Window Replacement: Getting it Right

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As a condo owner, replacing windows can be a significant investment in your building. Window replacement can be expensive and disruptive, but can improve occupant comfort, building aesthetics, and maintain the value of your property.  To ensure a successful project and avoid common pitfalls, the board should answer the following questions when considering a window replacement project:


1.  When should I replace my windows?

H:Article Photos_July 2019OpenAsset_20190717133231TOR_111326_N51.jpgThere are a number of reasons to replace windows, including ongoing leaks, occupant comfort, energy use, and fogged glass, to name a few. The timing of replacement will depend on the Reserve Fund Study and how widespread the issues have become. An owner survey can provide a good representation of how many owners are currently having issues.

It is important to understand the reason for replacement to ensure that the work will address the problem. For example, leaks could be occurring within the window system, at the window perimeters, or both.  Window replacement won’t necessarily address leaks at the perimeters, as the leak may be occurring in the surrounding cladding. Accurately diagnosing existing issues early can reduce the potential of re-work or improper window selection.

Improvements to interior comfort and energy performance go hand in hand, and are common reasons for window replacement projects. This is particularly so in 1970s or 1980s-era buildings that have clear uncoated glass, non-thermally broken (uninsulated) frames, and drafty windows.

Condensation problems are common in buildings with older windows and poor ventilation. Improvements in window frame designs can significantly reduce or eliminate condensation. As with all products, different window designs and materials may be better at addressing these issues, so make sure to consult with an engineer early in the planning stages. 


2. What types of windows should we choose?

Windows are available in a variety of configurations such as horizontal and vertical sliders, casement, awning, tilt and turn, etc. The operable window type will impact how easy they are to open and close, durability, energy efficiency, and how well they resists leaks. Buildings constructed in the 1970’s and 1980’s commonly featured sliding windows, and although sliding windows are good at reducing maintenance and providing good air flow, more modern styles can offer better energy efficiency and resistance to leaks.

H:Article Photos_July 2019OpenAsset_20190717133231TOR_111326_N4.jpgCommon window frame materials include aluminum, fiberglass, vinyl, and wood. Aluminum window frames are more common on high rise buildings, due to fire resistance and strength requirements. In addition to good strength properties that allow large window sizes, aluminum is durable over time. 

Vinyl windows are most commonly used for low-rise residential buildings and smaller window sizes.  Vinyl is a very energy efficient material, but lacks the strength or fire resistance required for high rise buildings. 

Fibreglass and wood windows are both less common in condominium buildings due to their cost, but may be an option if energy efficiency or aesthetics are of primary concern.


3. How can we reduce construction issues?

As with any capital repair project, proper planning can help reduce the potential of common construction issues. Make sure you have the following measures in place before pulling the trigger on window replacement:

  • Get Real Numbers: It’s common for condominium boards to rely solely on reserve fund studies for financial planning of window replacement projects. While comparable data and ballpark figures can be beneficial for long term planning, a more detailed window assessment will reveal the true anticipated cost. A comprehensive window assessment gives owners detail and anticipated costs that are geared towards the current condition and performance requirements of your building.H:Article Photos_July 2019TOR_014798_N2.jpg
  • Time your Quotations Right: There are good times and costly times to tender a window replacement project. Obtaining pricing in the late fall or early winter will generally yield the best pricing, as contractors are planning their workload for the upcoming summer construction season. Missing this optimal timing can increase window replacement costs by 25% or more.
  • Anticipate Interior Impacts: Ensure your window design includes requirements for interior protection and security. Window replacement can be disruptive for anyone in the unit during the work, but each window is typically completed before the end of the work day and the unit is handed back watertight. Finish painting or drywall repairs may require return visits. ​​Furniture must be moved away from the windows and protected with drop cloths.  Window blinds should be removed and reinstated to reduce the potential for damage. 
  • Identify Hazardous Substances: Many buildings constructed in the 1970’s and 1980’s may have hazardous materials such as asbestos in drywall or ceiling finishes. Make sure your engineer or contractor retains the services of an environmental consultant to perform testing of these components prior to undertaking work. 

In summary, it’s important to properly plan a window replacement to ensure the project meets the building’s needs and budgetary constraints. Answering these above questions will help start a window replacement project in the right direction and ensure that the windows selected will provide effective performance over their full anticipated service life.


Jordan SwailJordan Swail, RJC Engineers





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