Do's and dont's for replacement window contractors
April 26, 2014 2:07 AM   Subscribe

I am going to get some windows replaced. Help me avoid the pitfalls of bad contractors, shoddy work, and overpricing. How should I approach this?

I want to get the job done without regrets. If things work out well, I will continue with more windows. I am only looking at 4 windows on the second floor of an 80 year old house. What should I know about dealing with contractors?
posted by redliner to Home & Garden (5 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Start with recommendations from people you know (ideally) or sites like Angie's list if you're starting with no resources. A note on Angie's list: it tends to favor expensive contractors doing expensive work at the expense of reasonably priced contractors doing merely reasonable work. Def look through the reviews, which help pinpoint the "personality" of each contractor.

Once you have three [or possibly 4, perhaps 5] contractors you think are right for you, invite each to come over and give you a quote. Ask your least interesting contractor to come first--this will be your "trainer" so that you can get educated on how you talk to them and what questions to ask. Your "trainer" will make you sound like a pro when you're talking to the next contractors.

Once you get your quotes, you'll most likely be comparing apples to oranges. Don't just go with the cheapest [unless that's all you care about: which is perhaps fine if you're going to sell soon]. Consider all of the aspects and go with the one you feel best about.
posted by Murray M at 4:17 AM on April 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

I can't answer your question but I can tell you my experience. There are the window manufacturers who tell you their windows are better than the competition and that they install it better than outside contractors who are not as deeply acquainted with them as the manufacturers. Then there are the contractors who tell you that installation is the most important aspect since the best windows poorly installed are useless and that the manufacturers are biased. In the end, old houses have unique problems which aren't apparent until installation begins. In our case, there had been window shutters removed which had folded into the wall and in their absence left empty pockets with no insulation. In the end, I had to get a whole insulation project going. Good luck.
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:26 AM on April 26, 2014

Use a general contractor well-regarded in your neighborhood who works with all the major manufacturers. He can advise you objectively on what suits your budget, structural, aesthetic and other requirement. He will also be able to access EVERY discount and promotion that a window specialist, to say the least of a direct distributor or sales office for a single manufacturer can. The LAST thing you want to do is to use the manufacturer or a captive contractor to install: they don't work for you.

Watch out for custom. There are unscrupulous players in this sub-industry who will tell you that you MUST have fully custom windows (huge expense and delay) if you have an even slight divergence from one the standard dimensions. The reality is that a skilled carpenter can make standard windows fit many (although not all) structural requirements. If someone says that you must have custom, at a minimum get a second opinion.
posted by MattD at 7:27 AM on April 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Given the number of years you need the windows to work, you might consider going with a larger installation firm that is likely to be around to honor any needed warranty claims. Independent contractors may be able to give you a lower price, but they probably are less likely to be around in the long term, if you need them to fix their work.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:01 AM on April 26, 2014

We went to the local place that just sells windows and doors, and they recommended a carpenter to do the installation. They have several that they work with a lot and refer clients to. We hired the guy they recommended, because we're super-picky, and the carpenter is, too, so it was a good fit. He's ended up doing a bunch of other jobs for us, not just windows.

We also started out with four windows to be sure we liked the windows and the installation. Everyone was fine with that. Someone larger might prefer to do all the work at once and skip the "test drive" stage.

I liked having the purchase and installation separate because the pricing is more transparent that way: you know how much you're paying for the windows, and how much for the labor.

To really get a good idea of what's going on, the carpenter came to the house to measure after we started shopping but *before* we did the final offer. He popped off the interior trim to see what's going on; trim can hide a lot. If you have a lot of exterior rot then you might need more work than is visible from the outside; someone good will be clear about what he can and can't see without removing the exterior trim, and the contract will be clear about what's included and what you'll need to pay extra for.

You'll want to find out whether you can re-use your interior and/or exterior trim; replacing it will add a lot to the cost. It's not automatic--depends on your house and your preferences, so anyone who tells you it "has to" be replace without looking at it is full of baloney.

If it's an old house, it will be out of plumb. Your windows will not be. Find someone who likes dealing with that persnickityness. It's not hard to make sure everything is working together right, but it's fussy work. I would work hard to find someone who you like working with. They should be OK teaching you and explaining things, if that's what you want. There are people who like to do that, who like to work for clients who care. Ask around, a lot. I've found in Central MA that Angie's list was useless because everyone knows everyone else here; not sure about your part of NH.
posted by orange (sherbet) rabbit at 4:09 PM on April 27, 2014

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