Replacement windows advice

We are embarking on a few home improvement projects, and replacement windows will probably be the first. We are a little shell-shocked by the prices we have been quoted on them.

What are your experiences with replacing windows? Our house is about 40 years old, and we have the original aluminum windows. The seals are shot on all of them, and some don’t open or don’t close very well. Apparently aluminum is not legal in Washington State any more. Vinyl? Fiberglass? Wood? How worried should we be about the warranty or about the installers? (We are not handy enough to even think about installing them ourselves.) What’s a good price for replacing 17 big windows, including one really big picture window (96"x84")?

You might consider plastic over the windows instead. It takes a very long time to recoup the investment with energy savings:

I don’t know the answer to the OP, but have a replacement window question of my own and wonder if the knowledgeable people who respond to this thread might have some info on that as well.

My issue with my windows is not so much with the windows themselves, but with their installation. The way they were connected to the house is they have a vinyl frame which is wider than the windows themselves, and this was nailed into the house from the outside (with the nails perpendicular to the window panes). Problem is that some of the nails came loose, as nails do, and in those cases the windows are no longer pressed flush against the sheathing. When it rains hard, there is leaking though these spaces.

I believe the correct way to have installed them would have been to also screw them in from the inside (with the screws parallel to the windows panes. There are holes on the inside of the frame - I believe the idea was to put screws through these holes). But that wasn’t done.

At any rate, the question now is about potentially replacing or at least reinstalling them. The problem is that the outer frame through which the nails went is covered by vinyl siding. Is it possible to pull back the siding and replace/reinstall the windows, or is that a massive undertaking?

Someone once told me that replacement windows are not like windows which one might install on a new house, and that they rely on the original outer frame and are just mounted inside that original frame and connected to it, for the very reason that the outer frame is typically covered by some form of siding. If that’s correct, then replacing the windows would do nothing for me. But is that correct, or is there possibly a workaround?

I spent a year working in the office of a window and door installation company and learned a lot.

First you need to research a window install company, or two, local to you, and find one with a good reputation. Next get a quote on the windows and installation, there should be no charge for the quote. They will come out and look at your house, measure the windows and offer a bid. The things that will need to be done vary from home to home, like removing siding and trim, things like that. Installation done right is very important. The papering, caulking, etc. must be done well or you can have leaks or other issues. Water will find a way or path inside if not done properly.

Vinyl windows are the way to go and there are various brands. In the NW I would personally go with Milgard. They have a good reputation, guarantee, and service, and of course they cost more. Certainteed is another brand. I would only buy them if I thought my wife was going to end up with the house in a few years. There are others. Use your own judgement and research, this is something that you don’t go cheap on. Once the vinyl windows are installed and a glass unit fails only the glass part will need replacement, that is where you want to consider the warrantee.

At the time I was employed there I was also building a shop for my car. I bought two 4 X 4 sliders and one 4 X 8 slider, employee discount, installed myself, and those cost about $900, 12 years ago. 17 large windows, on a home in the Seattle area? You are looking at a major investment. HELOC (home equity line of credit)? Do you really need all of that 401k? It will be expensive.

But start with finding a couple window companies and get a couple of bids. Look at the bids and your money situation and decide. And any company that will not provide a bid free of any charge is ripping you off, send them packing.

We used Renewal by Andersen to replace a few windows in our house. They were casement windows, except one small picture window. The old windows had wood frames that were rotting and some of the windows had bad seals causing condensation between the two panes. They replaced them with composite materials. The other company we got an estimate from was much lower but they surprisingly admitted that Andersen used much higher quality materials. I think they ran something like $1000 per window but they are quick to give discounts for multiple windows.

prices can be negotiated I used Softlite vinyl and they are very good They had one window the wrong size and asked me to pay, I said I pay after the job is done. So they quickly put the last window in.

You can say that again. I had a quote of $15,000 to replace (many) windows in my house. When I expressed reluctance to approve, they offered $4000 off to sign immediately.

Which means that they could make money without the $4k surcharge, and were only hoping to find a rich sucker.

I threw them out of the house.

Windows can be a big scam, particularly regarding the construction of same. When I was a contracting officer, I learned that it’s a vicious business because of the profits involved. If possible, stay with known names. Visit a dealership and look at the various cross sections of their window lines. As I said, not all of them are the same. There is a wide range of webbing in vinyl windows that can make a big difference in the insulation provided. Also, ask about how the hardware is attached to the frame. Is it just screwed into the vinyl where can eventually work loose, or is there a backing plate?

Check to make sure that their windows have a National Fenestration Rating Council sticker. This tells you things like U-factor, solar heat gain coefficient, and air leakage rating. I had one supplier (who we later sued) who fabricated fake NFRC stickers for his windows.

We have done this and have quotes from two companies, both north of $50k. We just refinanced the house and have $40k sitting in the bank, but we will still probably need a HELOC for other stuff we want to do. (Rip out the rotting deck and put in a concrete patio, fix the terrible lawn, remodel the terrible bathroom.)

One of the companies mentioned above quoted a little over $50k for vinyl windows, the other about $60k for fiberglass windows (this one was recommended by someone I trust, who has had windows installed by multiple companies). Any thoughts on the difference or the price?

We have an appointment at a local lumber company tomorrow to look at their offerings.

So how much are you paying for heating a year? It’s just very doubtful that it is financially worth doing.

And probably there are better investments–for example look at a ground source heat pump–which would probably cost no more and save a lot more money.

I believe this is calculating the cost savings of replacing perfectly good existing windows with higher-efficiency windows - it does not consider replacing defective (leaky, broken seals) windows with new ones. Also, there is more to consider than just the energy savings and comfort. Aesthetics - how ugly and beat up are the old windows. Function - are the windows still operable, how easily do they open and close. Windows in lousy condition definitely detract from a home’s value, plus they make your home more unpleasant to live in.

At the end of the day even the best windows out there can be installed wrong. Most of the problems we’ve experienced with any window came from poor installation that lead to premature maintenance we ended up neglecting. So it can also depend on which company you choose and whether or not they outsource to contractors or do the installations themselves. I recommend going for a company with their own team of installers. Replacing windows can be expensive, but if done right, it really offers a good return on your investment.