You may have noticed that your entryway is looking a little less than welcoming, or felt a slight breeze every time you walk past those panes in your living room. Like everything else in your home, windows and doors need maintenance and, in time, replacement. And while new windows and doors can have a transformational effect aesthetically, that’s not the only reason you should take a closer look at yours this season. Poorly sealed windows and doors are a huge source of energy loss . Replacing, or resealing leaky windows and doors can help you keep your home warmer in the winter, cooler in the summer, and will not only save energy (“Yay!” says Mother Earth), but will also save you money on your heating and cooling bills. So how do you know whether it’s time to repaint the exterior, make minor repairs, or invest in a new unit all together? We asked the experts.
When to Repaint
“Once you start to notice blistering or fading in the paint finish,” it’s probably time for a refresh, says Tony Perry, CEO of A. Perry Homes . Liz McCarthy, marketing manager at Feldco Windows, Siding, and Doors , adds that as long as the structure is intact — in other words, the windows are functioning properly and the wood isn’t splintering or rotting — a coat of color will go a long way to improve the overall aesthetics.
- DIY Tip: “Sand and prime the entire window frame before painting to ensure a smooth, even finish,” says Perry.
One caveat: If the windows were built and painted before 1978, you can assume the paint has lead in it  — and that will require special handling that may not be cost effective. “If your windows are that old, the cost of replacing them will probably be cheaper than hiring a pro to handle the special care required for removing lead paint and refinishing them,” Perry says.
When to Repair
“Do the windows still have their structural integrity?” Perry says. “If there are some joints that are open and loose, can they still be glued tight? If so, replacement probably isn’t necessary.”
Before contracting out any repairs, be sure to contact the manufacturer to find out if your windows are still under warranty. “These fixes can be costly, so warranties are the best bet for homeowners looking to keep windows that need more than a coat of paint,” says McCarthy.
All that said, if your windows are more than 15 years old and the latches or other parts have begun to deteriorate, McCarthy advises that they could probably use more than a quick fix in the coming years. “In regards to energy efficiency, the technology has really changed in the last five to 10 years — and that will really drive people’s decisions as far as whether to repair or replace,” she says.
When to Replace
Look for the following red flags, says McCarthy: “Rotting wood, sashes that won’t stay in place, small cracks in the glass, and visible gaps around the outsides of the window.” Another indication that it’s time for new panes? Foggy glass — a sign that moisture has penetrated the window’s vacuum sealed inner layer, says Perry.
In the Clear
Step away from the sponge and put down the paper towels. For windows so clean you’ll forget they’re even there, Feldco offers these tips:
- Wash windows on a cloudy day with little breeze. This will prevent your solution (Windex or warm water and vinegar is best) from drying before you have a chance to wash it off, allowing for fewer streaks.
- Cleaning the inside? Wash side to side. Outside? Go up and down. If there’s a streak, you’ll know which side it’s on.
- Use coffee filters, not paper towel. While paper towel can leave fibers, coffee filters are less likely to shed on the glass — and they’re also cheap and absorbent.
- To remove build-up and grime, put your car window scraper to work.
- No time to wash screens? Remove fuzz in a flash with a lint roller. This will allow you to grab the largest pieces of debris without the intensity of a full screen washing.
When to Repaint
“The front door is the first thing people see when they come to your home, so it makes a huge first impression,” says Greg Wozniak, founder of custom door design company Doors for Builders . Want to update the color? White doors typically come with paint already baked in from the factory, so they can be repainted with regular house paint, says McCarthy. And though the new hue will fade faster because it’s not baked in, this allows you plenty of opportunity to change it on a regular basis.
- DIY Tip: “Remove all hardware from your door and take it off its hinges, then paint it lying flat so it dries with a smooth finish,” says Perry.
When to Repair
Like anything else that’s used regularly, a door’s parts require maintenance. Some should be scheduled, oil-change-style, but you can plan to fix others as they break down. “Have a professional adjust the hinges on your door every couple years or so to make sure it’s meeting properly with the frame,” Perry says, and keep that same pro on speed dial to address problems like broken handles, distressed weather stripping, or leaks as they happen. “Most of these things can be repaired without compromising the integrity of the door,” McCarthy says — just be sure to order all parts directly through the manufacturer. Of course, a repairperson will let you know if total replacement is necessary.
When to Replace
One word: Warping. “If you feel a breeze as you pass by, see light through the frame, or notice water coming inside, it’s time for a new door,” Wozniak says, who adds that both the door and frame should be replaced to ensure maximum energy efficiency .
“Replacing your door or windows is one of the easiest ways to make your home look brand new,” McCarthy says. “If you have the time, patience, and money, it’s like getting a brand new house without having to move.”
Transforming Homes and Lives
Just as new windows or doors can transform the look and energy efficiency of a home, a home renovation for someone in need who can’t afford to perform the basic home updates necessary for maintaining a safe and healthy living environment can quite literally transform the lives of an entire family. Read about how Rebuilding Together  is doing just that in communities across the country.
More from Make It Better:
- 5 Things That Could Derail Your Home Closing 
- How to Choose the Perfect Paint Colors for Your Home 
- Before and After: See How Rebuilding Together Transforms Homes and Lives 
Megan Craig has been a journalist for more than a decade, writing and editing stories on a variety of subjects. Most recently, her writing has focused on real estate trends in the Midwest and around the country. She lives in Chicago’s Printers Row neighborhood with her roommate and a few too many cats. Megan supports PAWS Chicago  and the National Kidney Foundation of Illinois .