A good friend who lives near Chicago reached out to me recently for help navigating the treacherous waters of replacement windows. He lives in a modest brick bungalow with 10 average-size windows.

One of the first questions I asked was about his motivation. Had his windows become inoperable? Was he sick of painting his existing ones? Did he want to save money on his heating and cooling costs? Or did he just want new windows that looked better?

Like him, before you commit to spending what will likely be a huge sum of money, you should ask yourself why you want to replace your windows. With inflation rising, you’re likely to experience sticker shock when you get your cost estimates. My friend, for instance, received estimates that ranged from $10,197 to $31,498.

Another reason prices have gotten so high is that window technology is constantly improving. Modern glass can incorporate special coatings that reduce the amount of ultraviolet and infrared light that enters your home. Other coatings can bounce heat back to its source, so warm air can stay indoors during the winter months. Some coatings even keep your windows clean longer.

A less-expensive option for limiting UV and IR light coming through your windows is to apply an over-the-counter transparent film. One brand of film claims to keep out 97% of the IR light that’s trying to pass through the glass and overheat your home. Another blocks a significant amounts of UV light, which can cause your fabrics and carpets to fade. These films cost a fraction of the price of a new window.

If you do choose to purchase new windows — or make any home-energy improvement — keep in mind that you won’t start to save money until you’ve recaptured in fuel and electricity savings all of the money you spent, plus any interest you may have paid to finance the purchase.

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Let’s say my friend decides to spend $20,000 for new windows (the approximate midpoint of his estimates). Let’s also assume he pays in cash and doesn’t finance the purchase.

My friend says he paid $1,539 in 2021 to heat and cool his home. However, when it comes to calculating energy savings, it’s best to compare the energy quantities you use, not the price. Fuel and electricity price changes year to year can cause very fuzzy math.

I reached out to the Gilkey Window Company in Cincinnati, asking them what the average energy savings might be if I purchased their best windows. They told me it was reasonable to experience a 15% reduction in heating and cooling fuel usage. The savings can go as high as 25%, but for this exercise we’ll stick with 15%.

If my friend installed high-quality replacement windows, he might reduce his heating and cooling costs by $230.85 per year. We can use that number to get a worst-case payback scenario. By my calculation, it would take more than 86 years to break even. Do your own math using your annual heating and cooling costs. I think you’ll be stunned by the length of your payback period.

You may also want to factor in how long you’ll be in your home. Will you still live in the house when you finally break even on your purchase?

Maybe it’s a better idea to install new window films and weatherstripping, and to paint your existing windows with the best urethane-resin paint you can find. Urethane house paints can last up to 20 years if you do all the preparation right. Do one window and see if you like the result. What do you have to lose by trying?

Tim Carter has worked as a home improvement professional for more than 30 years. To submit a question or to learn more, visit AsktheBuilder.com.