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Window Replacement Choices

When battling energy vampires, it's a question of time vs. money
By Kurt Anderson
Published: June 18, 2010
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Windows are your cabin's eyes, giving you views of the natural outdoor surroundings – mountains, lakes, streams or woods – that make your place special.
A great view is often the best attribute of your cabin’s interior. From the outside, properly set and designed windows can transform an ordinary looking cottage into an elegant retreat. Of course, a window that is off-center or won’t open properly is a problem that’ll stare you in the face for years to come. And old, drafty, single-pane windows are energy vampires of the worst kind.
There are two basic methods for window replacement: full-frame or insert. The method you choose depends on a pretty simple balancing act: Weighing time versus money.

Full-frame Replacement More Expensive  / Time Saver
If you choose the more-expensive full-frame replacement, removing the old window and installing a new one is similar to door replacement.

You’ll still want to take these steps:
•  Preserve your trim and molding so you can re-use it.
•  Carefully measure width, height and jamb width when ordering your new
•  Take note of shim placement.
•  Use non-expanding foam.

It’s fairly straightforward, and installing double-pane, low-emissivity, gas-filled windows can reduce energy costs by 25 to 50 percent.
The problem is, window sizes aren’t as standard as doors, which are typically rectangular, 80 inches tall, and have common widths ranging from 28 to 36 inches. While you can order just about any size or shape full-frame window from your preferred manufacturer, brace yourself for the price tag – especially if you have a uniquely shaped window.

Insert Replacements Less Expensive / Time Intensive
A more cost-efficient method of window replacement is to install insert replacements. To see if your windows are candidates for insert replacement, check the wood frames for signs of rot or warping. If everything looks good, measure the diagonal distances and compare. If both lines of the “X” are within ¼ inch, you should be able to install an insert without too much hassle. Anything over a ¼ inch difference means you’re probably going to need a full-frame replacement.
If you’re going the insert route, measure the jamb-to-jamb widths at three locations: bottom, middle and top – and repeat for window height (right, center, left). Use the shortest width and height measurements to order your replacement insert.
While insert replacements can save you money, you will have to remove the sashes and jamb liners and prep the frame via sanding and painting. This is time-consuming and requires a little bit of carpentry skill, but is also a great way to preserve the original look of your cabin’s windows without breaking the bank.
Whether you choose insert or full-frame replacements, there’s little doubt you’ll have a return on your investment in the blink of an eye.

DIY writer Kurt Anderson likes to relax at this cabin, whether he has a fishing rod or a hammer in his hand.

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