How to Buy Replacement Windows

New windows can really improve the look of an older home while also improving energy efficiency.

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Consider which windows you want to replace. Do you want to replace them all or just certain ones?

Prepare a preliminary budget. How much you can afford to spend will determine how many windows you can actually replace based on different window materials, designs and features.

Consider what you want your new windows to do. Are they to be an architectural design feature or merely provide functionality? Decide whether you would like the windows to open and close, and how they should operate. Don't forget that windows also provide security.

Factor in the time of year. In all probability, the project will take at least several days, during which time your home may be somewhat exposed to the elements.

Contact several replacement-window vendors and installers for quotes.

Discuss the various window types that the vendors offer and the merits and costs of each: wood frames, wood that is vinyl-clad or wood that is aluminum-clad. Vinyl- and aluminum-clad windows do not require painting, so they are low-maintenance. However, vinyl clad windows are not always available in a wide range of colors, so don't assume you can get a particular shade.

Discuss the energy-efficiency options (such as standard insulated glass and low-e glass) offered by the vendors. Consider low-e window coating (a window coating that reduces heat loss through the glass while at the same time allowing heat from the sun to penetrate) or gas-filled windows (argon or krypton inserted between double glazing which reduces heat loss). Work the additional cost of these features into the context of the estimated savings on your heating and cooling bills. Do the expected savings justify the extra cost? Aluminum and vinyl window frames may be less expensive than wood-clad vinyl or aluminum, but they won't provide the same insulating capabilities.

Ask the vendor/installers for references and check them: Were past customers happy with the work done? Was the work completed in a timely manner? Have they had any problems since the installation? Did the contractor leave the site in a clean and undamaged condition? Check with the Better Business Bureau to see if there have been any complaints lodged against them.

Select a vendor/installer based upon price, window type, references and your impressions.

Make sure that the vendor/installer offers guarantee(s). Sign a contract for the work. If ordering the windows separately from a vendor, make sure that the installer has signed off on the list to verify that the windows specified are correct.

Make sure that the installer is properly insured. Get a valid certificate of insurance from the contractor before you pay any money or before the work begins.

Tips

  • The two most common types of windows are double-hung and casement. Double-hung windows have bottom and top sashes that slide up and down to open or close the window. Casement windows are typically operated with a crank and open like a door.
  • Commonly, windows consist of a single pane of glass per sash over which a wood or plastic grille is placed. Double pane or even triple pane windows will provide substantially better insulation capabilities and reduce your heating and cooling costs.
  • A true "divided lite" window has a built-in frame (instead of the grille) with separate panes of glass in each segment. True divided lite windows are typically 2 to 4 times the cost of standard windows.
  • If you are handy, you could save yourself some money in your budget by installing some of your new windows yourself.

Warning

  • Your window installer will undoubtedly insist on a substantial deposit. Always try to negotiate the smallest possible up-front payment and a schedule that matches the pace of work and material deliveries.