Whenever I write an article, it's usually tailored to the do it yourself homeowner to help them save some money on the high cost of labor these days. This article is for the "not so handy" homeowner who wants to have new vinyl windows installed in their home.
So, where do you begin? Well, the first step is to get estimates. You should always get 3 estimates. Keep in mind that the price you are quoted doesn't necessarily reflect the quality of the product. For example, I used to wear the hat of Owner, Salesman, and Installer. So, when I would give an estimate, my only markup would be to pay my salary. On the other extreme, some companies have an inside sales staff who do telemarketing as well as mail solicitation. These people set up in-home estimates. Then, there is an outside sales staff who visit the customer for an in-home estimate. If the customer signs a contract, there is another employee who measures your windows. Then, the installation crew comes out and actually installs your windows. In many cases, you never even see or talk to the owner. Now, imagine if this company, let's call them shears, was selling the exact same window that I was selling. After you got both estimates, you might be inclined to think that my product must be inferior if I'm able to sell it so much cheaper. The reality is, it's cheaper because I pay two salaries; my salary and my other installer's salary. The other owner has to pay his own salary plus Inside sales, outside sales, field measurer, and installation crew.
So, when you get each estimate, these are the important things to know about that particular brand: What kind of warranty do they offer? Any reputable vinyl window manufacturer should offer a lifetime warranty because any quality vinyl window and door really is made to last a lifetime. Ask how long the MANUFACTURER has been making vinyl windows. A lifetime warranty is meaningless if the manufacturer goes out of business. Once you're confident that the manufacturer is well established, find out how long the installer has been replacing windows. Make sure they are licensed and insured. Being licensed and insured doesn't necessarily mean they're good, but it does give them accountability. I knew an unlicensed window installer who was as good as any licensed installer, but if he were to mess up a job, the customer had no recourse against him.
Once you are satisfied with the price, manufacturer, and installer, you can determine the level of quality of the actual product. You can get all hung up on specs such as U-Value, R-Value, Air infiltration, etc. But I believe you can actually get more confused if you start trying to compare all of those numbers. Just ask if the product is an energy star rated window. If the answer is yes, then you know the specs meet the highest government standards. You can confirm this by going to the Energy star website. If the manufacturer is listed on the energy star site, you can be sure that the U-Value, R-Value, SHGC, and Air infiltration tests have met the requirements.
So, now you can concentrate on some of the functional parts of your window. If you are in the market for a single hung or double hung window, ask about the mechanism that is used to hold up your window sashes. If they still use the old spring and string method (sometimes referred to as block and tackle), or the spiral metal balances, you are not getting a high quality window. The constant force balance system is more technologically advanced. It uses a titanium coil that is designed to last longer than you or I. Also, a good quality hung window will have sashes that can tilt in so you can clean the glass from inside the home. This is a nice feature to have, especially if your windows are on the second floor. Just these two items can tell you a lot about the quality of the window. On horizontal sliders, look at the weep holes located on the lower front of the window. There will be one on each end. These holes are there to drain out any water that might get inside. On many windows, the weep hole is just a punched hole that leads to the inside track. Unfortunately, with this type of situation, a strong wind can blow cold air and dirt through those holes, right into the home. A better quality window will have a one-way trap door on the weep holes. The door stays closed against wind and dust, but if any water gets into the inside track, the door will open to allow the water to escape. Also, check the frame corners. A quality window has welded corners. The vinyl corners are welded through a heat and cool process. A lesser grade window will use screws to hold the corners together. When you make your appointment for the estimate, be sure to request a sample of the window be brought to your home so you can visually check these things.
A salesman is taught to focus on their product's strong points and avoid the weak points, so it's up to you to stay focused yourself, and don't allow yourself to be distracted. "How long has the manufacturer been in business?" "What is their warranty?" "Are the windows Energy Star rated?" "Are the installers licensed and insured?" "What mechanism holds up the sashes on the hung windows?" "Do they tilt in?" "Are the frames welded or screwed together?" "Do the horizontal sliders have weep hole covers?" If you get satisfactory answers to these questions, you are on your way to a positive vinyl window experience.