Choosing Windows

Choosing New Windows

The subject of choosing windows usually strikes fear in the heart of many a homeowner. It's understandable given the relative complexity, importance and cost that windows represent. But don't panic. The path to overcoming any apprehension you might have about choosing new windows involves some education, broken down into manageable chunks. Once you understand the important parts of any window-buying decision you'll be able to make informed decisions and good choices.

The box below has links to the various sections on this page that will help you get a handle on choosing new windows. You can pick and choose as you'd like but you'll probably get the most benefit out of reading through all of the sections.

Where To Start

The first place you should start when researching new windows for your house is to consider your scenario. Your particular situation will govern the kinds of design decisions you need to make and the window choices you have available to you. You will likely fall into one of two buckets:

  • You need new windows for a remodel, addition or a new home
  • You are replacing existing windows

New Windows For A Remodel Or New Home

In this scenario you're choosing new (additional) windows for your house that currently don't exist. Windows made for this scenario are typically referred to as "new construction" windows. They come complete with the frame and sashes and are installed in the rough openings in the walls.

This is also where you have some design considerations to think about. Things like the quantity of windows you need, what size they should be, their primary role (more light?, better view? all of the above?) as well as their visual style are all examples of design considerations.

To put it another way, this is the time when you have a blank canvas and you should take advantage of that opportunity to "design in" windows that complement your home's appearance and their impact on your living space.

Let's say you're bumping out your kitchen and the bumped-out wall needs new windows. What type of window do you want? What style should they be? Do you want more light and consequently, more windows than your current configuration? What features do you want in your new windows?

Take the time to think about windows from this point of view. Obviously bigger windows and more of them add to the budget. But this is your chance to dream a little, to add more appeal and perhaps a bit of visual drama to your space.

Some of this may already be established for you if you've chosen a pre-defined home plan. But if you have the ability to alter those plans or you've enlisted the services of professional home design help, you can define the kind of windows you want.

windows for houses

This all sounds great but how do you actually go about doing this? It's really not that difficult. Just think about the functions of a window:

  • Provide sufficient light and offer a visual connection to the outside environment.
  • Control and maintain the desired temperature in the house. That means keeping the heat in during the cold months and "pushing off" the sun's heat during the warm months.
  • Getting the proper airflow and ventilation.
  • Complementing and enhancing the exterior appearance of your home. A window's size, style and placement are all factors in the overall aesthetic appeal of your house.

With these points in mind ask yourself how your new windows can add and enhance your home's design.

  • Do you need more light than you currently have?
  • Do you have nice views that you want to take advantage of?
  • Do you want added light but need privacy as well?
  • What look or style do you want your home's windows to present?
  • Do you need period-style windows for an older home?

Answering these questions and baking the answers into the design will ensure you get the most out of your new or remodeled space. That's because windows have such an impact on your home's livability, comfort and curb appeal. Once you have the design piece of the equation taken care of you can focus on the other aspects of window decisions like energy efficiency, brands and available options.

Publisher's Comments

Here's a case in point: When my wife and I remodeled our home we thought through several key points that affected our window decision. In one area we knew we needed more light so we opted for some small fixed (stationary) windows on a wall that previously had no windows. This was also a wall in our dining area and was close to a neighbor's sunroom. We didn't want to feel like we were in a fishbowl every time we sat down to eat so we chose windows that were higher on the wall, above standing height. They let in light but keep our messy dinner table private.

In the main portion of our addition we wanted to take advantage of the view to the back yard and woods, which meant we wanted larger, unobstructed window styles. Even though our home had mostly double-hung windows, we opted for casements for several reasons, one of them being the large unobstructed view they provide.

Once the window design criteria was established we moved on to choosing a brand and specific window options.

new windows

Replacing Existing Windows

This is probably the more common scenario associated with choosing new windows. In this situation you replace existing windows with new "retrofit" windows. It differs from the new home/remodel scenario because in this case you're working within the existing constraints of your walls and window openings.

Replacement windows come in three different packages:

  • Sash - A sash replacement is simply the replacement of the movable parts of your old window. It leaves the existing frame intact. For example, on a double-hung window only the two moving sashes or "panes" of glass are replaced.
  • Insert - In this scenario the old window is replaced with a new frame-and-sash window. It's sort of a 'frame within a frame' in that it sits inside of your existing window frame. The resultant effect is that you get a slightly smaller viewing area because the new replacement frame that holds the sash takes up some of the glass area in your old window.

    Full Frame - This is where "new construction" windows are used to replace an existing window. The old window frame is completely removed and what's left is the rough opening in the wall. The replacement window, complete with new frame and sash, is installed in the opening.

