What should I know before I get new windows?
January 31, 2010 10:39 AM   Subscribe

I want new windows for my house. What should I know before contacting a company to make/install them?

I've been thinking about getting new windows for quite some time. Mine don't keep in the heat very well in the winter, nor the cold in the summer; they're not as quiet as I would like; many of them are somewhat difficult to open and close. I imagine that they were new on the house when it was built in the eighties, and almost certainly weren't near top-of-the-line even at that time.

Coincidentally, someone I know just got her windows replaced, and had nothing but high praises for the company that made and installed them. So, I've been thinking about contacting that company.

But I don't know much of anything about windows, and I'd like to become at least a little informed before contacting the company. What do I need to know? What would it be good for me to know? What features or whatever do you suggest, or suggest against? What did you get that you are happy or unhappy with? What do you wish you got, or wish that you didn't get?

I mostly have "normal" windows, for lack of a better term, but additionally have one largish picture window, one set of sliding glass doors, and some small fixed window panes to the side of my front door.

I imagine that it's relevant that I live in the northeastern United States, where it gets cold in the winter and hot in the summer. Let's say a "normal" winter day's low is in the lower 20s (Fahrenheit) and a "normal" summer day's high is in the upper 80s, with it not being terribly uncommon to have a cold snap in the single digits or a heat wave up near 100.
posted by Flunkie to Home & Garden (9 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I've been planning the same thing. Horrible single-paned windows out here in AZ. The heat pours in in the summer and our winters get down to freezing and the cold draft can be felt washing down the windowpane in the winter. I'm hoping to get them replaced in the next year or so.

I'll let others speak to the merits of a particular manufacturer, but if you're getting into this,definitely look into the tax credits. Under the current Recovery Act, you can get a tax credit for energy-saving upgrades such as better windows. The credit is 30% of the cost (not including installation), u to a max of $1500 credit until Dec 31st, 2010. The windows have to meet certain specifications, though. See here for more on the current credit.

That's the federal credit. Your state and your local power company may also provide credits. These can stack up.

You may also have heard that Obama has been pushing expanding the credit that would help pay for home upgrades like this up to $12,000. Dubbed "Cash for Caulkers", this program still has to be voted on by Congress, however. So while it might be far, far more to your financial advantage to buy your windows under this program, it's not a sure thing that it'll come to pass.

One of the key things when working with manufacturers/installers is to see how helpful they're going to be in applying for the credit. Some solar panel and solar water heater companies will take care of pretty much all of the paperwork for you and even "float you" the credit value, so it immediately is reduced from the price of the products. I don't know if window manufacturers/installers do the same thing, but it's worth asking.

Good luck, and let us know what you decide to do and how it works out!
posted by darkstar at 11:09 AM on January 31, 2010 [3 favorites]

There's two types of windows. One are 'new construction' windows that are designed for the current residential code's specification for thickness of walls, and then there's "renovation windows" or "replacement windows" that are designed for older thicknesses of walls. Make sure your company measures your walls and installs replacement windows as opposed to new build windows. If they don't, the new build windows will leave an inch or two hanging to the outside of your house, which is a pain in the butt to seal or build trim around in a way that won't let water in.
posted by SpecialK at 11:23 AM on January 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

The non-custom windows come in specific sizes. Make sure your company makes windows in the size you need. We decided not to go with a top company and now wish we did. Not that the windows are bad, they've helped reduce our energy consumption and kept the house warmer, but you get what you pay for. Custom sizes will cost extra. Check the warranty and ease of cleaning on upstairs windows. Our windows are quite difficult to open for cleaning. You can get triple paned windows. I just checked our double paned windows and they don't leak cold in. Triple pane may be overkill.
posted by Xurando at 11:28 AM on January 31, 2010

How handy are you? You didn't really describe your existing windows. Are they double hung? Aluminum sliders? Fixed pane? It makes a huge difference. The advice about replacement versus new construction windows is valuable. I replaced all of the windows in our small rental house in two days, including the large picture window. If the windows are of standard sizes and you are at all talented in measuring them, you can find ready-made windows at your Lowes or Home Depot that will fit. I only had to order one custom-made window due to an odd size.

If you prefer to have someone else do the work, have a contractor that specializes in window replacement do the work. Be sure to get a guarantee against leakage. If at all possible, make sure they will install windows within the existing openings without breaking into the exterior or interior wall surfaces. Otherwise, a year or two from now you will have rings around each window where the patch work no longer matches the old wall surfaces.

The most efficient windows are going to be the most expensive. Consider how much heating and/or cooling expense you might save, divide that in half and see if the payback is worth doin the job. Do this for each type of window they offer. You may find that the difference in cost between, say, low E and simple double pane is not worth the upgrade. This will be impacted by how long you intend to live in the house and whether the expense will be paid back by the time you want to sell. There is no extra resale value between types of energy efficient windows and minimal increase between single and double pane windowed homes.

