High Rise Windows Chicago

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  • Top Rated Contractor for High Rise Window Replacement in Chicago
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The Window Guide: What You Need To Know About High Rise Window Replacement in Chicago

If your Chicago high rise apartment was built in the last two or three decades, there’s a high chance it needs new windows.

Fortunately, there have been a lot of advancements in window technology over the last 30 years. The most reputable window manufacturers have designed ways to eliminate drafts and temperature extremes—something any Chicago resident will appreciate when the wind is whipping past their 20th floor condo in the middle of January.

But when it comes to replacing windows in a high rise building, things get a little complicated. Every window replacement comes with pressure points—but at 200 ft. in the air, getting it done right becomes mission critical.

In this high rise window replacement guide, we’re unpacking everything you need to know. From what is involved in replacing high rise windows, to costs, to what kind of windows you need, we’ve got it all. And we’ve even answered the most pressing questions in our FAQ section.


About High Rise Windows

Maintaining High Rise Windows

Exterior Window Maintenance

Interior Window Maintenance

Checking for Damage to High Rise Windows

Is It Time To Replace Your High Rise Windows?

#1. Make note of window damage or signs of degradation in your windows.

#2. Check with your association.

#3. Hire a Professional

#4. Talk To The Architect.

#5. Choose the Right Materials.

#6. Costs

How Does High Rise Window Replacement Work?

Option 1. Cranes ; Mobile Elevated Working Platforms

Option 2. Interior Glass Replacement

Option 3. Use of the BMU

High Rise Window Replacement Guide FAQ


About High Rise Windows in Chicago

The windows used in skyscrapers and new-build towers aren’t the same as those used in a normal residential home.

There are a few reasons for this.

The first is wind pressure. At great heights, buildings need to be able to withstand high wind force—especially buildings in Chicago.

Often, the glass needs to act in a more functional way—like as a wall. If your window glass breaks at ground level, you have a problem. But if a window breaks 20 or 30 floors up in a building, you have a serious threat to life on your hands. We’ll explore more about the materials used in high rise window construction later in this high rise window replacement guide, but here’s what we need to know for now:

High rise windows are heavier, stronger, and more durable than standard residential windows.

They also require a different type of maintenance, and different considerations when it comes to how they are maintained.

Maintaining High Rise Windows in Chicago

Exterior Window Maintenance

Maintaining the exterior of your high rise windows—and addressing any damage—often falls under your association’s responsibilities. So it is important to check before booking any maintenance work on the exterior of your building. Of course, it always pays to report damage to your association, anyway.

Interior Window Maintenance

For the interior of your high rise windows, things are a little more simple.

Re-glazing is fairly straightforward, provided that your windows can be opened into the apartment. If your windows have internal beads, they may still need to be moved out of the building, turned, and slid in through the window cavity. This is a much more complex procedure.

Cleaning interior windows is easy to take care of on your own.

If you can access both sides of the window, you can do all the cleaning yourself. If you only have access to the interior of the windows, you can clean them using basic household glass cleaner or natural-based solutions.

The potential issue for cleaning the interior and exterior arises when the windows open outwards. The window sash on an outward-opening window can catch the wind, which causes damage and potential risks to both the property owner and any people or traffic below.

Checking for Damage to High Rise Windows

One form of maintenance that is vital to the longevity and enjoyment of apartment living is regular checks for damage and degradation to your windows.

Although high rise windows can sustain damage in many of the same ways as standard household windows, there are some components that are a higher risk for apartment and condo dwellers.


In a high rise building in Chicago, windows bear the brunt of most weather damage. Especially in newer builds, where entire walls of glass are installed, your windows are extremely vulnerable to scorching summers, heavy rains, snow, and gale-force winds.

All these extremes, plus the general seasonal changes, test the durability of our windows. The same goes for humidity, which can degrade the window casement and lead to cracking glass.

Physical Damage

Window glass is highly resilient to impact, but not entirely invincible to it. Balls, stones, hail, or outside equipment—like scaffolding and utility lifts—can all cause damage to your windows.


As your windows age, they degrade. They show wear and tear. It’s a part of life for all of us—including for our windows.

The estimated lifespan of our windows varies by brand, manufacturer, product line, materials, and area. But as all the components of our windows age and degrade, we may need to check more diligently for cracking, contraction, and warping.

Is It Time To Replace Your High Rise Windows?

Much like window replacement hundreds of feet in the air, the answer to this question is complicated.

There are several areas all apartment and high rise office owners should consider before they start a high rise window replacement project—and several steps to go about getting started.

So if you’re wondering what the smart steps to high rise window replacement are, we’ve got them here for you.

#1. Make note of window damage or signs of degradation in your windows.

Having a clear idea of what kind of condition your windows are in will help a professional window installation team to understand what they’re dealing with. It can also help you communicate your issue clearly to your building association.

