by Tom Harrigan, Modern Home Renovation
Better Vinyl Windows 101 & 201
When asked “What features are most important in your replacement window decision,” the most frequent responses given by homeowners are:
A solid contractor, professional installation, appealing aesthetics, better security, greater energy efficiency, longer durability, higher ROI, best price and an inclusive warranty.
Vinyl windows are made using polyvinyl chloride (PVC), the same material used in many plumbing products and other household items. Vinyl windows come in different grades, the most popular being Recycled Vinyl or Pure Virgin Vinyl. Recycled vinyl is made from a variety of recycled vinyl products and usually includes plastics. While this can reduce the cost of the window, it can also affect the durability and longevity. Pure virgin vinyl is a stronger material and is more durable than the alternative. Unplasticized vinyl (uPVC) contains no plastics which dry out under the extreme heat of our southern climate causing frames to warp or crack. An inclusive warranty for a durable product will guarantee the welded corners of the frames will not separate and both the main frame and sash frame will not warp, crack or fade. Many manufacturers use some uPVC but also include recycled material containing plastic to lower cost. This practice allows contractors to offer the windows at a lower price and to say their product is made of uPVC. Often the warranty will not specifically cover warping and/or cracking. Insist on a printed warranty card from the manufacturer, not the contractor’s warranty. (Contractors do not manufacture windows, however, many private label a popular manufacturer’s product). Pure Virgin uPVC is also stronger than PVC which provides the strength necessary for a slimmer frame. From an aesthetics point of view, most vinyl windows measure a bulky 3 ½” from edge of frame to glass restricting the view and reducing the amount of natural light, especially compared to the very narrow single pan aluminum frames we grew up with. A slim line window will measure between 2 ½” and 2 ¾”. If this design detail is important to you, be sure to ask your sales consultant to measure the sample window under consideration.
Knowing what to look for and where to find information pertaining to product efficiency, aesthetics, and durability is the biggest challenge that most homeowners face when seeking to compare the numerous choices and corresponding pricing right for their project. Much of what you need to know is found printed in the manufacturer’s warranty. You simply need to know which facts are important, which are not and what is marketing fluff.
Many lifetime warranties are misleading – some not worth the paper they’re printed on. A common warranty will state, “Vinyl frames and components will be free of manufacturing defects and will not rot, bubble, blister, flake, peel, chip or corrode.” Unless the window has deformity in frame, glass or hardware when it’s first installed, “free of manufacturing defects” provides virtually no protection to the homeowner. Acts of God such as extreme heat or cold, hurricanes and tornadoes are always excluded; therefore, if the frames later warp or crack, the manufacturer is not liable. Rotting and corrosion are superfluous in that vinyl has a half-life of around 500 years and contains no metal. What you do not see printed on the manufacturer’s warranty is just as, (and sometimes more), important as what you do see. The three most common problems that could occur on an entry level vinyl window are “cracking, warping and fading.” Other areas to consider are the section under the heading “what’s not covered.” Some so called lifetime warranties have an extensive section devoted to exclusions. The most inclusive warranties contain inclusive language in each section such as, “will not break, warp, crack or other otherwise fail.” Warranty sections include frame, hardware, screen, insulated glass seal, glass breakage and exclusions. The “fine print” or “exclusions” section should be concise excluding only caulk, improper installation, acts of God and misuse or abuse of the product. An inclusive the warranty is one key to finding a quality window that will truly last a lifetime.
When it comes to security, new windows can make your home a harder target for thieves. Double pane alone gives pause to undesirables due to additional noise and length of time required to break in. Impact, or laminated, glass is an upgrade available on many window products which makes breakage much more difficult. Another security feature, mortised/embedded as opposed to flush mount locks require many more foot pounds of pressure to pry out, are offered on some better windows. Just as injection mold foam doubles as a more energy efficient solution while preventing sagging of hollow wall cavities, mortised locks serve a dual purpose – generally providing a more attractive appearance at the same time higher security.
The position of the glazing beads is yet another major security factor. The glazing bead is a thin strip of material usually made of the same material as the frame which secures the insulated glass to the frame. Many manufacturers apply the glazing bead to the exterior side of the window. A smart thief with a little experience knows that removing the glazing beads allows the glass to be taken out without breaking the glass or opening the sash thereby circumventing glass breakage and wired or wireless window alarm systems. Even with motion sensors in every room, the intruder can be inside before the alarm sounds. The well thought out design of some better windows feature inaccessible interior glazing beads. Ventilation night latches that allow the window to open only about 4” are offered by most manufacturers but are not an effective security measure as they can be defeated simply by slamming against them a few times. Considering security should be a part of your decision. Ask your consultant to fully explain the security features of the recommended product.
Energy efficiency is a major reason homeowners give for window replacement. We all want more comfortable living spaces and lower utility bills, especially during our long hot Texas summers. But, which window and which options are the best choice for my needs and the needs of my home? Inside most window frames are hollow cavities which over time can sag thereby reducing the beauty, value and energy efficiency of new windows. Injection mold foam filled frames double the frame R value while providing support for the vinyl cavity walls.
