Making your home more energy-efficient will save you money while it saves the environment. And you can't be energy-efficient without new, double-paned windows, right? Actually, not so much. Here's why buying new windows may be more trouble (and money) than it's worth.
Don't get me wrong: You can definitely save money by swapping out those single panes. Energy Star estimates that replacing single pane windows with double panes can save between $126 and $465 per year, depending on where you live and how many windows you replace. If you already have double-paned windows but swap them out for Energy Star rated products, you can save up to $111 per year.
Here's the rub: New Energy Star windows cost between $150 and $1,000 each. That adds up, and pretty soon you've got an investment that won't pay off for several years. Previously, the Federal government offered an energy efficiency tax credit to help alleviate this cost. Since 2011, however, that credit only covers solar panels and other high-efficiency improvements.
So if windows are expensive and don't create huge savings, why are we always told we need to buy new windows? I'll give you a couple of guesses on that one. According to the California Office of Historic Preservation, homeowners are often pressured to buy new windows -- but improving the ones you already have is quite efficient and a lot more affordable.
Unless your windows are truly awful, try improving them first. In most cases, that just means making them seal fully, without drafts. You can use caulking, weather stripping or other applied materials, or you can have a carpenter look at the frames and sashes to see if they can be modified and evened out. If, after all that, you do decide to repurpose the old windows, make sure you buy new ones that are Energy Star rated -- and for heaven's sake, make those babies seal tight so they save you all the money they possibly can.
Photo by Aunt Owwee on Flickr.