#2. Check with your association.

Window installation professionals know that the key to a quick and effective window repair or replacement in high rise buildings in working with the association’s policies regarding windows. Every reputable building in Chicago—and most of the US—has one.

Many associations do window replacements or installations across several apartments or condos at the same time. This can be a more cost effective solution for the investors and property owners, and helps you to get a more competitive price on a premium service—if your association chooses an installer carefully. The key is to make sure you understand what you can—and can’t do—in window replacement.

Another reason most building associations have specific clauses around window replacement is the disruption to other tenants and apartment owners. To ensure the most successful, efficient, and non-intrusive process, your association board should be involved in the window replacement process.

Questions your Building Association May Want to Ask:

  1. Do the windows really need to be replaced? To get the best outcome from your investment, it might support your cause to have a window inspection done by a reputable company. This way you have answers to hand regarding why you think the windows should be replaced at all.
  2. Why should we replace them?

Some answers that can strengthen your case include:

  • Window leaks
  • Cold spots or drafts
  • Increased condensation
  • Damp cladding
  • Clouding
  • Warping of the window frame
  • Mold growth—provided this is not a symptom of poor ventilation within your apartment

General home improvement is a common reason given for a high rise window replacement. Particularly in buildings that date back to the 70s and 80s, single pane glass and lack of gas filling for windows can make for extremely uncomfortable winters.

Although this may not be a concern for your building association, window replacement can have a serious impact on your heating and cooling consumption. It may pay to include recent data for your area in your argument for window replacement.

Establishing why you want your windows replaced is a key component in convincing a home owners / building association to allow it. It also encourages you as a property owner to do your due diligence into what is required. Answering the questions is the start in the right direction that we need to create the most durable, long lasting, enjoyable high rise home for years to come.

If your association approves, but don’t take charge of the project from this point, it’s time to move on to the next step.

#3. Hire a Professional for Highrise Window Replacement

If your association doesn’t already have a preferred contractor for window installations, it could be your responsibility to find one.

At this point it is important to note that many mainstream window installers are not licenced to work with windows above the third floor. This can be for a number of reasons, including safety policies, insurance liability for the installer, insurance for the building association, and workers compensation.

In simple terms: you need an expert.

Look for professional window installers who can work with high rise buildings and large glass sizes. Generally speaking, a company that specializes in high rise window replacement have the equipment, hardware, and training required to carry out high-risk work with confidence.

Look for companies who offer:

  • Experienced installers with local knowledge
  • The physical resources to complete high rise window replacement
  • The correct insurances to work on your apartment and building
  • Quality products and materials from reputable manufacturers
  • Access to manufacturer warranties and labor warranties that benefit the homeowner—not just the purchaser.

#4. Talk To The Architect.

Most high rise buildings have a rigid set of guidelines to adhere to when it comes to choosing window solutions. If you need to understand those guidelines, or your expert window installer requires them to get started, you can generally get them from your building association—or better yet, your building’s original architect.

#5. Choose the Right Materials.

You may think wood windows are going to add warmth and depth to your industrial-style apartment. Unfortunately, if you live above the 7th floor of your building, wood windows don’t meet the local body standards.

There are many standards that your windows will be required to adhere to.

So, what is required of high rise windows?


Glass panels in high rise buildings are required to have at least two 6mm glass panes, separated by a void of 12mm. This void can be filled with xenon, argon, or krypton gas, to provide insulation from the harsh Chicago extremes.

Heat Treatment

High rise glass is not often laminated or tempered—although in some instances, it may be. Tempering puts a large amount of stress on the glass and can impact visual quality—an important factor when people are buying their apartment for the stunning views.

We touched on it a little, but there are certain exceptions to the no tempering standard. Glass used in railings or close to the floor must be laminated.

But generally speaking, high rise windows are heat strengthened, instead. This provides a stronger, more resilient finish to the glass, and is done before the windows are fabricated.

Low-E Coating

High rise windows can be tinted, although this can also impact the view and lower the value of the apartment. More commonly, low-emissivity coatings are used on the interior of the window to reflect heat and help keep the interior of the building cool in summer.

It might surprise some apartment dwellers to know that only areas like Boston and Minneapolis spend more money on heating than on cooling—which is why low-E coatings are so valuable in Chicago skyrises.

Heavy Duty Equipment

The first issue we arrive at with these regulations is weight. A large apartment window with the kinds of specifications we’re exploring here is bound to be extremely heavy.

This means that installing the window requires some heavy lifting. This is why specialist high rise window installers have heavy duty equipment to help them. Where your building has floor to ceiling window panels, the ante increases three- or four-fold.

Window Styles

Internal window forms—where the window opens inwards, as opposed to outwards—are much more friendly to the property owner, and more cost effective in the long-term. It can dictate how the windows are maintained, cleaned, and re-glazed in the future.