Each type of replacement window has it's purpose and specific advantages. Sash replacement is cheaper and works well if the existing window frame is in good condition. An insert replacement window is more typical and it's advantage is that the sash and frame are built to be compatible with each other.

However if your existing window frame is rotted or damaged in some way the full frame replacement window is the choice you should make. It's more expensive but it's the best way to correct window a frame that's no longer sound.

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Features & Options You Should Know About

This is really where the rubber meets the road as far as choosing new windows for your house is concerned. There's a variety of options, features and technologies in today's windows. They provide energy efficiency and convenience and can make your new windows both economical and functionally effective. Just keep in mind that they all have their purpose and not every one will be necessary or even suitable for your specific needs.

Window technology will continue to evolve and this list isn't intended to be all-inclusive. However it does capture the main features you'll want to consider as you put together your window wish list.

  • Energy Efficient Technologies
    If there's any feature you'll want to include in your new windows it's energy efficiency (click here to learn more about window efficiency). Pay attention to the energy saving technologies a manufacturer builds into a window. Features like Low-E (low emissivity) glass and double or triple glazing are just several examples.

    (The term "glazing" refers to the glass within a window. Double glazing means there are two panes of glass.)

    As an example, Zoe-E-Shield is a particular brand of energy glass that some window manufacturers use in their products. It incorporates features like multiple layers of Low-E coatings and warm edge spacers along with surface coatings that make cleaning easier.

    (Edge spacers are the parts of the window that separate the panes of glass at the edges. "Warm edge" refers to spacers that help make the window a bit more energy efficient.)

  • Self-Cleaning Glass
    Glass coating innovations now make it easier to have cleaner panes of glass, and this is particularly helpful on large windows. Think about cleaning a large wall of windows - the view may be great but not when it's hidden behind a film of dirt and you're the one who has to clean them.

    Some products like Activ from Pilkington use a titanium dioxide coating that works with sunlight to break down organic matter on the glass. When rainwater hits the glass it sheets off rather than forming droplets. Similar technologies for keeping the glass clean are offered by other window makers.

  • Ability To Clean The Outside From The Inside
    This is one of those features that just shouldn't be omitted in this day and age. It offers a lot of convenience and is particularly helpful if you have any windows on a 2nd or 3rd floor above ground level. This feature it typically embodied in tilt-in sashes on single and double hung windows. On casement windows the sash usually pivots to a point where you can reach the outside surface of the window.
  • Impact Resistant Glass
    If you live in areas prone to hurricanes, tornadoes or errant baseballs then impact resistant glass may be an option you want to consider. These kinds of windows are often referred to as "coastal windows" and many window manufacturers offer them as a specific product line. These windows typically feature a form of laminated glass and are designed to withstand impact from airborne debris.

    Examples include Marvin's StormPlus®, Jeld-Wen's ImpactGard® and Weather Shield's LifeGuard® to name a few.

  • Fall Protection & Window Opening Controls
    You can allay your concerns about children or pets falling out of open windows with fall protection devices and window opening controls. These devices are offered by various manufacturers. They allow the window to be opened a small amount for ventilation but prohibit further opening by means of some mechanical provision.

    Just look for 'fall prevention features' or 'window opening control' in the product options among the various windows manufacturers you research.

  • Universal Design Features
    Universal design makes living in a home easier and more accessible for people with varying levels of physical ability. Windows that offer these kinds of features include crank-open double hung windows (alleviating the harder push/pull efforts required of conventional double-hung windows) and electrically operated casement windows from Kolbe Windows & Doors. Another example is the SmartTouch® window lock by Milgard that's easier to use than traditional window latches.

    Keep in mind that universal design also takes into account aging-in-place considerations. We're all getting older and designing for the future is one way to keep your home a viable and accommodating living space as you age. Buying windows that incorporate these kinds of features can be a smart investment in your future quality-of-living standard.

  • Blinds Or Shades Between The Glass
    This is a handy feature because it alleviates the typical dust-magnet that window blinds ultimately become. That's also a good thing for allergy sufferers because it gets rid of a big collection point for dust.

    The only drawback is that you can't change the color of the blinds or shade without changing the window, which is an impractical solution. However if you go with a neutral shade/blind color you may never be inclined to change. Pella's Designer Series® products are one example where this concept is used.

Publisher's Comments

I have to admit that I was initially lukewarm on this concept from an aesthetics point of view. However I was convinced by my contractor to go with this feature as one of our mudroom ideas. I must say that I'm now a tried-and-true convert.

