New vinyl window

When you’re in the market for replacement windows for your home, it’s tempting to look at your local big home improvement chain store for a solution. They’re likely in your neighborhood, or close enough to be generally convenient. Filled with many things you need to keep a home running smoothly and helpful associates, these superstores are goldmines of goodness. However, they may not be the best solution for your replacement window needs, especially if optimal energy-savings, longevity and a comprehensive, transferable lifetime warranty are important to you.

One of the main areas to concentrate on when you’re considering replacement windows are the window types, also known by the type of window frame, in addition to the spacer, glass and the sash. The frame is where most people start when they’re considering new windows and there are several types to choose from. It’s important to consider each, including what you’re likely to find at your local big box store.

Window Types:

Vinyl Frame

Vinyl window frames are manufactured in three basic grades:

1.Builder-Grade or Lumber Yard Grade:

The world's best-known window manufacturers all make a builder-grade vinyl frame window. Most, if not every, mega home improvement chain sells them. The important thing to know is that they're primarily designed for new construction. The frames are lightweight and if you look inside, you’ll see that they’re hollow. The danger here is that without anything else to reinforce the frame, a hollow vinyl tube provides the only muscle to keep the sides of your window from warping.

Furthermore, the corners of builder-grade vinyl windows are simply screwed together. This means that over time, they'll pull apart. They will work for a while, or at least while the window openings are still square. As a home settles and the openings change, the frames will pull apart and warp. Not only will windows made like this way be difficult or impossible to operate, but the warping will increase your energy loss.

These windows, because they’re not custom-made to fit your exact window opening, are already produced and sitting in the store. You purchase the closest size to your opening and make it fit. Either cutting the opening bigger or using shims to make a smaller window fit. Both reduce energy savings and can damage the exterior of your home or not look natural or aesthetically pleasing.

These types of windows are also mass produced and sent to various locations within a specific (usually franchise or store footprint) area. This means that a store in Ohio may be selling the same window as a store in Florida. Two totally different climates. Windows are most efficient and operate optimally when they’re made for the climate where they’ll be installed.

Finally, consider that every builder-grade window is manufactured with recycled vinyl. It’s highly porous and will fade, discolor and stains easy. The recycled vinyl will become brittle, and when it does, it's easy for it to crack and chip. That's why so many people usually replace builder-grade windows within five to ten years.

The lightweight frames are one of the reasons that a builder-grade window cost less money. You can find windows for as little as $200. Here’s the rub: as inexpensive as they are, they don't make energy efficient windows with lightweight frames. They don't save money in radiation - conduction or infiltration, which is where energy-loss occurs, resulting in high utility bills, and low interior home comfort (think hot summers and cold winters inside your home). Installing these windows may not save you anything from what you're spending on utilities now. The only way it may make sense to install builder grade windows is if you were selling right away and your windows were so bad that you couldn't sell your house. If you’re looking for a short-term fix, then these windows may be a good fit.

2. Replacement Grade Frame:

The second grade of windows is called replacement grade. These windows are made with a stronger, heavier frame making them better equipped to withstand the stress of a window opening that isn't square any longer. However, just like the builder-grade frame, most of the replacement grade frames are not reinforced. They are stronger but still hollow. They'll last longer, but you still have no guarantee that they won't be warped or inoperable before you finish paying for them. Buyer beware: some manufacturers still make replacement grade windows with a mechanically screwed frame. It’s less expensive, but the corners are the area of greatest stress. Most manufacturers improve on the mechanically-screwed frame by manufacturing the window with a surface weld meaning the corners are welded together; however, it’s only on the outside. This makes it stronger, but because the entire frame isn't welded – it’s still a weak point. That weakness doesn't always show up right away. That may take a few years. Considering a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, no matter how strong the rest of the window frame is, the integrity of the entire window is at risk if the corners separate.  

