In our experience, 25+ year old condominium buildings across Ontario are struggling with poor performing windows and have not set aside sufficient funds to pay for major repairs and replacement. This is primarily due to the following two factors:
- Reserve Fund planners are assuming that windows will either not need replacement or replacement will occur many decades in the future. The reality is that windows should be planned to be replaced after 30-40 years of service life. Current window technology is far superior, resulting in energy savings and dramatically increased comfort for residents compared to aged windows. Furthermore, Owner's and buyer's expectations for performance are much higher, since they are comparing new and old condominium buildings.
- Reserve Fund planners are underestimating the cost of window replacement. The cost of replacement is increasing at about 4-7% annually due to increases in glass, aluminium, and labour costs. Pandemic related inf lation has increased the cost of window replacement by 20-30% just in the past two years. Planners are also using low unit rates based on replacing punched windows only. Window wall system replacement in high rise buildings is significantly more labour intensive and much more expensive.
Window replacement projects represent a once in a generation opportunity to add significant value to the appearance and performance of your building. Condominium Boards should follow a proven process to help maximize this opportunity and to drive the project to successful completion.
Windows vs. Glass
First, let us clarify terminology. When we refer to windows, we are talking about the frames, which are typically prefinished aluminum and thermally broken, fixed glass or sealed double-glazed insulating glass units (IGUs), and operable glazing units, which can be horizontal sliders, awning, or hopper styles.
It is considered normal maintenance to replace the IGUs as they fog up due to failed seals. As the windows age, the cost of IGU replacement will increase and annual costs can become very significant. This is often referred to as "window" replacement whereas technically this is IGU replacement. Window replacement typically means replacement of the entire window system, including the aluminium frames and glass.
How long should we wait before replacement?
Many condominium Boards and Owners want to know when the optimal time is to replace their windows. The answer depends on many different factors including the current condition of the existing windows, opportunities for refurbishment, and financial constraints. Determining the right timing of replacement for your building is a critical first step in the process. Triggers that often drive window replacement include:
- Prevalence of water leaks.
- Air leakage and drafts.
- High cost of repairs to maintain the windows including IGU replacement.
- Poor aesthetics diminishing building value and affecting enjoyment of windows.
- Poor performance affecting comfort, i.e., extremely hot in the summer and cold in the winter.
Here’s an example of a 3D rendering that helped a condominium community explore options and window configurations during the design phase. At this building, total glass area was increased and sliding operable units were changed to awning style to improve performance, ventilation, and appearance.
Understand Your Building: Leave No Stone Unturned
Before embarking on a major repair or replacement project, best practice is to fully understand the current condition of your windows and to explore various options. Working with your engineering partner, Board's should complete the following steps:
- Condition Assessment: Exterior and interior assessment of the windows, including wall cut-outs to check concealed as-built conditions. Explore various options for replacement including cost estimates.
- Energy Modelling: Develop models calibrated to utility data to assess the energy contribution of existing windows, calculate potential energy savings, and optimize design.
- 3D Renderings: Used to illustrate views out of existing and new windows and to demonstrate what the new windows will look like from the exterior. Allows for comparison of options.
- Thermal Modelling: Used to assess surface temperature of the frame and glass which have significant impact on comfort.
- Cost Analysis / Impact on Reserve Fund: Review financial options and funding plans.
- Glass Sample Review / Frame Sample Review / Mock-Ups: Confirms all details, colours and styles before the full project starts.
Do I have to replace my windows?
With aged windows at the end of their service life, we typically consider two primary options:
- Defer Window Replacement: Retain existing frames and complete a major window retrofit.
- Window Replacement.
To retain the original window frames and extend the life of the window system a major retrofit is an option. Retrofit projects can include re-coating the exterior frames and panels to improve appearance and protect the metal, replacing exterior sealants, refurbishing the weatherstripping, and replacing the IGUs with higher performance glazing. This type of major retrofit is a significant investment and should only be considered if your community is willing to live with the original frames for another 15- 20 years or more. At that point, window replacement or another extensive retrofit will be required.
Here is an example project where a window retrofit mock-up was completed above a window replacement mock-up. The retrofit included new glass, new sealants, and a new exterior coating on the frames. Replacement provided an opportunity to redesign and modernize the window layout by increasing the glass area to improve the view. The new windows also include awning style operables and glass, rather than painted metal spandrel panels. The new opaque glass spandrel panels and shop-applied frame coatings provide a modern and vibrant aesthetic.
On the other hand, replacing the windows will reset the life of the windows for 35+ years with only minor maintenance repairs. Comparing the life cycle costs of refurbishment vs. replacement is a useful exercise to help the Board make a wise decision in the best interests of the condominium.
Build Trust in your Community
Communication, communication, communication. Involving owners in the decision- making process before any decision are made is critical to getting buy-in from the majority of Owners. Working with professionals experienced in window replacement projects will provide tools and processes to help Boards manage communication with Owners. Communication is critical to the success of the project for many reasons, including:
- Building trust by demonstrating the Board has done their due diligence and has left no stone unturned.
- Allowing Owner's concerns to be voiced and considered.
- Keeping the Board in control of the information and allowing the Board to adapt the message based on feedback.
- Reducing surprises and anxiety.
- Educating Owners on the complexities of windows such as maintenance, humidity control, design options, purpose of each window component, how replacement occurs, etc.
Windows are a portal to the outside environment which allows light, air, sound, and warmth pass through. High performance and visually appealing windows can transform an Owner's experience of their home. Managing a major window replacement or refurbishment project is a challenging yet rewarding experience. Leveraging a proven process will help you achieve a successful project every time!