Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The cost of replacement windows--wood trim

In an earlier post, I discussed the various window treatments I have added to my replacement windows and those purchased in anticipation of replacement windows. Without due consideration, these costs can break many budgets as window coverings are as much about fashion as about functionality, with similar price tags. I chose the latter criterion and my purchases reflected that, but these items can add 10% to the cost of the new window.

However, there is more to window replacement than the coverings--there is also the wood trim and the wood of the window itself. Unless you select vinyl windows, wood or fiberglass windows with wood grain need to be stained. This means that either the color can be added at the factory, a cost in addition to construction of the replacement window, or you can choose to stain the wood or simulated wood grain yourself.

Since my mom is an expert on wood refinishing, I decided to do it myself after asking her what I needed to purchase and how I needed to treat the unfinished wood. The color of the wood trim in my house is quite dark, but I did not want the new windows and trim that color. Based on my mom's recommendation, I tried to get a color that used on the new wood, would get close to the color but be a few shades lighter. The drawback is even if I use the same wood type, color is unlikely to look identical to the wood already in the house.

So I hit the lumberyard in my city for the first time, found that 2" trim is no longer made (the size used in my house), and had 2.5" trim cut to the lengths I wanted, about 6" longer than the area the trim would go around. Since the people installing the windows would cut the trim on mitered corners, they needed extra length to cut those corners correctly. Exact measurements of the current trim would make the trim shorter than the window frame.

Including the cost of supplies (wood trim, wood to finish between windows, varnish, stain, steel wool, sandpaper, foam brushes), I spend another 4% on my replacement windows. This does not include the time it took to put two coats of stain on the bare wood to get the color darker but not too dark, putting one coat of varnish on, staining the windows once installed (damn those tiny corners!) and then applying two coats of varnish. Be prepared to spend a lot of time on this and if you can, recruit some help. It took me over two hours to apply a coat of stain or varnish just on the windows and another 30 minutes or so to get the varnish or stain off the glass each time. (My window is made of four individual units, two casement, two nonfunctional.) My stained windows look great but I was not completely prepared for the time it took to complete the task. Staining the trim is nothing compared to the time invested in the window with its nooks and crannies.

However, one of the windows slated for replacement this year will reuse trim that was removed from my front window. While I have eliminated the cost of the wood, I needed to purchase additional items to remove the old finish (e.g., stripper, stripping gloves, coarse steel wool). In the end, I think the cost is a wash, but I wanted to reuse wood instead of throwing it away. The old trim is several inches larger than the window opening to be trimmed, again, a good thing for cutting mitered corners.

While both stripping, staining and varnishing require a well-ventilated space, stripper can be especially pungent and you may want to perform this task in an area like a garage. For most of the staining and varnishing, two saw horses in my basement with an open window sufficed. A similar setup will likely be useful if you choose to stain your own trim.

As for staining windows in place, open at least one window in the room where the finishing occurs and have a drop cloth on the floor to catch any drips. Believe me, you will have stain or varnish drip on the floor. A rag and some mineral spirits will help, but not so much on wood, laminate or rug.

Budgeting for the cost of replacement windows means more than the purchase price of the windows and paying two or more men to install them. It means debating how much to take on yourself--do you put on stain and varnish or let the factory apply a finish, do you put up new window treatments and then do you buy or make them? These costs can be 15% or more on top of the window purchase price and should be added into the budget when considering replacement windows for your home.


  1. The proper estimate would definitely help on making a budget for window replacements. Before you purchase a window, contact your trusted contractor to assist you with the estimation. Ask him the expenses included in the replacement and how long the replacement will take. If you get the proper estimate, you will have no trouble with “window” shopping!

  2. How badly did you need to replace your windows? The window treatments don't have to be so expensive, you could do the half of the process by yourself or DIY it all. But that depends on the window treatments you wish to have. For the latter though, you could look online for ideas. Merrill @ LoveYourWindows.com

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