’t have insulation like newer double and triple-pane windows. 

Multi-pane windows shouldn’t feel cold when you touch them—if they do, you have an insulation issue. As you’ve probably guessed by now, the problem has to do with a damaged IGU. 

There’s not much you can do to repair a window’s IGU, so you’re better off looking for replacement windows instead. 

Expensive Energy Bill

Old windows may be the cause of high energy bills. Older single-pane glass isn’t designed to keep buildings cool during summer and warm in the winter months. 

The lack of insulation makes it harder for your HVAC system to cool and heat your home, so it has to use more energy to do its job. The more power your HVAC system requires, the higher your bill. 

Replacing your single-pane windows with double or triple-paned glass can go a long way toward helping you conserve electricity and money. 

Extensive Damage

Sometimes, damage to your windows may be too extensive to bother with repairs. Huge chips, cracks, breaks, and loose glass panes can be too much for any patch job to handle. 

Any damage that looks like it will cause immediate failure is a sign that your windows need replacing as soon as possible. 

When to Repair or Replace Windows

We’ve discussed what kinds of damage you can repair or when you should get window replacements. But do you know when it’s best to repair or replace in general?

Conceptually, the idea is straightforward–replace an item when the cost of repairing it is more than its worth. Another way to look at Cost vs. value is if repairs cost more than 50% of the replacement cost, replace the item.

It makes no sense to repair an item that’s outdated or too damaged to work even with extensive repairs. Businesses often adhere to this “50 Percent Rule” to help allocate and conserve funds. 

The 50 Percent Rule isn’t an absolute law you have to follow. You may find yourself in a situation when it fails, but it’s an excellent place to start.

Window Repair and the 50 Percent Rule

Replacing one window can cost more than a thousand dollars. For example, you’re in charge of replacing a few broken windows at the elementary school.

The windows face the area where the kids play for recess, and there’s been one basketball accident too many. Each window will cost about $3,000 to replace, but repairs will total around $1,500. 

The answer seems clear in this instance; fixing your windows is only half the cost of replacing them. It looks as if repairs are the best option. 

If the repairs cost $2,090 instead, replacement would likely be better. You’d only save about one grand, and at least with the new windows, you can be confident the cracks are completely gone. 

The 50 Percent Rule gets complicated when repair costs are around 45 to 50%. Think about any credits or rebates you’ll receive if you purchase the new windows. 

It may also be safer and more convenient to replace the windows over fixing them also. Newer windows are more resistant to damage and offer more benefits like energy efficiency and UV protection. 

Don’t Get Hung up on Cost

Just because someone tells you fixing your windows is best doesn’t mean repair is the best option. You may feel that repairs will save money regardless of the damage to your windows.

If you’ve got a damaged exterior window casing, but water is coming through the window, fixing the casing won’t help the leaky glass. The window is still leaking, and the problem will continue worsening. 

If a reputable window repair company tells you you need a replacement, take their word and consider buying new windows. Replacement windows may not be cheap, but the purchase is worth the cost. 

Window Management Got You Down? 

Window management is complicated work. Sometimes it’s hard to know when to repair your windows and when you need new ones.

Window repairs are okay if the damage doesn’t lead to catastrophic failure. Most repairable problems are primarily aesthetic or won’t cause severe damage to the interior or exterior of your building. 

You should consider new windows if your current ones are foggy, cracked, or energy inefficient.  

If you need commercial window repairs, contact us at Window Repair Systems. We’ve been fixing windows for over 30 years and can handle any necessary repairs.

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