All You Need to Know About Selecting Replacement Windows

At some point, the home you live in will need new windows.  And no matter where you live, your choices with replacement windows and who installs them are almost limitless.  Plus, there’s significant variations in durability, looks, and initial and long term cost between windows and installers.

So what should you look for when you’re ready to bgin selecting replacement windows, and to make sure you’re getting the best bang for the buck?  Here’s four major considerations:

First:  When should you upgrade?

Interestingly, you can’t rely on the age of your home as a barometer. In fact, newer homes are just as likely to contain bad windows.  In the Albany, NY area – there’s been an overabundance of builders who’ve constructed whole developments of hastily-built homes, and installed ‘builder grade’ windows.  These windows are typically not the best quality, and these builders make more money if they use cheaper materials and complete the home faster – which often means problems for you later on.  Just because a home looks good doesn’t mean it’s built correctly.

Here’s what to look for:

  • You have single pane windows.  If there’s only one pane of glass in your window, it’s time.  These are the least energy efficient windows and allow for the most heat transfer between inside and the outdoors.
  • Windows don’t open or close properly.  Aside from the annoyance of having a window that doesn’t open smoothly, this is a sign that your current windows are ready for replacement.
  • The seals around windows have failed.  Window seals don’t last forever, so if you can feel drafts  around the window when it is closed, it is most likely that the window seals have failed and you’re figuratively throwing money out the window through increased energy costs.
  • Condensation between panes.  Double and triple pane windows contain a layer of air in between the glass that make them better insulators, but if you notice vapor forming in between the glass panes, your windows are not functioning as they should.
  • You can clearly hear outside noise.  No one really wants to hear their neighbor’s dog at night.  While modern windows aren’t complete sound deadeners, they can significantly reduce sound transfer.  So if the dog barks and bird chirping can be clearly heard inside a closed window, it’s a sign that your current windows are outdated.

Should you select replacement or new construction style windows?

First, let’s make the distinction between replacement windows and new construction windows.

New construction windows require removing the entire old window and all of the original trim, back to the rough opening. This add time and materials to the cost of the job and often times the original wood work cannot be matched. Replacement windows are custom-sized and fit into the old window opening without disturbing the original trim work.  New construction windows can easily cost from 50% to 100% more than a replacement window.  There are situations where new construction windows work better and a qualified professional window installer can best advise you.   A good rule of thumb:  as long as the trim is intact and free from extensive rot or termites, then you can probably replace your windows instead of having to reconstruct them.

What’s the process?  Replacement windows can be custom-made or bought ready-made to fit into existing window trim.  When an installer comes, they remove the sashes and window stops—the moving parts of the window that hold the glass and the tracks on which they slide up and down. A new, ready-made window, comprising new sashes and window stops held together by a frame, is then fitted into the existing trim.

Choosing the Right Window Type

First, our recommendation is to not try selecting the type of window or even the brand on your own. Instead, talk with a professional independent contractor who sells all the major types and brands advise you as to which windows are best in your home.

Here’s a few of the options you can talk about:

  • Aluminum windows. While these windows are very strong, they are generally only used in commercial buildings or high rise apartments.
  • Wood windows. An ‘all natural,’ visually appealing choice.  Some negatives include a higher cost, the need to paint or finish the window periodically, and over time a wood window probably won’t work or perform as well as one made of a stronger synthetic material.
  • Fiberglass windows. Made of glass-reinforced plastic, fiberglass windows are very durable. However, because they are a relatively new product, fiberglass windows are virtually as costly as wood windows.  Additionally, the jury is also out on their applicability and longevity within warmer or humid environments.
  • Vinyl windows. The most popular choice for replacement windows: energy efficient, economical, and durable, vinyl replacement windows appeal to the masses.  There are many color and size choices, and even can be custom sized.  One potential drawback is that some vinyl windows are made with bulkier frames in order to increase the window strength. As a result, some homeowners may notice a reduced window pane size after installing certain kinds of vinyl replacement windows.  The good news is that there are vinyl windows on the market with a smaller frame profile while maintaining structural rigidity close to any other option.  Work with a good contractor that can offer and install the right product correctly.

Ultimately, independent websites like Angie’s List and This Old House typically recommend vinyl, because of the material’s cost-effectiveness, energy efficiency and longstanding durability track record.

Choosing a Window Brand

There’s a whole bunch of brand names building replacement windows. They’re all the same, right?

Not exactly.  A brand name isn’t everything.  And even within brands, there’s typically an A, B, and C line varying in quality and price, further complicating your decision.  The real recommendation is to not worry about brand so much at this point, but to choose alongside a professional who can show you specs of multiple brands and options, showing that the product offers the quality and performance you want at a price you can afford, and with  a great warranty.  And the worst mistake you can make is to base your brand or model decision on price.  You’ve all seen the $199 per window guys pushing the one window solution.  That’s a loss leader for them, and those windows will end up costing you much more in energy efficiency and quality in the long run.

Selecting a Contractor

OK, so you think you’ve figured it out:  you know you need replacement windows, and you’ve armed yourself with a little information.  Time to go price shopping, right?

Not so fast.

When choosing a replacement window, some contractors may sell a single manufacturer’s products or may represent several companies’ products.  The very best option is to look for a contractor who isn’t beholden to one manufacturer, but can represent many window brands.  Let them help you choose the type, the style, the colors and the brand based on your home’s needs and your budget.  Sure, price is important – but replacement windows are a serious investment, so choosing them for the long term should never be decided solely on price.

If possible, visit their showroom to see and test models that interest you or ask that they bring different models directly to your home. Do the windows look as attractive up close as they do online or in the catalog?  Does the window meet your quality requirements and design preferences?  Check out the features, give it a test run and check its specifications.

At the same time, you’ll be able to check out the contractor’s knowledge of the products. But don’t stop there:  check out the contractor on Angie’s List or another independent review site.  Look for a professional contractor with a lot of great reviews and testimonials, and a lot of experience.  Finding a great window is one thing, but if it’s installed poorly by a fly-by-night contractor, it will cost you more in the long run.  A lifetime warranty on a window isn’t really worth anything if the installer isn’t around to honor the warranty claim.

What’s Next?

Bennett Contracting has been installing windows for 100 years, and we’re not tied to selling one window brand.   Rather, we select and install the brand that fits your needs. We like to think we’re pretty good at it, and our 99% satisfaction rating on Angie’s List tells us that our customers think so, too. For more information on adding replacement windows to your home, contact us!