Many of the valuable things about a replacement window are the things you can’t see. There’s so much more than the glass you look through-it’s the frame, the manufacturing, the installation, the service, and the warranty. When you buy a window, you’re paying for the quality of the materials as well as the quality of the installation and the reliability of the customer service. Quality means a window that’s going to last, look great for years and give you a good return on your investment by being energy efficient.
Sometimes the price isn’t a clear indicator of quality and value. So here’s how to distinguish quality windows.
The Window Frame
You may or may not realize the controversy about vinyl. But vinyl is not considered the best material for window frames. The U.S. Department of Energy has issued several warnings over the years that vinyl affordable quality windows frames will warp, twist, bow and crack. And as you know wood isn’t exactly a maintenance-free investment either. But there is a patented new material that blends wood and vinyl into a composite. The vinyl can’t warp and peel away from the wood. So no water gets to the wood and the wood can’t rot. This material is called Fibrex and it’s manufactured by Andersen Windows. You get the strength of wood and the maintenance-free quality of vinyl. It’s a win-win situation: you’ll never have to replace your windows again.
It’s not just what windows are made of…it’s also how they’re made that matters. For a window to open and close easily and have an airtight seal, it needs to fit your home perfectly. Problem is, every house is different and window openings are different sizes too. Houses settle over time and cause more deviations in the measurements. The better windows are custom measured, then custom manufactured to fit your home; they’re not taken off an assembly line. Custom-made windows may cost a little more, but choosing ‘one-size-fits-all windows’ will cost you so much more in the end, because if your windows aren’t airtight, you’re losing energy you can’t afford to lose.
The Right Glass
Glass by itself is not a good insulator, so window glass needs a little help if it’s going to save you money on energy bills. Choose window glass that has a Low-E coating. This is a micro-thin coating of metals like oxide or silver, which is layered on the glass. You can even double your energy efficiency with double-glazed Low-E glass. Your window now has two pieces of glass with a thin layer of air sandwiched in between. When argon gas is added to this air sandwich, it improves the efficiency even more, since argon is denser than air alone. Either way, Low-E coating is essential to thermal efficiency.
The most energy-efficient window in the world won’t give you good energy efficiency if it isn’t installed right. So if you want your windows to keep out leaks, drafts, and keep your home comfortable, you need to know that the company has trained and/or hired professional installers. Some installers are paid by how many windows they install in one day. Naturally, they want to put in as many windows as they possibly can. Installers paid by the hour, however, are paid to do a job well-not quickly. They take their time and make sure your windows are installed perfectly inside and out, and underneath.
After the installer puts the replacement window into the opening, levels it, and makes it square, a gap is left between the window and the wall. To protect your home from heat loss and drafts, you need insulation in that gap. Some installers overlook the gap, others just stuff insulation in, or they use cheap expanding foam. Cheap foam can expand too much and press against the window frame, causing the frame to warp over time. The best insulation foam expands slightly. The foam expands just enough to fill any gaps or holes; however, no pressure is put on the window frame, so the integrity of the window remains intact. Smart, huh?
When You Need Parts or Support
Can you trust the company you just purchased your new replacement windows from to continue carrying parts for your windows? This homeowner dilemma shows up when there is a problem with a window several years after purchase and the window has been discontinued. And the company doesn’t stock parts for discontinued windows. Nor can they replace the defective window because the window isn’t made anymore. You have to consider this fact because you don’t want to buy a window and then end up having to replace the entire thing. The better window companies keep parts in stock for years and years, long after the original model or style may have been discontinued.
Last but not least, make sure you are familiar with the company’s warranty. Do they offer a good warranty? What is covered? What isn’t? A reputable company that has confidence in its products and installation process will offer a great warranty.
All these factors combine to make the best quality window your money can buy. And a good quality window will actually cost you less because it will last and last.