Replacing Your Rental’s Windows? Ask Yourself These Questions First

You probably don’t think too often about your apartment’s windows—at least as long as your tenants don’t put their foot through the glass—so when it’s time to replace, the sheer number of options in terms of different glazings, frames, insulation, and styles can have you scratching your head.


As with most replacement projects you’ll encounter in your life as a landlord, it can be tempting to go with the cheapest and most basic products, especially if you’re making repairs to multiple units. However, you really get what you pay for with windows, so selecting a quality model is imperative. Particularly, you should evaluate the window for its energy efficiency—the wrong model can wear out HVAC components or even put you in violation of area building codes. These questions will give you some direction and some food for thought as you begin searching for the right windows for your rental property.

Are there climate or geological concerns unique to your area?

You may not be paying your residents’ electricity bills, but you should still be taking your area’s climate—and its effect on heating and cooling costs—into consideration. In fact, some places may have enacted specific regulations, such as energy codes or measures requiring shatterproof glass, that will determine which windows you can install on your property. For instance, if you live in an area with high quake activity, you may need to purchase windows that have been tempered for safety. Weigh your options carefully if you’re based in one of the following locations:


  • Storm-prone areas. Some coastal locations, particularly those with high storm activity (think Florida and the Carolinas) require hurricane-resistant windows with shatterproof glass in residential buildings, while similar rules may be in place in areas that are frequently under threat from tornadoes and other extreme weather events. Additional requirements exist that regulate window’s design wind load—the amount of rated pressure the window can withstand. Additionally, your windows may need to be approved to resist certain wind speeds as well.
  • Areas that experience high heat. If high temperatures are a concern for your area, local governments may place restrictions on windows, aimed at reducing energy consumption from air conditioning. Typically this involves regulations governing the windows’ solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC), an industry rating that indicates the amount of solar heat the windows allow into a building’s interior.
  • Areas with extremely cold winters. Many colder areas have energy codes in place to enforce restrictions on your windows’ glass and insulation. Or they may forbid the installation of single-hung windows, which are fairly energy inefficient compared to double- or triple-hung models.
  • Areas on fault lines. Where earthquakes pose a threat, safety glazings, particularly for glass doors, may be a necessity. For instance, in California, the state building code dictates that all window glass be heat-tempered to resist shattering.


However, even if you live in a temperate area, your residents’ electricity bills can have a huge effect on your wallet. Uncomfortable tenants are unhappy tenants, which can obviously translate to lost dollars for you over time, but meanwhile, however, if those residents are constantly blasting the AC or heat, it’ll do a lot more than just bulk up their bills. Your building’s HVAC units will have to work harder as well, and the harder they work, the more frequently they’ll require maintenance, repairs, and replacement.


To lengthen the life of your property’s heating and cooling systems, consider installing windows with low-emissivity (Low-E) glass. This microscopically thin coating works two ways—it both reflects heat back into the interior during winter, and stops cooled air from escaping during the summer, making it an ideal solution no matter what the weather dishes out. It may cost a little bit more, but you can usually get a vendor to even out the cost, especially if you’ll be replacing all the windows in your units at once.


What window is right for your budget?

Price is obviously a factor for rental improvements, and while energy efficiency may be hard to charge for, when you install more visually appealing windows, the cost you pay for the windows can definitely be offset by raised rents. However, beyond the window’s appearance or its efficiency, the following factors can also affect how much you pay—now, and in the future:


  • Buy in bulk. It can pay to replace several windows at the same time, especially if you’re working with a contractor or directly with a vendor. If your order is for multiple units, ask the sales representative to offer a discount—they’re usually happy to oblige if your purchase is large enough.
  • Decide who will install the windows—it will affect the price. Hiring a contractor to do the work for you can definitely increase your costs—according to one landlord’s account, performing the installation themselves saved at least $350 per window. That being said, however, it’s not a job to be entered into lightly. While not an exceptionally complicated renovation, improperly installed windows can be a major safety hazard, so make sure you’re up to the task first.
  • Look for incentives. Local governments and utilities often incentivize building owners to use less energy by offering rebate programs and low-interest loans which you can use towards the purchase of more efficient windows.
  • Consider Flush-Fin or Z-Bar framed windows. The benefit to these windows is that the frames don’t have to be pulled off the exterior of the building in order to replace them, meaning you can swap out the window quickly and simply in the future.
  • Replace older frames. Older buildings may be fitted with outdated materials, particularly wood or aluminum frames, which are quickly going out of vogue. While wood has been acknowledged to be a high-maintenance and somewhat unsustainable material for quite some time, landlords are also trading in aluminum for more efficient vinyl models. Aluminum frames also have the disadvantage of gathering condensation and mold, especially in moisture-heavy areas such as in the kitchen or bathroom, leading to more repairs in the long run.


Overall, a replacement window can be a very powerful thing, raising your building’s property values and your rates along with them. Efficient windows may even extend the life of your rentals’ heating and cooling systems, leaving you free to focus your time and money on the improvements that really count.