Window Research and Questions to Ask

The economy is just starting to rev back up and you need new windows.  How can you make sure you get a good value for your money?

Many people believe they have done their research because they did what some TV personality has said, “get 3 estimates”.   Does that assure that you will get the best value for your money?

The answer is no.

So how do you make sure  you’re getting a good deal?  The answer is to go into a meeting with you window professional understanding what your main goals are.

GOAL: Efficiency in cool weather climates — if efficiency is your #1 goal, you need to find out what the u-factor is of the windows that the sales professional is selling.  In order to compare apples to apples, you’ll want to ask about the u-factors for the average most common window that is sold by that company.  The most common style of windows would be the Double Hung windows so you should ask what the u-factor is for their double hung window.    A u-factor is a measure of efficiency assigned from the impartial lab, the National Fenestration Ratings Council, also known as NFRC.  The lower the u-factor the better.  A good triple pane window will give you a u-factor less than .20.  A word of caution here — some companies will advertise the u-factor of their picture window.  A window with a u-factor of .21 on their double hung could have an amazing u-factor of .14.  Be sure to compare double hung u-factors to double hung.

GOAL: Tax Credit — The 2009-2010 tax credit is only for windows with a u-factor of .30 or less and a solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC) of .30 or less.  It allows the homeowner to receive back 30% of the cost of their new qualifying windows up to $1500.

GOAL:  Reflection of Heat — NFRC uses solar heat gain coefficients to measure how much heat will come through your glass.  Just as with u-factors (sometimes called u-values) the lower the number the better.  Hot days will not be as unbearable when your windows reflect heat back toward the outside.   A u-value of .24 or lower is good.

GOAL:  Price — Assess what you are willing to sacrifice in exchange for a low price.   There are window companies that advertise a price as low as $189 each to get their sales rep in the door.  Once they are in, you will pay extra for a better glass pack that may or may not qualify for the tax credit, removal of your old windows, caulk, installation, clean-up, lead safe renovating whether or not they do it, and then only install your windows if you order a minimum of 5 windows.  These companies pay their installers as little as $25 per window which should give a savvy homeowner an idea about the level of quality they should expect.  After the $189 per window teaser, the average price per double pane window from these companies is about $500 each which, despite their teaser claim, is pretty standard from most companies for a good double pane window.  Expect to pay a minimum of $500 for a window but you can add many elements (woodgrain, grids, triple pane, krypton upgrades, woodwork, exterior trim, etc.) that can push your better windows to over $1000 each.

GOAL:  Contract with a Quality Company — One of the biggest problems that people run into is they’ve chosen a handyman or a company without the proper licensing.   Owning a truck and a ladder does not qualify a person to be a contractor.   In Wisconsin for instance, a contractor should have 1) a Dwelling Contractor license, 2) a Dwelling Contractor Qualifier Certification and 3) Proper Insurance which is paid up to date.  Look your contractor up on the Better Business Bureau website before they even walk in your door.

GOAL:  Quality components — check to see that the window is sturdy.  A window professional that doesn’t show you what they are selling you is a window guy who will not deliver.  This may sound extreme, but it doesn’t hurt to have your salesman stand next to the window with your completed contract while you take a photo of what you are buying.  Have fun with it — you don’t need to be awkward.  Ask them to put their arm over it like they would with a good friend.  Yes, this sounds silly, but if you purchase a product that you may have to live with for the rest of your life, you want to make sure you actually get the product you paid for.

So generally, if you’re in a northern climate you’ll want to look for a the lowest possible u-factor you can afford.  If you’re in the south or southwest, SHGC is the most important.

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