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The Ins and Outs of Replacement Windows

Q: I’m looking to replace the windows in my home and am bewildered by all the companies offering this service. What do I need to know?

Lou Manfredini

A: Well-made windows are an investment that will pay you back when you sell your home and also right now, with lower energy bills. Plus, cleaning new windows is a breeze! But a window is only as good as its installation.

The replacement window industry is huge, and it’s filled with a lot of fly-by-night dealers you’ll see on late-night TV. It can be difficult to figure out a good window just by looking at it in a showroom. You can avoid buying cheap windows and suffering shoddy installation by buying from major national brands or good regional brands with a solid track record.

Replacement windows include all-new frames, sashes, screens, and either storms or double-paned glass. Vinyl windows are the entry point in this market. Twenty years ago I would have never recommended them, but they have gotten better. Expect to pay between $500 and $700 per opening, installed. Composite or fiberglass windows are a big step up in longevity and strength; these cost around $800 to $1,000 per opening, installed.

My favorites are wood windows with an exterior aluminum cladding; they combine the beauty of wood with the maintenance-free qualities of aluminum. They range from about $900 to $1,500 per opening, installed.

Replacing every window in your home is a big, expensive job no matter which route you take, but you can spread the project out over a few years to balance your own budget. What’s more, installing new windows can help you qualify for up to $1,500 in federal tax credits. Windows bought after June 1, 2009, must have a U-factor and solar heat gain coefficient rating of 0.30 or less to qualify. (See energystar.gov.)

Here’s a checklist of considerations:

  • Do the replacement windows have a National Fenestration Rating Council or Energy Star rating of at least six?
  • Is the manufacturer or installer a member of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (nari.org)?
  • Can the manufacturer or contractor provide endorsements from past customers whom you can contact yourself?
  • Will the installers give you a solid completion date—with a guarantee such as five years on workmanship and ten years on product performance? Are they factory trained?
  • Can the contractor explain how the work will affect you while it’s being done?

Lou Manfredini is host of the Mr. Fix-It show on WGN Radio and House Smarts on NBC5.

Have a design or renovation question? Just drop us a note at chicagohome@chicagomag.com and we’ll do our best to answer it. Sorry, we cannot take questions by phone, or guarantee individual responses.


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