We used this feature on our exterior mudroom door that features full-height glass. The blinds are easy to open and close, raise and lower, and they never get dirty or dusty. They also don't go flying around when the door is swung open or closed. They might not be right for every window in your house but for those spots where you know you're going to need some form of privacy screen anyway, this little piece of technology is a great idea.

  • High Transparency Screens
    Window screens are available in conventional forms and high-visibility. The higher visibility screens are more transparent, provide more light and allow for a better view out the window. You don't have to sacrifice insect protection either. Products like Pella's Vivid View®, Kolbe's UltraVue® and Andersen's TrueScene® are all examples.
  • Retractable Screens
    Speaking of window screens, what's more convenient than a retractable screen? For example, Pella's Rolscreen® windows have a screen that rolls down from the top when you need it and disappears when rolled back up. Some other window makers have similar products.

Publisher's Comments

Although I'm happy with my window choices (they're Marvin by the way) I do wish I had some form of retractable screen. The warmer seasons in my neck of the woods vary from hot to pleasant. On mild days the windows are open but on hot days when the A/C is on, they're closed.

My issue is that I like the view better without the screens. I'd like to be able to quickly go "screen-less" on those milder days when we can open the windows, without having to physically take them out of the window frame. Roll-ups would do just fine in that scenario.

Storage is another issue. These are big windows and the screens are big too. They get a bit cumbersome to tote around to and from their storage location.

If there's one drawback I can think of relative to retractable screens it's the inability to take them out for cleaning. However you can still vacuum them when they're pulled down so it's not like you aren't able to clean them at all.

  • Pre-painted Or Stained Wood Interior
    Wood windows can be beautiful but they're not that easy to paint or stain. You can get around that by choosing windows that are pre-painted or stained. Your choices are somewhat limited but you're likely to find a stain color that's consistent with your decorating scheme.

    On the other hand, if you want to choose your color of paint or stain you can buy wood windows either primed and ready to accept paint or bare and ready for stain.

  • Art & Specialty Glass
    Windows aren't limited to just clear glass. There are plenty of design possibilities using art glass windows. Art glass incorporates colors and caming (the thin dividers that separate the pieces of glass) in a variety of styles. For example, Andersen offers the Frank Lloyd Wright® series of windows that emulates the style and inspiration of his architectural designs.

    If privacy is what you need take advantage of the various forms of textured glass options. Marvin offers leaded, textured and frosted glass that provide both privacy and translucency.

These are some of the features and innovations you'll find among the available choices in home windows. There is some overlap on features among window makers but other options are unique to particular manufacturers. That's why it helps to do some research ahead of time on what they offer to determine what features you want in your windows.

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Window Manufacturer & Brand Considerations

Which window brand is the best? Who makes the most reliable windows?

These are valid and often-asked questions but the answer is muddier than you might think.

The reason is mainly because there are literally hundreds of companies that make windows for houses and there's no "study" that's ever been done (if that's even possible) on rating the various products against one another.

Sure, you might see Consumer Reports come out with a comparison of home windows but they're only comparing 10 or 12 brands at most and these are products from the larger window companies.

The reality is that there are plenty of home window producers. Some are small, local companies and others are larger national brands.

Large companies have the ability to market their products on a national level whereas smaller companies primarily serve local markets. Neither is necessarily better than the other though there are a few considerations to ponder when choosing which window brand/company to buy from.

Small Companies Vs. Big

Just because a window company is big and you see it's advertisements splashed across home-related magazines doesn't mean it's windows are better than those from a smaller company. But being big does have its advantages - deep advertising budgets and national branding capabilities notwithstanding.

When you shop for home windows one of the things you should consider is the ability of the window company to stand behind its products. A crude way of measuring this is to check and see how long the company has been operating. Has it been around for 10 years or more or is it a relative newcomer?

A window company that has some tenure in the marketplace has experienced the ups and downs of economical cycles. It has a higher likelihood of serving the market for some time to come too. Some of the big-name window manufacturers fall in this category. With younger and/or smaller companies you take more risk that they won't be around to provide replacement parts or service their warranty should they fail to survive.

On the other hand if you find a small local window company that's been in business for a long time, it has an established track record. That means you should be able to find information about its products and service track record. If it makes windows that meet your criteria for quality, go for it. Although large window companies have established themselves in the marketplace they don't have a monopoly on quality. Smaller companies can make good products too.

Look At The Products (Really. . .Go And Look)

window cutaway

Regardless of whether you consider a larger, national brand of windows or those made by a smaller company, get out and actually look at their products. That's the best way to see and appreciate the differences in product choices and types of window construction.

