Wednesday, February 4, 2009

What Exactly IS a Replacement Window?

Ok, fair warning! This is a LONG post! If you are considering replacement windows in your home, it is well worth the time it takes to read the entire thing!

We've all heard the advertisements, $199, no $189, no $179! You can stand on our windows! You'll save 40% on your energy bill..etc. Should you really buy all the hype?

The answer is: probably not!

A replacement window is a window unit that replaced the sashes and tracks inside your existing window unit. Since most of these are double hung (both sashes slide up and down) I will concentrate on that particualr style. Depending on the style of window you currently have, they can install from the interior or exterior. Regardless of whether they are vinyl or clad wood the installation procedure is basically the same.

On this particular home, the windows are being installed from the outside because of the way they were built. This picture was taken right after the sashes and tracks were removed at 2:15 pm. The remaining frame of the window is checked to make sure there is no rotten or damaged areas. All nails and fasteners are removed and any dust is vacuumed away. On this window, there was NO rot, but the sashes wouldn't stay open and they leaked a lot of air!

The new window is installed and secured with 4 large screws that are hidden by matching trim pieces. This picture was taken at 2:23 pm, the home was open to the elements for less than 8 minutes. It would have been faster had it not been located on the 2nd floor! This is exactly why it's perfectly OK to replace windows in the winter!

After the new window is secured to the existing frame, inslulation is added in 2 places: between the new window and old frame and between the window frame and surrounding studs. ALWAYS make sure this happens! What's the point of replacing a leaky window if air can move AROUND IT? We install new exterior trim around the window, almost always made from rot-free composite materials. Many window companies wrap the exterior trim with sheet metal and seal it with silicone caulk. It looks pretty, but may still allow the window frame to rot behind it.

This window was installed in one of our customer's homes by another contractor. As you can see, the exterior is wrapped with the aluminum sheeting. It's difficult to see here, but the white silicone usually turns brown within a month or so. Since it is very sticky, it attracts and holds dust and cannot be painted! Who wants brown pinstripes on their new windows?

This is NOT my preferred way to dress the exterior of a window and here's why:

This is the same window with the wrap removed! Either the installer didn't care enough to properly repair the window or they just didn't seal it well.

Either way, the homeowner was not happy about his "new windows!"
We had to remove the new window and replace the entire sill, blindstop and brickmolding. All were replaced with a paintable composite materials that will NEVER ROT!

NOW he has new windows!

This is what a window is SUPPOSED to look like!

Here are some things to remember when shopping for windows:

  • You generally get what you pay for!
  • The low advertised price is just that a LOW starting point!
  • You can stand on our windows! Cool! Why? This is because of "double strength" glass which is twice as thick as normal glass. Most quality windows have this as a standard feature.
  • No window is "maintenance free" just read the directions. They need to be cleaned once or twice a year. Not just the glass, but the frame should be wiped off to remove any dirt or dust that has accumulated.
  • a "double hung" window is one where the sashes BOTH slide up and down. On a "single hung" window, only the bottom sash slides up.
  • Window sashes that tilt in for easy cleaning are WONDERFUL! Your windows are a breeze to clean and it's all done from the inside!
  • Half Screens vs. Full Screens: I personally prefer a full screen on a double hung window. There is no right or wrong answer here, strictly personal preference.
  • LowE Glass with Argon gas between the panes. This is a MUST! On some windows it's a standard option, on others (the cheapies) it's a way to upsell. Not only is Argon a better insulator than plain old air, the LowE coating actually reflects radiant heat which reduces it's transfer from one side to the other. The point is to improve the efficiency of your windows, right? It doesn't make sense to cut this corner.
  • Foam filled frames: Most of the time, this really doesn't make sense. If you live in the extreme North, it may not be a bad idea, but it's usually a waste of money. Most air comes AROUND the frame and not through it. That's why the insulation is so important.
  • Grilles: Most of the time they are placed between the glass panes. No more cleaning little panes of glass! You have one large piece of glass that needs to be cleaned while still retaining the look you want. These are personal preference and usually cost extra. Some homes just don't look right without them.

For all of you hoping for the new window for less than $200, this is for you:

  1. Screens may be extra.
  2. Hauling away the window is usually extra.
  3. LowE glass with Argon is usually extra.
  4. Exterior wrap is extra, brickmolding and insulation is definitely extra!
  5. Grilles are always extra.
  6. The installers are usually subcontractors. They get a certain (small) amount per window to install them. The only way they can make money is to install as many as they can in as little time as possible. Let the salesman or service department worry about quality.
  7. Your salesman is almost always on commission! The extras listed here are where he will make his money. There's nothing wrong with this, just watch your wallet!
  8. You will have to live with your new windows for years to come, don't make a hasty decision by jumping at the first "tonight only" offer, you just may regret it!

If you have further questions about the process, or even want a consultation, you can find out more at my website:

Always remember: No salesman sells the second best windows in town!


mammabear said...

Another great post! You gotta love a contractor who uses wrap to hide rotting wood!

Bill the Painter said...


For a long time I always hated the idea of replacement windows!

That's why I install, insulate and trim the way I do. It costs more, but it's the right way to do it.

PurpleLady said...

Bill, I am in love! I just found your site because I wanted to get a "rough" idea how much replacement windows would cost. I am amazed at the amount of invaluable information you included. It was not too long, in my opinion.:) I am definitely going to use your knowledge and expertise to select a reputable dealer and get the right windows for my home. I subscribed to your blog since I see you have so much to offer. If I weren't in Ohio I'd have you install my windows.

Thanks for a wonderful service.

Bill the Painter said...

Thanks PurpleLady, I get that a lot! NOT!

Your feedback is appreciated, I hope the info helps. Let me know if there's any way I can help.

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