Selecting Replacement Windows and the Contractor: What You Need to Know Selecting Replacement Windows and the Contractor: What You Need to Know

Shopping for new windows, finding a reputable contractor - you’ve struggled with the decision for months, maybe years. This statistic may spur you on: It is estimated that 40 percent of the individual American household budget is dedicated to heating and cooling expenses. Now you’ve made the decision - but where do you start?

It’s much easier to get your project underway - and get it started with a high degree of confidence - than you might think. The industry has set high standards and created tools for the consumer to easily identify well-made windows.

The path to buying new windows is threefold:

(1) Learn about window efficiency ratings
(2) Shop for and compare manufacturers and vendors then
(3) Choose an installation contractor.

The Rating Factors: Research pricing by comparing important features:

The appearance of the window may grab your attention, but window efficiency is just as important, if not more so. Double-pane windows are almost three times as efficient as single-pane. Begin your search with double-paned windows and purchase the most efficient window that your budget allows.

The quality of a window is as good as its very comprehensive energy rating. Here’s how the ratings work:

• The U-Factor: The lower the number, the higher the efficiency. Typically, U-Factors range from 1.1 to 0.3. A good single-paned window is estimated to have a U-Factor of about 1.0 compared to a double-pane at about 0.4. Triple and quadruple-paned, high efficiency windows are also available. A low U-Factor is also an overall indicator of the quality of the window. A poorly made window cannot score a low U-Factor.

• The R-Factor: The higher the number, the higher the efficiency. The R-Factor and the U-Factor work together. Some window manufacturers display the R-Factor. A higher R-Factor also supports a lower U-Factor. R-Factors typically range from 0.9 to 3.0.

• Low-e Rating: The higher the number, the higher the efficiency. The Low-e results from a microscopically thin coating (usually metal oxide) on the windowpane. This coating reflects heat back into the room. Low-e, meaning “low-emissivity,” is the rate at which the heat is reflected. Low-e coatings are applied as a “soft coat” or a “hard coat.” A hard-coat is longer lasting than the soft coat. The more efficient the Low-e rating, the more protection from the fabric-fading effects of UV rays. It is estimated that Low-e coatings reduce energy loss by 30%-50%. They are generally trademarked and may vary with the manufacturer.

• The Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (SHGC): This rating measures the solar energy passing through a window. The rating desirable for your locale depends on your climate. A colder climate requires a higher SHGC and a hotter climate requires a lower SHGC. A typical range is 0.4 to 0.9.

• Inert Gases: Multiple-pane windows are sealed with air between the panes or with an inert gas, such as Argon or Krypton. The gas-filled windows are more efficient.

• Energy Star: The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) endorse windows with the Energy Star label.

• NFRC Label: The National Fenestration Rating Council label identifies certain energy efficiency ratings, and identifies the manufacturer.

• Other: The distance between panes and the type of spacers (used to separate panes) are important but are generally reflected in the efficiency factors.

Scouting the marketplace:

Put your knowledge of efficiency factors to work. Visit local home improvement stores and get comfortable with window shopping. The rating sticker should be prominently displayed. You’ll have a general idea of how rating factors impact a window’s cost.

The Window Manufacturer or Vendor:

Prepare a preliminary budget. Armed with a “budget-of-sorts,” it’s time to choose the perfect windows. Visit several manufacturers’ showrooms. This is the time to ask for design advice. If you want to change your window-style, take advantage of the expertise of the manufacturer.

The important basics:

• Customer referrals. Make the calls and check each one. Do they like their windows? Have they had any problems? Would they buy the same window again?
• A copy of the Window Warranty. Compare to other manufacturers.
• Contractor referrals.

When you’ve checked referrals, feel good about a warranty and can hardly wait until your windows are installed, it’s time make the purchase – whether from a home improvement store or direct from a manufacturer, you’ve done your home work.

The installation contractor:

Some manufacturers offer installation classes to train local contractors on their specific windows, so this may be a good source. Try the usual methods: An internet search, the recommendation of a friend, contractors you see working in your neighborhood or try calling the Home Builder’s Association and the Better Business Bureau.

The important basics:

• Choose multiple contractors to interview.
• Interview contractors specializing in windows (and maybe doors).
• How long has he been in business – the longer the better.
• Get referrals – at least four.
• Make the referral calls and ask specific questions: Was the job completed in a timely fashion? Did the contractor haul-off trash and clean up? How long have you had your windows and have you had any problems since installation? Would you use this contractor again?
• Ask to see the contractor’s actual work. He should have customer’s willing to let you walk the outside perimeter of their house.
• Get a copy of the warranty covering the work, read it and ask questions. Anything that is not completely clear should be handwritten on the contract and signed and dated by both the contractor and the homeowner.
• Get a blank copy of the contract. Discuss the start and end date and how it will be defined in a finalized contract, payment arrangements or schedule, and a description of the work to be done.
• Get written proof of insurance, known as a Certificate of Insurance, issued from the contractor’s insurance agent. A contractor should provide proof of property damage coverage, worker’s compensation and personal liability. This request is common and a professional contractor should not hesitate to provide this important documentation.
• NEVER pay for the job upfront. Schedule a partial payment, if necessary. Complete payment upon completion of the job.

A reputable contractor knows and understands the importance of homeowner safeguards, and will likely offer the information before you ask – but if not, be sure to ask.

That’s it. The energy efficiency ratings protect from everything but a poor installation job. That’s why your contractor’s warranty should be carefully filed away.

Got a New Project You're Proud of?

Post it on Your Projects!