I have found that switching to double pane from single pane makes a significant difference in the heating and cooling of our home in central Tennessee where we went through 16 days where the temperature never rose above freezing. I doubt there would have been a significant greater difference if we had gone with low E, but I'm just guessing.
posted by Old Geezer at 11:53 AM on January 31, 2010

Response by poster:
How handy are you?
Not particularly, but I'm not incompetent. However, I will definitely not be doing the installation, so I'm not sure why this is relevant. Is it? If so, why?
Are they double hung? Aluminum sliders? Fixed pane? It makes a huge difference.
The existing windows are double hung. All else equal I would prefer the new ones to be as well, though I'm not terribly picky. Is this question only relevant with respect to the "How handy are you" question?
posted by Flunkie at 12:12 PM on January 31, 2010

We used a company named Sierra Pacific for our windows and have been extremely pleased with the quality and performance. They are local to our area (Pacific northwest), and are a vertically integrated company (they grow the wood for their frames, and do all the manufacturing for their windows), and don't advertise extensively, which saves a lot of money for a comparable product. In contrast, Pella and Anderson (to name two) advertise a lot, and you pay for that.
I'd strongly encourage you to NOT get vinyl windows, eventually the vinyl will yellow, and fail (crack). All wood, or aluminum-clad windows will last much longer, and the wood ones can be re-painted. Jeld-Wen is another quality manufacturer.
Also consider either casement style windows or double-hung for your replacements, they are both very efficient at moving air in your house (to get hot air out, and cool air in).

Sierra's site has a concise page about the stimulus plan too.

I also agree that you should have an expert installer for your windows, and unless you are very good at following instructions and are very precise in measuring, have them measure for your windows as well. Nothing worse than a window that's too small for the hole your old one leaves!
posted by dbmcd at 12:38 PM on January 31, 2010

If you are not interested in DIY, ignore my entire first paragraph. I threw it out there just in case. I do feel, however, that the remainder of my comment has some value when combined with the comments of others. Best Wishes.
posted by Old Geezer at 5:58 PM on January 31, 2010

We had our windows replaced about eight years ago. The old double paned ones were replaced with new double paned. They did it all in one day. Eleven windows. Most of average size, but one was a large picture window. We're in Southwestern Ontario Canada.


All of our windows fit like a glove. The guys were fast and neat. Less than one day. No fuss, no muss. Not very much inconvenience other than being home.
The outside noises were reduced.
They're vinyl, no upkeep other than cleaning.
They swing inside to clean, except for the middle part that doesn't move on the large one.
We opted for all double hung except for the large one (both ends slide) , the three bedrooms and the three basement/rec-room. I like the option of being able to open either the top OR the bottom on the double hung. Especially in the kitchen and the bathrooms.
All came with removable fiberglass screens. Except the part of the large one that doesn't move of course.


They are supposed to be selfcleaning. By this I mean that you don't have to clean the glass (the outside of it only) as often as you would regular windows. The company told us not to use everyday cleaners on them when we did have to. We were told that the "elements" would clean them for the most part. Just very occasionally would they need an extra cleaning by us. They were wrong. The outsides don't "selfclean". And yes, we've had them back a few times.
posted by Taurid at 10:46 PM on January 31, 2010

Windows are your greatest spot of thermal emissivity for your entire house. More than anything else. This is bidirectional, if it's hot as hell and you want it cool, you'll have heat infiltration through them. If it's cold and your house is warm, they'll leech heat out. You're in the Northeast, and while you don't mention (or I didn't see) the relative insulation of the rest of your house, new windows will almost CERTAINLY greatly improve your heating performance AND the resale value of your home.

You want double or triple glazed, double hung, low-e, argon filled windows. (2 or 3 pieces of glass, one over the other in a bypassing fashion, filled with inert gas.) Every time you add a thermal break, you'll improve your emissivity immensely. Double panes are something like 70% less emissive than single, and triples are like another 40% than that. Obviously, if your windows are awesome but you've got uninsulated garbage for walls, you're not going to see a huge difference. If your house is older than about 1970, it's going to have custom sized window holes. You can either frame in the old holes and put in standard windows (cheaper, ugly as hell if you have anything but vinyl siding), or you can order customs. Order customs. They look soooooooo much better and perform soooooooo much better because there's no new blocking or space for thermal intrusion.

You DO want thermal gain in winter, and you want to prevent it in summer. Winter's easy, open the drapes/curtains/shades on the south-side of the home and allow the sun to stream in. You'll greenhouse-effect yourself several thousand btu's of heat over the day, potentially hundreds of thousand if you get good sunlight. In the summer, you're going to close those shades, consider reflective ones, and if there's no AC, open a window. You can also install awnings on the south side, which while ugly will block summer sun and allow in winter.

Also, don't do this project yourself unless you've got hundreds of hours and a garage full of tools and a lot of experience. Not enough candy for a nickel.
posted by TomMelee at 6:53 AM on February 1, 2010

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