What to do with foggy windows


Dear David,

Our house was built in the early 2000’s. We’ve owned it since it was new, and have taken excellent care of it. We started seeing fogginess and condensation in some of our windows a few years back. We got a quote for a full window replacement, but it’s unaffordable. Should we start replacing windows a few at a time, or hold off until we can do the whole house? – LIMITED VISIBILITY

DEAR LIMITED: Given that your house is about 20 years old, I’m going to make a couple of assumptions. One is that you have thermal pane windows, and another is that your window casings are aluminum or vinyl.

When your house was built, the builder may have had several different window options at a variety of price points. It would be reasonable to expect better performance and longevity from a higher-end model, even if it didn’t look much different from the less expensive products once installed. If your house was furnished with entry or mid-level windows, the seal between the two panes of glass may be losing its integrity. If that’s the case, you’ll see condensation and fogginess between the inner and outer panes, which tends to make it look like the inside of the window is dirty.

The affected windows may not be pretty to look at, but take comfort in the fact that they likely haven’t lost much in terms of energy efficiency. Replacement is desirable from a cosmetic perspective, but the expense is significant. You could replace a window or two at a time to keep costs in check, but there may be another option.

Depending on the type of windows you have, there’s a good chance you can change out the glass instead of the entire assembly, which is an extremely cost-effective way to solve the problem. Call your local glass company to see if this is a service they provide. If it is, they’ll come to your home to measure the windows, give you an estimate, and install the new glass for you. The process takes a couple of weeks from start to finish, and requires much less time and money than buying brand new.

If replacing the glass in your style of windows is impossible, you probably don’t need to be in a rush to change them all out. At 20 years old, they have lots of economic life left, so focus on the ones with cosmetic challenges.

PRO TIP: Today’s windows tend to have aluminum, vinyl or fiberglass frames; wood-framed windows have all but disappeared. Save what you can. When faced with large repair costs, do your research, ask questions, and seek out unbiased professional advice. I’d never tell the owner of a 20-year-old home that window replacement would increase their property value. Vinyl and aluminum-framed windows have a very long economic life, and unless they’re having functional or cosmetic issues, there’s no reason to send them to the landfill.