Installing New Windows in HOAs: Regulations and Best Practices

Homeowners in your association may be interested in upgrading their property to energy efficient windows. However, for HOAs that have not established guidelines in their CC&Rs for window replacement, this can be a big problem. Find out how to create standards for your community to follow for window installations, to ensure consistency in the style and appearance of your association

Two buildings side by sideCommon interest developments more than 30 years old often share a familiar issue: homeowners want to replace older, single-pane windows with newer, energy efficient windows.

Prior to the mid-1970s, most housing developments were built with single pane, aluminum frame windows that were either silver or bronze in color. These windows were considered the standard for multi-housing complexes because they were inexpensive, installed easily and were easy to maintain. However, these windows allowed condensation to form on the interior of the frames and glazing, had corner joints that tended to leak, and were good conductors of heat and cold.

Energy Efficient Windows and CC&Rs

Technological advances have made the windows of today extremely energy efficient. Most windows currently manufactured are dual-pane windows with a choice of wood, aluminum, fiberglass or vinyl frames. These windows can be ordered with several options that will increase both the insulating value and heat reflecting qualities of the window and frame as well as alter grids and trim to enhance the overall design and look of the window.  However, these options not only make it difficult for a consumer to choose the right window for their needs, but they create problems for HOAs that have not clearly established guidelines for window replacement.

Most CC&Rs do not clearly address the issue of installing new windows as an energy upgrade, which makes boards of directors reluctant to agree to window replacement requests. CC&Rs typically state only that maintaining the windows as the responsibility of the homeowner, and the repair and replacement of the window as the responsibility of the association.

So, what should the board do?

If your HOA has CC&Rs that do not address window replacement, the board should review the matter with their attorneys. The most common solution is to allow the original windows to be replaced for energy-efficiency ones as long as the homeowner bears the costs associated with the work. Once installed, the HOA would resume responsibility for the window as outlined in the CC&Rs.

Establishing Window Style and Installation Standards 

The style, type, and color of the windows would have to meet with the approval of the HOAs Architectural Review Committee. For new types of requests, the committee will most likely not have experience on what types of windows would be acceptable for the HOA’s standards.

Common problems that occur with window upgrades in homeowners associations:

  • Windows do not match from unit to unit.
  • Windows are not similar to the look of the original windows. 
  • Some units make partial windows replacements. 

To avoid these common problems, the HOA board members and homeowners must decide on the color, style, frame type, and manner of installation for the windows that they will eventually approve.

Style and Appearance

When determining the standards, one of the HOA’s main concerns should be to ensure that the replacement windows look similar to the original windows so as not to detract from the physical appearance of the complex.

Example: An HOA complex has single pane, anodized bronze aluminum frames, and the homeowners request to install white vinyl framed dual pane windows as an upgrade. These will be a clear detraction from the style of the complex, meaning the HOA must determine which energy-efficient windows it will allow.

Different frame materials come in different colors. For instance, vinyl windows are typically available in white, tan, or almond. Aluminum windows come in white, bronze, or silver. Keep in mind that the visible portion of a window frame differs from aluminum and vinyl, and different manufacturers design their windows with different profiles. Your HOA should consider the design of its complex when determining the style standard. The Architectural Committee should ensure the upgraded windows blend with the building’s design.

Method of Installation

After determining the style and look of the window, the HOA must decide whether it will allow new construction windows (nail-on windows) or retrofit/replacement windows (flush fin).

New Construction Windows–Installation of new construction windows requires the removal of both the siding and the trim of the existing window. The window used, called a Nail-On window, has a flange (a projecting piece used for attachment) that is fastened to the wall framing of the building.

Retrofit/Replacement Windows–Retrofit windows are set into the existing window frame. The most common type of retrofit windows are flush fin, which conceal the original windows frame by sealing the inner portion of the new window to the face of the original window frame and the outer edge to the siding. These two sealed joints create both a primary and secondary barrier against water intrusion. This method requires only the installation of new trim.

