Replacement Windows : 10 things to know before you buy

It’s a great investment and addition to your home to replace your windows, as it adds beauty, style and value. A San Diego study shows you can recoup up to 98% of the cost by installing vinyl replacement windows. We’re here to tell you 10 things before you invest in new windows to make sure you know what to expect.

historic window works

1. Replacement vs. Retro-fit

While replacement window means replacing an existing window, you must use either “new construction” or retro-fit. Since these terms are similar amongst window professionals, we breakdown the differences to determine which is right for you.

New Construction – Best when you are planning to re-stucco or replace siding on a replacement window in the future. It involves cutting back the siding four to eight inches or cutting back the stucco, removing flashing paper and then removing the window that needs to be replaced. A three-step process will then be used by a professional, which is installing the new window, applying new flashing paper and then replacing the stucco. The good news is, your windows will be the same size as the old windows. Bad news is, if you do not plan to re-stucco the house, it will be noticeable the stucco was patched. Cracks may occur due to the old and new stucco not expanding and contracting at the same time. This method also costs more than the “retro-fit” method.

Retro-Fit – If you are on a budget and do not plan to re-stucco the house in the future, this maybe the best choice. Because the perimeter frame of the window will not be removed, retro-fit windows will not require any stucco damage. The easy thing about retro-fit is that it is designed to fit inside the old window. Depending on if the windows are metal or wood, a different installation method maybe used and a different retro-fit window by a contractor. This new window must also be smaller than the old window because the new window must fit inside the frame of the old window. Usually this is not noticeable unless the new window is in a small space, like a bathroom.

2. Current window types: Metal or Wood?

The type of windows you have now will have an impact on the new windows if retro-fit is being used.

Metal – These types of windows are usually replaced with a retro-fit installation, equipped with an exterior flange that will conceal the previous window frame from the outside. A large opening will be created by the contractor by removing the glass and any bars that divide the window. A flange that extends about two inches all around the frame will come with the new window. The flange will conceal the outside of the frame of the old window and the new window will fit inside the opening of the old window. A trim will be used to conceal the old window from the outside. Different interior trim options are available depending on the contractor.

Wood – Retro-fit windows are used to replace existing windows and typically has a sill that accommodates the slope of the old wood window sill. The interior and exterior stops of the old windows will be removed, as well as the sash, and the frame around the perimeter will be in place. The old perimeter frame will then be ready for installment of the new window. The old window sill may have an aluminum wrap depending on which contractors offer it, as it is difficult to do well as wrap may have gaps and unaligned edges. A good paint job will keep the charm of the old wood windows and finish off the old window sill nicely.

3.  Know the materials you want in advance

There are advantages and disadvantage to frame materials that are available, so it’s best to weigh your options.

Vinyl – Vinyl are the most popular choice for window replacements. They insulate well, easy maintenance, inexpensive and provide smooth operation. The major downside is that it cannot be painted over and only come in white and tan. Dark colored vinyl windows are available, although some companies have pulled them because the dark material absorbs a lot of heat. Check the warranty carefully.

Aluminum – Aluminum windows usually have poor insulation, but that can be changed but changing the old windows to double glazed instead of single glazed with a high performing low-e glass. These windows are best when you already have aluminum windows as the new windows can closely match the old windows. A dark bronze anodized is available if you want a dark frame or a clear anodized for a contemporary style look.

Fiberglass – Maintenance free, available in dark colors, insulate well and can be easily painted. However, they are quite expensive and compete with high-end wood windows.

Wood – Available with or without maintenance exterior cladding. To stay true to an old home’s style, choosing windows without exterior cladding maybe the best option. A disadvantage however, it that is requires regular painting. Wanting dual-glazed windows with low-e glass will be more expensive like clad wood windows. Vinyl or aluminum exterior cladding is usually available in many colors. Retro-fitting your existing window calls for special sizes and this can cost extra or unavailability of sizes.

4. Glass-options that are available to you

how a window works

Single glazed vs. Dual glazed – Simply put, a single glazed window as one layer of glass, and a dual-glazed has two layers. However, a dual-glazed is hermetically sealed with air space between them. Single glazed windows provide little to no insulation despite minimal issues unless the window breaks. A huge disadvantage to dual-glazed windows however is that the seal may fail within 15-20 years, so it’s best to get a warranty for that amount of time. If there is no warranty, the dual-glazed units will cost more than the replacement windows would have in the first place.

Low-E Glass – Short for low-emissivity, is provides high-tech coating on the glass and designed to block heat and ultra-violet light from the sun, while permitting visible light to reduce solar heat and fading so the home won’t be too dark. Low-E is said to be the standard, with upgrading to high performing Low-E providing optimal energy efficiency.

Low-Maintenance Coatings – A low maintenance glass can sometimes be referred to as “self-cleaning glass”, despite it being an overstatement. They can indeed be easier to clean and stay clean. Cardinal Glass Industries makes a coating called “Neat”, which is low-maintenance and harnesses the sun’s UV rays so dirt can rinse away, leaving windows spotless. They will stay cleaner longer and clean easily.

Argon Gas – Odorless and colorless, argon gas is inert gas that is denser than air which is used between panes to provide improvement to energy savings and thermal performance.

5. Divided Lites

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True Divided Lites – Usually seen in wood windows, true divided lites separate the glass into small rectangles with each piece of glass or dual-glazed unit, is glazed separately in the window. While expensive, it gives an authentic wooden window look.

Simulated Divided Lites – These use one larger piece of glass and frame material is applied to the exterior or interior of the window to create a true divided lites look. For the effect to look more realistic, the window must be dual-glazed with a shadow-bar put between the two panes of glass.

Internal Grids – To give the impression of divided lites, internal grades are placed between two panes of glass. It’s a low-maintenance option, as you will be able to clean one big glass instead of smaller pieces of glass. It’s available in flat or sculptured profile and is less expensive than the two other options.

6. Know your warranty

It’s very important to know the manufacturer’s warranty. Some companies offer life-time warranty’s, while some companies offer 15-20 years as “lifetime”. These companies may provide the replacement parts but no labor, which is usually more expensive. Dual-glazed unites usually have a warranty of 15-20 years, but can costly if it fails as it will be more expensive than a replacement window. Find a good company who stands by their warranty’s and may cover accidental breakage of glass.

7. Know your rights

Be sure to find out your state’s contractors license board to see what you should expect for your contractors.

8. Don’t feel pressured

Many companies spend thousands on marketing, with the aim of setting up appointments right away. A good gimmick these companies may pull, is offering a “discount” while you are deciding between different contractors, but do not be fooled.

9. Referral check

As a company for past customers and you can contact them. If they cannot provide a long list of satisfied customers, beware.

10. Trust your instincts

Choose a company you have confidence in. Be careful if an offer sounds too good to be true. They need a fair profit, but make sure you can a get fair price.