With so many features to consider, choosing the right windows can be a daunting task for a homeowner.
As a remodeler, helping homeowners make the right window choice for their project can save you time, money, and angst.
“There’s a lot of information to digest,” says Jeff Lowinski, vice president of technical services for the Window and Door Manufacturers Association (WDMA). “As consumers get several quotes that means they’re having to digest not only that information, but also, one guy said this, and another guy said this.”
If a window package is part of your next remodeling job, use this seven-point checklist to help you find the best window for your client’s project.
1. Cost. Prices can vary from a few hundred dollars a window to a few thousand, according to the Federal Trade Commission. The trick, experts say, is to find that sweet spot of style, value, and practicality that fits the trim level of the home—and clients’ intentions for staying in it. “If there’s anything a homeowner needs to think about when it comes to new windows, it would be resale value,” Lowinski says. But that can only go so far. “If you have a $250,000 home, you shouldn’t spend $20,000 on windows because you’re never going to get that money back,” cautions Dave Hull, vice president of franchise development for Glass Guru, a Roseville, Calif.-headquartered window replacement and restoration specialist. He adds that if homeowners are planning to stay in their home long term, a bigger investment may be worth the cost.
2. Manufacturer. Manufacturers offer warranties on their windows—some even give lifetime warranties. “You pay a little more,” says Seattle remodeler August Bergdahl,” but you get peace of mind.” However, those guarantees are worthless if a company goes under. Hull recommends looking for an established manufacturer with a track record for quality customer service.
3. Materials. Window frame choices have grown in recent years. Along with the standard wood and vinyl, frames also come in fiberglass, aluminum, and steel. All have pros and cons. Wood-framed windows offer the bonus of good insulation but can be heavy and high maintenance. Vinyl-frame windows insulate well and don’t need painting. Fiberglass, one of the newest frame materials, offers the benefits of vinyl, with a higher-end look and can be painted, says Bergdahl. Aluminum windows, once considered cheap, are now on par with the quality of other windows, he adds.
4. Style and Color. The basic style choices are single-hung, double-hung, sliding casement, or awning and hopper. You also need to decide on grids or divided light, fixed or operable. Hull says grids can help with curb appeal, but they can hamper the indoor view. Bergdahl cautions that some grids have a cheap look, and says remodelers would be wise to advise their clients to visit a showroom to look at window choices. He also notes that narrow frame windows work well with modern style homes if clients prefer that look over a more traditional style. When it comes to color, even vinyl windows can now be custom-ordered to fit the hue of your home, though it adds significantly to the cost, Hull says. Lowinski adds that it’s important to think about color both outside and inside the home. And don’t forget about how the hardware works with the color, he says. A visit to a window and door showroom is a great way for remodelers to show clients the wide array of window styles and options available, and help them pin down their choices.
5. Energy Efficiency. Look for the National Fenestration Rating Council’s window label. It helps compare how well windows let light in, while blocking cold, heat, outside air, and condensation. Most ratings, such as air leakage, are self-explanatory. U-factor, which rates how much heat escapes through a window, is important in cold climates. Solar heat gain, which rates how much heat from the sun is allowed in, is important in warm climates. Low-E, short for low-emissivity, simply means the window has a special coating for better energy efficiency. Some windows seal argon gas between panes of glass to increase energy efficiency. Hull says most of these windows aren’t worth the extra cost, unless they help reach a rebate requirement. To determine optimal ratings, check the Energy Star requirements for your area, then shoot for ratings just above those minimums, Lowinski advises.
6. Cleaning and Maintenance. Consider the home’s location. If the windows will need frequent cleaning, clients might be better served by windows with a tilt-in sash that allows easy cleaning. Bergdahl says this option is especially popular for upper-story windows. The rest of a window’s maintenance is in the frame. Consider sun exposure and overall weather conditions to determine the best frame material and cladding, says Bergdahl.
7. Codes and Regulations. Check local codes to ensure that any windows under consideration comply with them, Lowinski says. Building codes provide structural, impact resistance, and strength requirements, and let the remodeler know whether special windows are called for due to climatic conditions (hurricanes, tornadoes) or location (earthquake zone). It’s also worth advising clients to check their homeowners’ insurance and utility companies to see if there are discounts or rebates available for certain kinds of windows.—Gary Thill