Most all replacement grade windows are made with a 50-50 blend of recycled and virgin vinyl. That's certainly an improvement from the 100% recycled vinyl that they use in the builder grade window. However, blended vinyl still fades, discolors and stains easily. Over time, the 50-50 blend will still become brittle. Products made from the 50-50 blend can still crack easily. Plus, like builder grade windows, many replacement grade windows don't have insulated frames, energy efficient sashes or energy-efficient glass. This means you’ll pay more for a stronger more durable window, but that window may not be any more energy-efficient than what you have now. Replacement grade windows can cost as little as $500. However, if you spent that much on a window and it didn’t save on your energy bills long-term, you would get a window that might provide five to ten years of acceptable operation but end up costing you more money over time – never actually paying for itself like other, more energy-efficient windows.

3. Energy-Efficient Replacement Grade Frame

This grade of a window is designed to withstand the stress of a window opening that isn't square - and just as important - the sash and the glass are designed to recapture most of what you're spending on energy bills.

This is the only kind of window offered by Improveit. These types of windows are generally only available from specialty window companies, or quality replacement contractors. They’re for cost-conscious customers who need the strength of the replacement grade and wants the energy savings, as well as year-round comfort and beauty.  While this type of window typically costs more than a builder grade window or the basic replacement grade window, these windows are designed to operate perfectly for the number of years you plan to live in your home, and just as important, they are designed to save money due to radiation - conduction and infiltration. They use nature’s warmth to help heat your home in the winter and reflect the sun’s rays in the summer – both to help reduce your energy bills and make your home more comfortable. In the end, they cost you less money, as well as pay for themselves over time.

Schedule an in-home Energy Assessment to find out what makes our windows last longer and cost less.  

Wood Frame

Wood frame window

Lots of people like the way wood windows look. The downfall of wood windows is that tend to require lots of maintenance. To continue to look great and stay protected from the weather elements, they require continuous painting or staining. The wood is also susceptible to rot from moisture, making the windows susceptible to warping. They can be lower in energy efficiency and offer a shorter lifespan. Plus, they cost more. If lowering your maintenance headaches and saving money with your new windows is important, wood windows are among the most expensive windows to purchase.

Composite Frame 

Windows made with a composite frame are more durable than wood windows. Composite windows use a frame that’s constructed from a mixture of both natural and synthetic materials. This blend can contain both vinyl, wood, metal, plastic and other materials. This mixture is held together with an epoxy resin. While composite windows can be painted any color to suit your tastes, they are generally more expensive than vinyl windows, which also come in a wide variety of color options. As far as energy-efficiency, composite windows don’t pack the same savings punch as vinyl. Vinyl windows have insulated frames that move them head and shoulders above the rest of the pack. 

Aluminum Frame


Aluminum windows have faded into the background over the years with the creation of energy-efficient vinyl windows. The big problem with aluminum windows is that aluminum is a highly conductive material.

While a plus for many applications, it’s a big downside for windows. This means that during summer and winter, the heat and cold from outside can transfer to the frames and into your home, causing higher air conditioning and heating bills and a less comfortable interior environment.

The other issue is condensation. In more humid climates, moisture droplets can form on the glass or the frame because these elements are colder the water’s dew point. Not only is it unsightly, but the constant moisture can also cause fungi and bacteria to grow. People with allergies can find these particularly bothersome.

High-impact aluminum windows can still be a good choice if you’re in hurricane-prone areas or live in areas with the milder year-round weather, with little high and low-temperature fluctuations.

Installation

If you’re handy and have made so many trips to your local home improvement superstore you’re considering buying windows there, it’s likely crossed your mind that you could install them. Even if you haven’t considered a DIY window installation project on your own, you may be considering having a friend, relative, neighbor or local handyman or contractor who has some home improvement skills handle the job. While on the surface, a home-grown approach may seem appealing to save money, there are serious risks to take into consideration.

DIY Window Installation

Every window, no matter where you buy it, comes in a box. It must be the right size, and it must be installed in your home exactly as the manufacturer recommends or the warranty might be voided. The other risk is protecting your new windows, your home, and your family from damage during the installation. Window safety with self-installation should be carefully considered. If you’re installing your new windows, you could damage the window and/or your home. If you have a friend or relative do it, they aren’t trained, licensed or insured in case the job goes wrong. While on the surface, window installation might look straightforward. Once your window(s) has been removed, you can run into a multitude of unknowns that require remodeling/construction know-how to remedy. Also, whether you install your windows, use a friend, relative or even your favorite handyman, the proper insurance won’t be in place to protect from any damage that may occur during installation.