If external opening windows are chosen, the apartment owner or association needs to hire rooftop mobile access—like a lift—and abseiling teams for cleaning and repairs.

Another option is reversing, horizontal pivot, or side guided windows. These allow us to clean the windows from inside the apartment.

Consider the options carefully, as they can have a major impact on how much window maintenance costs later on.

Top options include:
  • Top hung reversing
  • Horizontal pivot
  • Vertical pivot
  • Side swing reversing
  • Side guided
  • Side hung
  • Tilt ; Turn

#6. Costs

Here’s the bad news: high rise apartment owners can expect to pay three to four times more for window replacement than ground level homeowners.

On the plus side, though, the windows are designed to withstand more stress, last longer, and keep the cold and heat out more effectively.

If you have walls of glass in your apartment instead of straightforward windows, the costs could be prohibitive for many sky-high dwellers.

As an example, the average cost of replacing high-rise window cladding is slightly more than USD$190 per square foot. Add to that the costs of interior finishing, accessing anchoring systems, and your temporary relocation while the work is finished—because you can’t stay in an apartment with no wall between you and the outside world—and the costs keep on creeping up.

If this is the situation in your building, often times the building association has it covered. The process is lengthy but worth it, especially if you’re looking at a $25,000 window replacement bill.

How Does High Rise Window Replacement Work?

If you’ve ever watched a high rise building go up, you’ve no doubt seen the cranes and construction crews guiding the windows into place. Unfortunately, once the drywall goes in and the roof goes on, window installation gets a little bit trickier than that.

There are several options that can be used to install high rise windows at this stage.

Option 1. Cranes ; Mobile Elevated Working Platforms

In order for your window installers to access your apartment and install your windows from the exterior, they need a mobile elevated working platform (or suspended scaffold lift) and a crane.

The crane lifts the glass to the correct height so that it can be installed by your team. The Mobile elevated working platform lifts the team to the correct height to complete the project.


  • Provides stability and accuracy
  • Both pieces of equipment can hold heavy loads for extended periods, even in adverse weather
  • Room to carry additional materials and tools
  • Effective


  • Cranes require space at ground level, so generally require permits, traffic management, and safety management.
  • Costly to hire cranes and mobile platforms
  • Cranes reach a limited height, so may not be effective if you live higher than a certain floor

Option 2. Interior Glass Replacement

In order to carry out interior glass replacement, the glass panes are transported to your apartment using specialist suction tools. They are then put into place from within your apartment.


  • Easy and straightforward
  • More cost effective than crane and mobile platform hire
  • Fast


  • Glass panels will need to fit in the elevator or stairwell to be transported
  • Glass panels will need to fit through the doors and hallways of your building and apartment

Option 3. Use of the BMU

The building maintenance unit (BMU) can be used to gain access to the building’s façade. A building maintenance unit is regularly used to carry out maintenance work—hence the name—like window cleaning. If the entire façade of the building is glass, it is common for the building to install its own maintenance unit to minimize maintenance costs over time.

A building maintenance unit may also come equipped with a glass replacement system. This system can lift and lower window installation equipment and materials via a winch and pulley system.


  • Already installed so requires minimal set up costs
  • Does not impact ground traffic
  • Able to carry large amounts of heavy equipment and materials
  • Minimal hire costs, if any


  • Subject to availability as it belongs to the building association and has priority uses

High Rise Window Replacement Guide FAQ

How many window installation contractors should I contact?

Contacting three reputable local specialists is a good way to get a fair and competitive idea of pricing and quality. Remember to do due diligence before coming to a decision. It can be tempting to choose the cheapest contractor, but this may prove costlier in the long run if they don’t have the level of workmanship and expertise required.

Will I need to pay all the costs myself?

In some cases a building association will take partial—even full—responsibility for the costs. If they take full responsibility, it is likely that they will also choose the window specialist, products, and schedule the work themselves.

What standards do high rise windows need to meet?

The standards vary from area to area, and your professional window installation team will be able to provide guidance around the quality standards and thermal performance regulations for high rise windows specific to your building.

How much disruption should I expect from a window replacement?

Window replacement is disruptive regardless of what kind of property you live in.

Generally speaking, an experienced window installer will generally work on one window at a time in order to have all windows in tact when they finish work for the day. If this is not the case—for example, if they are replacing multiple wall-height panes—you may be required to stay elsewhere until the work is complete.

Do I need to do anything to prepare?

Furniture must be moved away from the windows and belongings covered with drop cloths. A professional window installation contractor should be confident in completing their work and returning a clean space at the end of the project.

Does weather affect high rise window replacement?

Yes. High winds can cause instability issues on scaffolding and maintenance units. Extreme weather may require your project manager to postpone work until conditions improve.



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