While retrofit windows are typically easier and cheaper to install, leakage problems can arise depending on how the new window was sealed to the original window and whether the sealant joints are inspected and maintained periodically. With the flush fin windows, for instance, windows installed on top of the wood trim and not sealed to the original window frame are prone to leaking.  If water penetrates past the sealant, damage may occur to the structure, and the repair usually requires the new window to be removed from the opening. This method of installment (improperly sealing the window) does not reflect acceptable industry standards.

The committee members should discuss the pros and cons of specifying nail-on windows rather than retrofit windows. Although retrofit windows would be easier and less expensive to install (no siding removal) the potential for an improper installation exists if industry guidelines are not followed.

Permits, Damages, and Safety Violations 

Are permits necessary for window installation? Who will be responsible if the installation causes damage to another part of the building in the future? Without clear designations in the CC&Rs, these are the sort of questions HOAs need to address for window replacement.

Two of the most common safety violations that occur when upgrading windows are: reducing the size of the window opening to unsafe standards for emergency escape in bedrooms, and not providing tempered safety glass where necessary.

Bedroom Window Requirements

Currently, bedroom windows are required to have a window opening of at least 5.7 sq. ft., with a minimum width of 20 in. and a minimum height of 24 in. for emergency exit. When windows are upgraded, the owner or contractor often alters the size or configuration of the openings, so that the window no longer provides a space large enough for access by emergency personnel or the occupants of the room. When a homeowner installs a new window, make sure they are aware of these safety standards.

Tempered Glass Requirements

Tempered safety glass is required whenever a window is:

  • Within 18 in. of the floor (depending on window size)
  • Within 24 in. of a door
  • Installed in a tub or shower surround less than 60 in. above the floor
  • Within certain prescribed distances of stairs and landings.

Additionally, there are new requirements to the California Building Codes restricting window sills close to the floor, but more than 72 in. above outside ground level. These mistakes may not be caught until after the window is installed, and they present liabilities for both the owner and the association.

How to Create Detailed Guidelines for Window Replacement

After determining which style and method of installation the HOA will allow, the board of directors should develop guidelines and specifications to use in a Scope of Work, which details the steps necessary for replacing the existing windows with new energy efficient windows. The board may wish to seek professional guidance to create the Scope of Work, though it is not necessary.

The board will draft guidelines for style and method of installation (as discussed earlier) to incorporate into the Scope of Work. A common method for boards to decide is that windows upgraded by the homeowner s will be installed in the same manner as the original windows, with slight modifications incorporating the fact that the building was not new construction. The Scope should contain details on how trim was removed, how the siding was to be cut back and/or removed, how the windows were flashed, and how the siding and trim were reinstalled.

To avoid potential liability, your HOA’s guidelines and specifications should not limit the window type or purchase to just one manufacturer or distributor, and the specifications should be based on sound and proven industry practices.

Consider following these tips for safe and effective window upgrade guidelines:

  • Insert a comment into your guidelines that states the window shall be “similar” to the window the association decided as the best match for the look of the complex.
  • Include the name and contact information of the window manufacturer the HOA chooses, in case an owner wants more information.
  • Require all work was to be approved by the architectural review committee
  • Require all work to be done by licensed and insured contractors

Finally, to give guidance to an owner contemplating a window upgrade, an association’s guidelines should reference the American Architectural Manufacturers Association (AAMA) Standards 2400-02 and 2410-03. The first deals with nail-on windows and the second with flush fin retrofit windows. Both standards should be considered a minimum, and specific requirements may need to be added to the guidelines by boards to improve the installation based on local conditions. Although the AAMA standards are voluntary, many window manufacturers and design professional reference them. The standards can be obtained from the AAMA website.

Before approval by the board, the guidelines should be reviewed for legal considerations by the association’s attorney.


By making the effort to research window replacement and by working with an industry professional, boards can devise clearly written and easily attainable guidelines for upgrading windows; while at the same time ensuring that the upgrades blend with the existing design and look of the complex.

Information provided by John Schneider, licensed General Building Contractor, certified Code Specialist, and ECHO member.