Solo Contractor

Industry statistics indicate that no matter how carefully you measure, or how accurate the ordering process, a certain number of incorrectly sized windows will show up on job sites. Correct sized windows start with properly trained, experienced window professionals measuring the exact opening. The bad news is that the average contractor learns they either didn’t measure accurately or picked up the wrong sized window(s) at installation time – not before the old window was removed. Now you have two problems – an incorrect window and a hole where the old window has been removed. You may have even suffered some damage to the opening during removal. Bottom line - you don't have the right window to install and the contractor may claim it’s not their fault and charge you to re-install the old window. As mentioned above using the DIY approach, solo contractors and smaller install outfits may not have the appropriate insurance coverage in place, leaving you at risk.
Specialty/Expert Installation (Window Companies)

Reputable window companies will place a huge emphasis on the quality of their installation teams. They’ll be trained professionals, with experience in this specific installation process. They’ll should also be background checked, licensed, bonded and insured. They’ll protect your floors, furniture and treat your home like their own. Select companies, like Improveit Home Remodeling, will also warranty the installation labor for your windows. Quality companies like ours also maintain public liability insurance. This means while we're on your property, your home, your personal liability, your possessions and those of your neighbors, are all covered with the Company’s public liability policy. These companies will also provide a way – and welcome – your feedback and review of its installers.  

Window Costs

Since the cost of windows varies wildly depending upon a wide array of factors, there are some key considerations to keep in mind, especially if you’re considering buying windows at a big box home improvement store:

What Are Your Replacement Window Objectives?

If lowering your energy bills is number one on your list, then ensuring you purchase the most energy-efficient window for your climate is a must. The builder-grade or replacement-grade windows generally don’t have the highest energy-efficiency ratings. Do your research and know what you’re buying and how much your new windows will save you over time. Adding to the beauty, comfort, quietness, and energy-efficiency of your home are all common and very compelling reasons to undertake a replacement window project. Make sure the actual windows and their features, the company representing the window manufacturer and doing the installation, the product, and labor warranties, and how they approach customer service all match your objectives.

What’s the Return on Your Investment (ROI)?

Windows are an investment – no way around that. That means that you’ll want to know what return to expect. Energy savings is the best way to get that return over time. To maximize your return, make sure to explore the true energy-efficiency of the windows you’re purchasing – for your area or climate. 

What’s the Warranty?

Good thing windows are one of the few things that look great and can pay for themselves over time (in the form of energy savings). When you make the investment in new windows, you want to rest easy that what you’ve purchased will give you performance, beauty, and savings for the long run. No one wants to go through the process of buying and installing new windows only to have to do so again in five to ten years. Look for a lifetime, transferrable warranties that cover your windows even if you move, giving the new owners peace of mind and becoming a great selling point when you put your house on the market. Also look for the labor to install your windows to carry a warranty, as well.

What Exactly Are You Buying?

Windows have lots of pieces and parts – including frame, spacer, sash, glass, locks, and features such as tilt-in for easy cleaning. Make sure you have a clear understanding of what you’re buying – and what parts are covered under your warranty and which are not. The devil is the details and it’s up to the buyer to understand what they’re purchasing.

Who Has the Expertise?

Researching and making the right decision when it comes to replacement windows can be overwhelming. Among the top reasons that people go to a big box home improvement store to buy windows is that it appears to be easy based on the limited options and consumer-friendly buying process. With the right window company, you can learn the important components of the replacement window buying process and zero in on what makes the most sense for your home, family and investment dollars. Windows play a big part in creating a better, more comfortable environment for you and your family. It’s a decision we recommend making with a trusted partner who has years of window expertise.

Click here to request your free Home Energy Assessment and learn more about Improveit Home Remodeling’s SolarTech line of Energy-star rated replacement windows. In the window business for over 30 years, we are proud to help homeowners understand the ins and outs window buying and guide them to the right decision for their needs and budget. 

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