Few things are simple in life. Add shopping for windows to the long list. Choosing among all of the types, sizes and materials can be confusing and overwhelming. Plus, it’s easy to get duped by a smooth-talking salesman if you haven’t researched fair prices. This guide will help you understand all of the options before you start shopping.
One of the first decisions you’ll need to make is what type of window you want. Simple, right? Not exactly. There are many different shapes and sizes of windows from which to choose. Of course, in many cases you’ll be limited by the size and configuration of the window opening. Below are some of the most popular window designs.
- Casement - Windows that are hinged on either the right or left side and open outward using a crank handle. Provide great ventilation when open, and good for sealing out noise and air when closed. The crank can be a pain, though.
- Awning - Just like casement windows, except they hinge at the top. Not as great for ventilation, but can be left open in the rain because they tilt upward.
- Double hung -Consist of two movable panels that slide open and closed vertically. Also great for ventilation, but the horizontal piece of wood between the two panels obstructs your view.
- Picture (or fixed) - Windows that don’t open and close but provide a great view of the outdoors.
- Gliding - Slide open from side to side. Very easy to open, but it’s impossible to open both sides and once.
- Bay - Large windows that jut out from the home, usually in a trapezoid shape. Provide great views, but only the small side windows open.
- Hopper - Small windows that hinge at the bottom and open inward from the top. Commonly used in bathrooms or basements.
Once you’ve selected a window design, it’s time to think about materials. Windows are available in a variety of materials, and there are pros and cons to each. Here’s a little more about the most common:
- Vinyl - These are the most popular in today’s market. They are lightweight, affordable, efficient and easy to maintain. What’s not to love? Well, they look sort of like plastic and they come in limited colors. They’re not exactly a high-end product.
- Wood - Wood windows are also relatively popular. Most modern versions are actually clad windows - which means the exterior has been covered with vinyl or aluminum. This preserves the look of the wood from the inside but cuts down on exterior maintenance. The elements are very tough on wood, and all wood windows require lots of maintenance.
- Fiberglass - Fiberglass windows are newer than vinyl, but they’re gaining popularity. They’re stronger than wood or vinyl, and they look more like natural wood than vinyl. They’re energy efficient. They can be painted, unlike vinyl, but you don’t have to paint them. They’re pricey, though - far more expensive than vinyl.
- Aluminum - These used a popular choice for homes, but they’ve fallen out of fashion because vinyl is so much more efficient. They’re very strong, though, which makes them useful in commercial applications.
New windows are expensive. According to Consumer Reports, replacement windows cost $7,000 to $20,000 for the average house, with custom sizes adding on 15 percent or more. Price will also vary based on which brand window you choose to purchase. Andersen and Pella are two very popular window companies. Here are a few of the most important things you should know about pricing:
- The price difference from one window to the next can be astronomical. Window prices range anywhere from about $50 to $2,500.
- The design of the window doesn’t have much of an impact on price. A casement window can be $100 or more than $1,000. The materials are what really determine price.
- Wood windows tend to be the most expensive, followed by fiberglass, vinyl and aluminum, in that order.
- Prices are always negotiable - don’t let a salesperson tell you otherwise.
- Never buy from the first dealer that gives you a quote. Shop around to compare prices.
Energy efficiency is extremely important when shopping for windows. In fact, many homeowners decide to replace their windows solely to make their homes more efficient. (Although keep in mind that it will likely take 20 years or more to recoup the cost of the windows in energy savings.)
To maximize energy efficiency, look for features such as heat reflecting low-E coatings and argon gas between panes. You’ll find that these features are pretty standard with reputable window companies. For more about manufacturers’ efficiency ratings, the Consumer Reports guide mentioned above is helpful.
It doesn’t matter how attractive or energy efficient your windows are if they’re not properly installed. Major window manufacturers personally train their installers, and using these people is generally a good idea, although they may charge more. Most consumers report being satisfied with manufacturer-trained installers. Also, be sure to ask for references before agreeing to use an installer, and check his or her record with the Better Business Bureau.
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