Many window companies have corner cut-aways available for show and tell. You can see how the window is assembled and compare that to competing products.

It's also important to test-drive the windows you're interested in. Get your hands on them. See and feel how they operate by opening and closing display models. You might just find that window "A" opens a lot easier than window "B".

Look at the level of quality with the parts and how they join together. Does it "look" like a well made window to you? How does it feel when you crank open a casement window? Does it feel smooth and solid or rickety and cheap?

Shopping for windows isn't just about finding flaws among competing products either. It's also a means for determining your preferences with certain design features. Maybe it's the positioning of the crank mechanism on a casement or the style of grids a manufacturer uses. Some of these features aren't readily apparent by just looking at brochures and manufacturer websites.

Publisher's Comments

I think this is an important point. It's something that I did when shopping for windows for my own home remodel. I looked at several brands and found differences among them that were notable, at least relative to my criteria for quality and overall look and operation. Checking out the specific brand and product line of window that you're interested in is something that you shouldn't overlook in my opinion.

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Getting Familiar With The Warranty

Window warranties vary among manufacturers but if there's a common thread it has to do with the baseline coverage. Most warranties will cover problems caused by defects in material or workmanship. From there you'll have to read the specific window maker's warranty to determine the fine details of what is and isn't covered.

"Full" & "Limited" Warranties

One thing to note is that there's a difference between a full window warranty and a limited warranty. While that may seem obvious it's not always picked up by prospective buyers. The reason it's important is because some window manufacturers offer a full warranty whereas others provide a limited warranty.

A "full" warranty meets specific minimum standards for a written warranty by U.S. law (just look up the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act if you care to know more). It usually covers complete repair or replacement of the defective unit and includes the cost of labor to do the job. There is no charge to the consumer. A refund is allowed (vs. replacing the product) only at the customer's discretion.

In contrast a limited warranty is one that doesn't meet the "full" warranty criteria. It may be limited in duration or the amount of compensation or coverage that's provided for a defective product.

What Is and Isn't Included

Typical window warranties cover glass and non-glass parts against defects in manufacturing, materials and workmanship. In other words you'll find a pretty standard coverage policy used across most if not all manufacturers guarding against major errors in the manufacturing process and/or problems with the materials.

window installation

The duration of the warranty varies depending on the manufacturer and/or the window's material classification (what it's primarily made from -- wood, vinyl, aluminum). For example, wood windows may carry a 10 year warranty whereas vinyl windows may have a lifetime warranty. Specific window components are also broken out with separate coverage for the glass and frame (glass and non-glass parts).

With basic materials and workmanship coverage taken care of window warranties become more variable on what they include. Some will take care of glass breakage whereas others will not. As noted above, some windows makers offer a full warranty in contrast to others that provide a limited warranty.

It's also important to read what the warranty does NOT cover. First and foremost are problems due to installation errors. Your windows should be installed per the manufacturer's instructions and by someone who's familiar with them. If the job isn't done correctly you not only could see problems with your window's performance but you'll void the warranty right from the get-go.

Another example includes improper maintenance. If you don't maintain your windows per the manufacturer's care instructions or if you use improper cleaning techniques (using scrapers or razors on the glass is a no-no) you can void the warranty.

Let's Reiterate - It's Important To READ The Warranty

Here's why: Your windows are one of the more expensive parts of your house. Don't make that kind of large investment without understanding how the windows are backed up if for some reason they don't perform the way they should.

There are other reasons too. Some window warranties contain specific instructions and/or limitations. For example, one window maker specifies that the warranty is transferable (possibly a good selling point if you're going to sell your home). However this requires that you notify the manufacturer in writing within 30 days of the home's sale. There are also fees involved for doing this. This kind of 'fine print' information isn't something you'd intuitively know about unless you read the warranty.

Another example of window warranty details includes the language used. One window maker states that their vinyl window frame and sash is warranted against "manufacturing defects" that cause peeling, chipping or blistering. This makes you wonder how easy (or difficult) it would be to prove a claim, if you encountered the problem. How would you prove the problem was caused by a "material defect" as opposed to some external environmental issue? Can you see a finger-pointing scenario here?

These are just a couple of examples where warranties among window manufacturers vary and why it's important to read them and understand what is and isn't covered. These warranties aren't large documents, usually limited to one page, so take the time to read them. It may help you decide between competing choices.

How To Look Up A Window Manufacturer's Warranty

If you're curious about a particular window maker's warranty there's a good chance you can look it up online. Many of these companies have websites and you can visit their website to see the warranty.

