The good news is that winter house hunters will know how good their windows are; spring, summer, and autumn house hunters have to guess.Windows are surprisingly expensive to replace. They cost $300-500 each, or more, per window, with installation. Even the best windows don’t keep all the cold out.

Winter house hunters, here is the plan:

  • Make a habit of touching the edge of a few windows in a house you might buy. The glass will be cool. That’s normal.
  • Get used to what is typical for that day. If the next house is cooler or warmer, you know which window was doing a better job that day.
  • Also, feel around the frame of the window, especially if you are seeing modern double pane windows. The frame may be cool, or air may be leaking in from around the perimeter.

Bad old windows.

The picture here looks just like the living room windows of the 1956 house that I grew up in. They were a bad design. When a window has metal framing, the metal conducts cold air into the house.

My parents installed insulated curtains across the whole wall that the windows were on. This created a little area between the wall or window and the curtains. Those curtains were closed nearly all winter. It was about 10 degrees colder on the window side of the curtain. How do I know? From playing hide there during hide-and-seek. I whined so much that my big brothers checked with thermometers.

Metal clad windows were a terrible idea. They did not go away in the 1950s. I see double pane glass in metal frames with little or no vinyl coating, still. That’s why you need to feel the frame. If the frame is very cold = little or no vinyl coating. If there is air coming in around the edges = not enough insulation around the window frame.

Good windows, bad installation.

When new double-pane windows are installed, the energy savings can be ruined by poor installation. If the perimeter of the window is an empty wood cavity, that should be insulated. Many older houses had lead weights with pulleys to raise and lower double hung windows. When that area is no longer in use, it should be insulated. Many are not. When that happens, the area around the window is cold.