old windowNot my window. But this is how they feel sometimes.TottoBG via flickrOnce upon a time, I was full of unswayable romantic notions about old houses. Then I bought one.

I’ll refrain from going into too much detail about the quirks of our house, and of course I’m grateful to have a roof over our heads. But we’ve come up against a particular challenge that I can’t seem to figure my way around. It’s a little thing called window shopping.

No, not window shopping like pressing your nose up against the glass (thanks, wordplay-loving co-workers!). Window shopping like, “We have got to replace these old, rattling, single-paned, glazing-falling-out beasts before another winter sets in.” Even weatherstripping doesn’t help at this point.

The good news is that friends and family and This Old House keep telling us how easy it is to replace windows yourself. The bad news is, we’re pussies. I mean, of all the projects to screw up, is that really the one you want to test your skills on? So we started scouting around for installation estimates.

But that’s where the bad news got worse. Not surprisingly, it costs a lot to have someone else put windows in your house. And furthermore-not-surprisingly, it costs a lot more if you choose a material whose production doesn’t devastate planetary and human health.

The most affordable option? Vinyl.

If there’s one thing that echoes in my head after editing Ask Umbra for years, it’s this: “No vinyl, that’s final.” Vinyl’s drawbacks are many, varied, and well documented. We had two companies visit so far; one spent the entire time talking up vinyl (and assuring us that “it doesn’t bleed”) while the other spent the entire time talking it down. I look around my neighborhood, and everyone seems to have it. I research online, and everyone seems to sell it — but I’m also noticing another interesting trend, which is a sort of vinyl-window backlash. They don’t actually perform that well. They warp and wear out. There are other more modern options (fiberglass, for one, which is a relative newcomer to WindowLand and brings its own set of pros and cons).

I’m thrilled to see vinyl getting its due. But here’s the thing: of the estimates we’ve gotten so far, only vinyl came even within spitting distance of our budget. This is one of those moments where I get a fresh reminder of why everyone doesn’t just “Go Green It’s So Easy and Fun!” Reality intervenes.

I know new windows — whether vinyl or not — should eventually pay for themselves in energy savings. So I figure I have a few options: Keep getting estimates in the hope that someone will magically be willing to install non-toxic windows for a reasonable price. Suck it up and buy the vinyl windows, installation and all. Buy more expensive windows and try to install them ourselves, thus coming out at about the same place. Or really suck it up and buy non-toxic windows and installation. (This last one is, frankly, nearly impossible given our current budget.)

What should I do? Now you get to vote. And/or rant in the comments about what a fool I am. Meanwhile, I’ll be window shopping.

Update: The results are in:

  • 37.4 percent — No vinyl, that’s final! Buy a better window and install it yourself to save money.
  • 27.1 percent — Yes. Vinyl’s not that bad.
  • 25.1 percent — No vinyl, that’s final! Splurge on better windows and installation. It’s a good investment.
  • 10.4 percent — Really, this is your biggest problem?