However you can also search directly from a search engine by putting in the window company's name followed by the word "warranty". For example, to find the warranty of the See-Through Window company, just put the words "see through window warranty" into your search engine. A quick read of the search result descriptions will show you if you've found what you're looking for (it may not be the first result).

Some of these warranties are published online as PDF documents so you might come across a few of them in your search results.

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What Will New Windows Cost?

It may come as no surprise that the cost of new windows is as variable as there are types of windows available. It's somewhat analogous to buying a car; the brand, style and options that you choose all factor into the total price.

In a general sense you can count on the following elements to impact that cost of new windows:

  • Material - vinyl and aluminum (non-clad) are on the low end of the cost spectrum and fiberglass and aluminum clad wood are on the high end
  • Features/Options - triple glaze windows are more expensive than double glaze; special glass coatings and features that improve energy efficiency will also raise the price
  • Installation - installation is part of the cost; full-frame replacement windows that require siding removal and new window trim add to the cost
  • Size & Customization - the larger the window and/or the more custom it is the more it will cost

One means of getting a ballpark estimate for the cost of windows is to use a cost calculator like the one on the left. Keep in mind however that the price that's returned is simply an estimate and is based on a "standard size" window. In other words, it reflects the cost for a typical residential home window size, not a large/oversize or custom window.

If you go to a big-box home improvement store and price windows that way just be aware of what that price reflects. It may not include all the features that you want. You'll also need to account for taxes, the cost of installation and possibly delivery charges.

The best way to determine the cost of new windows is to get a quote from a window installation company or supplier. The more specific you can be about the type of window you want and the included options the more accurate your quote will be.

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Finding An Installer & Getting Estimates

Finding a good window installer is just as important as choosing the right windows. As mentioned above, if your windows aren't installed properly you can void the warranty and impact the overall performance of the window.

If you're remodeling or building a new home your builder/contractor will typically handle the installation of new or replacement windows, whether they do it themselves or sub-contract the job.

Otherwise you can rely on your local window suppliers for contacts on installation services. Virtually every window company can provide installation.

One way of sourcing qualified window installers is by having them come to you. This can make the process easier than searching out local window companies and installers on your own.

If you'd like to have local qualified window installers contact you about your window project, fill out the form below. It will provide you with several sources for windows who can provide a free estimate for your particular project. They will contact you at your convenience and there's no obligation at all. Just be sure you've educated yourself on the essentials of choosing windows. That way you'll be able to communicate effectively with prospective window contractors and understand what they're telling you.

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How To Make A Good Choice

Okay, it's time to wrap this all together and lay out a plan for how to make a window choice.

  1. Establish Your Design Criteria
    Whether you're choosing completely new windows or replacement windows identify your criteria, what you want your windows to do for you. That will help narrow the field of options and possibilities.
  2. Do Your Homework (Research)
    Understand what's available in the marketplace. Find out what window features are available and how they might benefit you. Learn about window construction and get familiar with the terminology and the warranty. Doing so will help you choose the windows that are best for your scenario and will also help you avoid paying for features you don't need.
  3. Go Out And Look At Window Samples
    Choose several different types (brands) of windows and find local sources in your area that carry them. Take notes and determine which windows meet your criteria for quality, even if it's just from your own observations. The more you compare the better you'll be able to discern what's "good-better-best".
  4. Find A Competent Window Installer
    Find a window contractor/installer in your area if you're not already working with a builder on your remodel or new home. Tell them about the type of windows you're interested in and ask them if they have experience with that brand. If they don't, ask why and don't let an installer try and persuade you to go with another brand unless they provide clear, factual information in a non-pushy way that seems logical to you.

    Obtain several quotes and evaluate them. Make sure you understand any differences among the quotes such as brands and energy ratings that might account for pricing differences.

You could leave the preceding steps completely up to your contractor or builder. But doing so means you put the responsibility for what can be a significant investment squarely in someone else's hands.

The more you understand about home windows the better you'll be able to make informed decisions when it comes time to purchase them. Even if you work closely with a professional to specify and buy your windows, the knowledge you have will help ensure you make good informed choices, without undue influence from your installer.

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So Where Would You Like To Go Next?

Making the right window choices means educating yourself on a number of fronts. The first step is to become familiar with the various types of windows. Gaining awareness of what's available and how the various styles impact your home helps you make better choices.

If you're putting on an addition or building new you'll most likely need siding as well as new windows. You can find out what your choices are along with their pros and cons on the siding page.

Check out the roofing page to learn what's available and how the various choices measure up. And although lots of homes have them there's more to choosing asphalt roofing than you might expect.

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