The tax credits are big and the salesmen are out, promoting vinyl window replacement as the best way to cut your heating bills. No matter that on a cost-effectiveness basis it is just about the last thing you should do, or that the new windows don't outlive the payback time, or that they never suggest fixing what you have, or that it can significantly reduce the value of the house. It is a real worry for anyone concerned about historic buildings, about reuse and repair instead of replacement, and about vinyl and PVC in our environment.
They start with the aesthetic crime:
If you had a beautiful piece of art that was custom designed, crafted by hand, made from native old-growth wood, and imbued with clues to its age and crafting traditions, would you throw the authentic piece in the dumpster if a simulated plastic version suddenly became available?
Seems ridiculous, right? However, this is precisely what people all over the country are doing when they rip out their historic wood windows and replace them with new windows.
And they get serious and back it up with a Q&A;, calling it a complete myth that replacement windows will save you money. In fact, they go so far as to say that the payback period for replacement windows is probably twice as long as the life of the window.
Energy Star rated windows have a minimum R value of 2.8; a single glazed window has an R Value of about 1.2. Pella is running full page ads in the New York Times promoting windows that hit all of R 3.3. So a salesman can honestly make the case that new Energy Star windows are over twice as efficient. But twice nothing is still almost nothing, and it can be achieved with storm windows, inside or out, at far lest cost and damage to the house. The National Trust gives more reasons:
In the interest of full disclosure, I am President of an historic building preservation society, spend my spare time fighting to save old buildings, and windows are a critical part of their historic character. But on TreeHugger and Planet Green we also promote frugal green living, reuse and repair over replace, and have a dislike of vinyl. Window repair is also the kind of green job that we need, that can give local people useful skills.
If you have sashless sliders or sixties windows that are rotting out in the frames, go for it. But a window made more than sixty years ago is probably better than any window you can get today, and replacing it is a waste of money and an irreplaceable loss. Study the Weatherization Guide at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
And on Planet Green, learn what you should do first:
Green Your Home for Winter: Get a Programmable Thermostat
Green Your Home For Winter: Stop the Air Leaks
Green Your Home For Winter: Insulate Your Water Heater
Green Your Home For Winter: Add Attic Insulation
Green Your Home For Winter: Weatherize Your Windows