Because the largest area and least efficient part of a window is the glass, the insulated glass package you choose greatly affects energy efficiency both upon installation and over any considerable period of time. 85% of glass purchased by window manufacturers comes from Cardinal Glass, most is LoE 366. This is why, if you’ve ever experienced the heat lamp demonstration at your kitchen table, the result is always the same regardless of the company, sales associate or window quality. One sample is double pane glass with no LoE, one sample is double pane with the old hard coat LoE seldom used by any manufacturer, and the glass cool to the touch is double pane with soft coat LoE 366. Don’t fall for the dog and pony show. A premium product is easily recognizable by the features described here, its inclusive warranty and price.
However, only the premium window manufacturers spend the money for quality factory presealed glass. Most buy sheets of glass with LoE then cut, seal and fill. Because Cardinal Glass employs multi-million-dollar, patented machinery to seal and fill the insulated glass units (IGs); factory sealed glass has a higher fill rate, better seal and lower leakage. For comparison purposes you may consider, Cardinal’s 98% fill rate with approx. 4% leakage to an average window manufacturer’s 70% fill with 10% leakage over 10 years. For most applications, double pane argon filled, factory presealed glass provides the best value quadrupling the R-0.9 value of an existing single pane aluminum window to the R-3.6 of a premium vinyl double pane product. While triple pane may increase the R value to between R-4 and R-5, the law of diminishing returns mostly negates both energy saving and improved room comfort for the additional price.
Professional installation is a key component in a quality turnkey project. More often than not, poor installation negates the benefits of even the highest quality window. Ask you consultant to fully explain the installation process and what is and is not included. Rotting or termite infected exterior trim, and/or framing and/or improperly installed or wet drywall usually entail additional labor and material costs to the homeowner. Read the fine print and ask questions. Larger companies use many installation crews. Some crews are excellent, some mediocre others inexperienced. Better installers typically take more time and care during the measure, removal and replacement process to ensure a better fit, proper seal and a cleaner install. Inexpensive windows usually entail cheaper material and labor costs in order to leave room for profit. The bottom line – you usually get what you pay for.
Of course, you’ll want the best value for your investment -the right window for your home’s needs at a fair price. A trustworthy company that will be there if and when you need service 5, 10 or 20 years down the road. Entry level vinyl windows average around $400 – $500 each which means low material and labor cost. Most entry level window contractors will show a so called good, better, best knowing the homeowner is looking for three “quotes.” However, all three of their offerings are many times covered under the same warranty the difference being a subtle and often times insignificant design change. For better quality material and labor your average cost per window should be around the $700 – $800 each. Those companies charging $900 – $1,200 each are likely overpriced due to high marketing and overhead expenses that can reach a million or more per year just for marketing. These expenses must be covered before realizing profit. In general, smaller windows with fewer options cost less than larger windows with more detailed design choices such as divided lites, upgraded frame color and architectural shapes. The average pricing above may be used as a guide to obtain a quality product at a fair price.
From a return on investment (ROI) perspective, windows are one of the best remodeling investments. A kitchen, bathroom, flooring or addition project may increase the value of the home, but not nearly as much as the cost of the project. With few exceptions such as insulation, windows and doors; remodeling project decisions should be based on quality of life rather than a full return on investment. Over 10 -20 years, windows can completely pay for themselves or come very close. Windows immediately increase the resale value of a home compared to selling the same home with old single pane aluminum windows. New home buyers are looking for greater energy efficiency with lower utility bills, more comfortable living spaces and an attractive design. The decrease in energy bills for a better vinyl product should range between 20 -25%. For accurate comparison, be sure to wait a couple of billing cycles after your new windows are installed to compare same month to same month from previous years. In addition to actual monthly bill amount, consider the price per kilowatt and total kilowatts used for each period. In addition to increased home equity and energy savings, lower HVAC maintenance costs provide a higher return on investment due to less strain placed on air handling equipment. New weather stripping seals on replacement windows also reduce the amount of dust and allergens. Better windows have up to 33% (3 layers rather than 2) more weather stripping than entry level products. Lastly, quicker salability is an asset often times overlooked. A home that sells quicker allows the seller to take advantage of opportunities that may have been missed by staying on the market longer with the possibly of a drop in the asking price before the sale is completed. Depending on the quality and value of your home, an entry level window can actually devalue your home. Even homeowners staying in their home want to leave behind saleable and/or livable assets for their children.
While much information is available to the consumer, most homeowners require education from a professional they can trust to decipher which information is marketing and which is important in finding the window that best suits their needs. An objective expert should be willing to point you in the right direction even if the product they offer is not the right fit for both your needs and the needs of your home. Our choice of manufacturing partners may not fit every situation, but if you plan to stay in your home or to leave behind a saleable asset for your children, we offer the right products with the most comprehensive warranties at aggressively competitive prices. At Modern Home Renovation, we believe it is our duty to go above and beyond sales to assist our homeowners with their choice. We seek to build partnerships with homeowners for all of their remodeling needs.
For more information, please call to schedule a free in-home consultation and visit our 4,000 SF showroom at:
Modern Home Renovation * 1715 Northpark Dr. * Kingwood, TX 77339 * 281-361-4409
Free tickets available for the January 27-28 spring Katy Home & Garden Show and the Woodlands Home & Garden Show March 10-11.