We live in a ranch home built sometime in the 1950s-60s.
It’s not old but we have problems keeping it warm in the winter. Especially the bedrooms. My wife and kids are always turning the thermostat up to 75 at night.
I’ve heard good windows help in homes like ours- and while I’m fine with replacing them I want to make sure they’ll make a difference before I spend the money.
So my question is: How do I know replacing windows will keep my house warm? Is there a way to know if my windows need replaced?”
Mark from Hazleton, PA
Will new windows keep your home warm this winter?
I appreciate your question.
Will new windows keep your home warm this winter? From the advertisements, window manufacturers would have you believe that new windows are a guaranteed fix for any drafty home.
But you’re right to think there might be other reasons your family is piling on the blankets at night. Homeowners spend thousands every year replacing windows and doors, only to find their homes aren’t much more comfortable than before.
It sounds like your home is slab construction- built on concrete without a basement. These sturdy homes are cool in the summer, resistant to pests, and don’t flood easily …but those facts are hardly a consolation when your kids are dramatically pulling on a second pair of socks and eyeing that thermostat.
To answer your question: Yes- you can run a simple test to check the performance of what you already have before replacing your windows.
But before I get into that, in my experience, there’s usually no one solution that will fix a drafty house.
We’ve talked before about how a healthy home isn’t just a solid roof or a sturdy foundation. It’s more a series of systems that work together like gears inside a clock. So while these quick window checks might give you a clue on if your windows are letting out your heat, understand that getting your house to a comfortable winter temperature (and your utility bill at a comfortable price!) may mean shoring up not just your windows- but other components like your attic or flooring.
How to Check If Your Windows Need Replaced
It doesn’t sound like your windows are showing the most obvious signs of needing replacement, such as
- Cracked or damaged glass
- Difficulty opening or closing windows
- Single pane (instead of double pane) units
And while high bills and drafty bedrooms can be a telltale sign of worn out windows, those signs don’t always mean your windows are to blame.
So let’s check them. This is a rudimentary test to give you an idea of if your windows are letting out your hard-earned heat.
First- Grab a candle. You’ll want one that keeps a steady flame and hasn’t burned down too far.
Use this process to check each window:
- For best results, test your windows on a windy day.
- Turn off any ceiling fans and your HVAC
- Hold the lit candle steady near the seams of the window- and watch for movement.
Does the flame stay steady? That’s a good seal.
Does the flame curve? You have some leaking. And, if the flame is curved and moving, or goes out, well- you can put new windows on your list.
Do make sure to check around each window. Sometimes a seal will be good around part of the window but letting in air in another place.
I also recommend marking each drafty area with a pencil or a piece of tape. Your windows might need resealed rather than replaced. Marking your drafts will make it easier for you, and your contractor, to decide whether a window can be shored up.
Now, let’s check two other reasons you could be having trouble heating your home.
#1: Is Heat Leaking Out Your Attic?
Unfortunately, this works against most ranch-style homes in Schuylkill County, PA. Homes like yours are usually heated by forced air furnaces that pump hot air in through ceiling vents (instead of the floor).
This means if your attic isn’t insulated properly, your heat – and your heating bills- go right through the roof.
In our area of the country most experts recommend an R-value of between 45-70 of insulation in the attic. But just creating a protective envelope between the heat you’re paying for and the cold weather outside means more than just rolling out fiberglass.
It also means making sure your attic is
- Sealed around any pipes/vents/etc
- And sealed from the inside of your house.
For that last part, let me explain. The first step in making sure your heat is staying inside your home is keeping it from leaking up. Most homeowners are surprised to discover that small gaps around can lights, registers, and even cracks from normal settling can create the biggest heat loss issues in newer builds.
I covered this a bit in our Roofing Ventilation Guide. Take a look in your attic and ask yourself
….is it insulated?
….is the insulation compacted, wet, or pressed down?
….can you see lights through your attic’s floor (from your interior?)
If any of these things look questionable, call us and we’ll give you an honest assessment of how your attic is performing.
#2. Is Your Floor The Cause of Your Cold House?
Those who grew up on slab construction often say cold feet are just a fact of life. But as I’ve worked on single-level homes over the years I’ve realized this:
While the reputation is well-earned…it doesn’t mean your home has to be cold.
First, the bad news: The downside of slab construction is there isn’t much insulation between your floor and the concrete foundation. Once that slab gets cold, it feels like a block of ice until the spring thaw.
But here’s the good news: There are ways to make a slab house comfortable.
If you have a crawl-space underneath your home, an experienced contractor can add insulation underneath your home. Between this and sealing up any gaps between your foundation and framing you might be able to enjoy walking around your house barefoot in the winter once more.
No space underneath? Sealing around the sides is still a good idea. Plus, it’s something that can be done with a moderate level of DIY experience. Cracks, gaps, and holes all weaken your home’s exterior “armor” and let cold air into your house.
Slab homes also benefit from well-insulated flooring inside your home. Installing carpet with a good vapor-barrier pad to your home’s bedrooms might be a better use of your budget if your heat is keeping up in the main areas of your home…but falling behind in others.
If you have a snap-together vinyl or wood flooring, take up a small area in a closet and see if it was installed with, at minimum, a vapor barrier. A well-sealed barrier and a foam pad beneath snap-in flooring is critical when laid on slab construction.
Should You Replace The Windows In Your Drafty Home?
I realize you were hoping for a straight “yes or no” answer on whether replacing your windows would keep your home warm, but you can see how there are several “out of sight” challenges you might need to consider.
The best advice I can give is this: don’t invest in replacing your windows and doors until you know why your home isn’t holding heat efficiently.
We’d love to help. Give me a call at 570-345-0406 and we’ll set up a time to come take a look at your home’s build. Our crew would love to help you keep your family warm this winter.
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