How long do windows last?

The stained glass windows in the Canterbury Cathedral are over 850 years old – but while these windows have stood the test of time household windows don’t have quite the same staying power.

It isn’t that the glass itself will self-destruct – glass is one of the longest lasting materials we can make! However, windows are not just glass, but are systems of materials working together to keep your home safe from the elements. This article will explore how long different types of windows last, look at signs that your windows may need replacement, and explain the benefits of modern windows.

Lifespan of different types of windows

While window glass can and does get broken, most windows will fail in a less dramatic fashion. The exact mode of failure will depend on the material of the frame – although there are similarities between each type of window.

Red wall with wooden framed windows. with clock layover.

Wood windows

Wood window frames are becoming less common as material sciences have progressed, but this type of frame is still commonly found throughout the US. Generally a wood framed window will last 20+ years when well maintained. Every few years the wood will need a fresh coat of paint, and any broken glazing will need replacement as needed.

Eventually, wood may begin to warp, crack, or rot. When this happens the best course of action is to replace the entire window.

Aluminum windows

Aluminum window frames are somewhat uncommon – with clad window frames being more widespread – but are very robust and long lasting. As long as the moving parts are kept lubricated, the frames should provide decades of service.

For double paned windows, the seal between the panes may eventually go bad, allowing the inert gas or vacuum within to escape. This will vastly reduce the window’s insulation capabilities and may cause unsightly condensation to form between the panes.

Vinyl windows

Vinyl windows are often the most affordable option for window frames and thus are associated with cheaper, shorter lived installations. A budget vinyl window’s average lifespan may be as little as 10 to 20 years – relatively short when compared to the alternatives. However, as with many things, not all vinyl window frames are created equal and premium vinyl windows may last 20 to 30+ years!

One thing to note about vinyl is that it is sensitive to extreme temperatures. Exposure to high heat can cause vinyl to warp while extremely cold conditions can make vinyl brittle and prone to cracking.

Red wall with wooden framed windows. with clock layover.

Clad Windows

Clad windows are generally wood framed windows on the inside with a layer of vinyl or metal on the outside. This allows homeowners to enjoy the classic look and feel of wood, while benefiting from the extra durability and ease of maintenance of aluminum or vinyl. Clad windows typically will provide 20 years of life at a minimum, and can easily deliver much more.

Fiberglass windows

Fiberglass windows offer many of the same benefits of vinyl, but with enhanced long-term durability. These windows may cost more upfront, but with 30+ years of life and a generous warranty they often pay for themselves in the long term.


Signs it’s time to replace your windows

Other than an errant football or rock kicked up by an edger, windows tend to live uneventful lives. Rather than fail dramatically, they instead slowly lose their insulating properties, become difficult to use, or simply go out of style!

Damaged windows

This is the most obvious reason to replace your windows! If a single window has been broken then it might not make sense to replace all of your windows, however if a major storm has broken several windows at the same time, the universe may be telling you it’s time for a change!

Homeowners insurance often covers storm damage and damage caused by break-ins. If your neighbor’s kid accidentally tossed his football through your window, usually your neighbor’s insurance will foot the bill.

Drafty windows

If you can feel a breeze coming through your windows on a windy day, then they are not doing their job! Back in the days before HVAC, homes in hot environments were built to be breezy, helping with the stifling summer heat. However, today a breeze coming through your windows means that your air conditioning bill is literally being blown away!

High energy bills

If your windows are over 20 years old and your energy bills are persistently high, replacement windows might be the solution. As windows age they can lose their insulating capacity, resulting in greater thermal losses. In the summer this means more heat flowing into your house, and in the winter this means more heat flowing out of your house.

Condensation inside windows

If condensation forms between the panes of your double paned windows then you are in need of new windows. The condensation, while unsightly, is not a severe problem but is itself a symptom of a bigger issue.

If water vapor has been able to infiltrate your windows then that means that the insulating layer between the panes of glass has failed and your windows are no longer providing as much insulation as they once were.


Single pane windows

If your windows are single pane then you are missing out on huge energy and comfort savings by switching to modern double-pane windows! It is just as simple as that!

Difficulty opening windows

Older window frames can gradually warp, making them difficult to open and close. In some cases, the windows may never have been particularly easy to open and age is doing them no additional favors! If you have reduced mobility consider windows with easy one-handed operation.

Difficulty cleaning windows

In the past, window panes were often quite small. This was simultaneously a design choice and an artifact of older manufacturing processes. The unfortunate reality is that small paned windows are frustrating to clean and as their frames age this difficulty can become compounded!

Modern windows offer easy to clean monolithic panes with built-in frame dividers to provide the same visual impact of their smaller-paned forebears.

Outdated window style

Style is inherently subjective – but if you hate your windows then it’s time to replace them! There are tons of great window frame styles, designs, and even colors on the market today so you’re sure to find something that matches your aesthetic!

Easily hear traffic noise

Old windows aren’t just bad for insulating your home from the weather, they also let in noise! If you’re tired of hearing cars passing by, high-quality new windows will significantly cut down on road noise.

Benefits of replacing your windows

Older windows can hold back your home in a variety of different ways, but no matter why you’ve chosen to replace your home windows, new energy efficient windows will bring with them a few major benefits:

  • Lower monthly energy costs. Modern double and triple-pane windows can reduce utility bills by up to 20 percent!
  • A more comfortable home. No more searing sunlight in the summer and no more cold drafts in the winter! New windows cut down on infrared heat transmission and are sealed against winter winds.
  • A quieter home. New windows don’t just keep the weather out – they also shut out unwanted noise.
  • Boost curb appeal. If your home needs new windows then prospective buyers may be wary of making an offer. Replacing your windows will entice buyers and help you get your asking price.

Do Your Windows Need Replacing?

While different window materials provide different average lifespans, the reality is that weather conditions, maintenance practices, and even the quality of your window installation can affect how long your windows will last.

Instead of using time as a hard and fast determining factor, it is better to instead look for signs that your windows need to be replaced. Once you begin to notice one or more of these signs, it is a good idea to begin getting quotes for replacement windows. Our recommendation is to get a couple of quotes from reputable local companies and to invest in quality windows which will last longer and provide better results from day one.