The Top Factors To Consider When Buying New House Windows
Last updated on 03/29/2022
On an individual basis, windows might not seem like a significant investment. However, the tally can run extremely high when it's time to order an entire home's worth of them. For that reason, it's important to make smart, informed choices. These top factors to consider in new windows will help steer shoppers in the right direction.
Keep in mind that finding the right windows is about balancing the following factors. It's not always possible to nail each of these factors down perfectly, so be sure to weigh out the options.
A home's style and architecture should somewhat dictate the window chosen. The windows need to fit the home's aesthetic or they'll look out of place—never a good thing for a large investment.
Consider certain architectural styles and the windows these homes typically feature:
- Ranches, capes, and farmhouses: Bay and bow windows, sometimes with grids
- Modern, contemporary styles: Casement and sliding windows
- Colonials: Double-hung windows, with or without grids
- Craftsman: Specific materials (typically wood), double-hung, often with grids in upper panes
- Farmhouses: Double-hung and awning windows
Essentially, new windows should add to the charm and style of the home, not detract or distract from it. This is an important consideration to mull over, so don't jump to the first available style.
As if shopping for windows wasn't challenging enough, customers also need to know their materials. New windows come in several materials, including aluminum, fiberglass, vinyl, and wood.
Materials matter for several reasons. For one, wood windows are some of the most attractive and durable options. However, they're fairly expensive. Vinyl windows, on the other hand, are much less expensive and more readily available, but they're not as appealing as wood.
For a quick rundown of different window materials:
- Vinyl: Inexpensive, easy to install, efficient, low-maintenance, last around 15 to 20 years
- Wood: Durable, long-lasting, efficient, expensive, long order times
- Aluminum: Durable, long-lasting, eco-friendly, can rust, not a great insulator
- Fiberglass: Excellent insulator, very durable, long-lasting, expensive
One of the most important factors to consider in new windows is energy efficiency. In fact, many homeowners make the decision to upgrade their windows because they're trying to reduce their energy bill or simply their energy consumption.
But, how can a shopper tell when a window is efficient? Even if they visit a showroom, all the windows look similar. How can one tell?
The NFRC (National Fenestration Rating Council) established a set of testing protocols to quantify a window's energy efficiency. A third-party tester will examine the manufacturer's windows against the criteria established by the NFRC and attach a sticker to the glass. If a shopper is wondering how efficient a window is, they should reference this sticker.
The four sections on the sticker each explain a different rating.
U-Factor describes how well a window insulates against non-solar heat transfer. So, essentially, how well a window can keep cold temperatures and warm temperatures separate. For the NFRC to certify a window, this value must be between .1 and .3, with lower numbers indicating better insulation.
Solar Heat Gain Coefficient
The sun can warm a space just as easily as poor insulation, so the value for Solar Heat Gain Coefficient is important. This value expresses how well a window will resist the sun's intense heat, and the value must be between 0 and 1, with lower numbers indicating better resistance.
Visible transmittance describes how much sunlight is entering through the window. It considers factors like grids, triple panes, and frame size. This value ranges between 0 and 1, but there isn't a good or bad score here. Higher VT generally comes along with increased Solar Heat Gain, while lower VT is the opposite. Each has its pros and cons, which a later section will discuss.
It's impossible to stop all movement through a window, especially when the number of moving parts is considered. However, the NFRC does test for air leakage, and passing results range between 0 and 3, with lower numbers being the most airtight.
Where a window might sit in a home should be a significant factor to consider in new windows. Windows on the south side of a home might have very different requirements than those on the north side of the home. Recognizing this and making smart decisions can make a significant difference in the home's comfort and efficiency.
For instance, the south sides of homes in the northern hemisphere get the most direct sunlight throughout the day. Folks in warmer climates might want a window with a lower SHGC and visible transmittance rating on that side of the home, while the northern side (which gets no sunlight) uses a window with higher visible transmittance. In colder climates, homeowners might want as much SHGC as possible to lower their heating bill over the winter.
When it comes to the top factors to consider in new windows, don't overlook warranties. Like it or not, things do happen (even with new windows), so it's important to have a manufacturer and installer guarantee to fall back on.
Manufacturer warranties can vary from periods of just 3 or 4 years to 15 years or more. During this period, the manufacturer will be responsible for issues related to craftsmanship. This can include broken welds, cracked glass, inoperable hardware, and other common issues. Each warranty's coverage is different, so be sure to read the fine print.
When it comes to the installation warranty, it depends on the contractor. Most contractors will warranty their craftsmanship for much less time (sometimes less than a year). During this time, the contractor will fix, re-install, or replace windows that leak, rattle, or fail to operate due to their installation.
The hope is that the homeowner will never have to use their warranty. But, should they end up with an issue, it's better to have peace of mind than to be left holding the bag.
A lot of folks shopping for windows will let the entire project hinge on a budget. While knowing how much one can afford to spend is important during any major project, value can be more critical. And, here's the kicker: value and price aren't necessarily related.
When considering value, it's important to take into account the cost of the window and compare it to the other factors on this list. How does it perform? Is it energy-efficient? What does the warranty look like? What materials are they made of?
It's not unreasonable to expect the most expensive window on the market to provide the best value. After all, the craftsmanship and materials should be top-notch. However, the homeowner has to consider the value the window brings to the home. If an expensive window is twice as much but only slightly more efficient, the customer must ask themselves if the price is worth it.
Likewise, it's equally important to consider if saving money on a window is worth the risk. If the cheapest window is significantly less than the other models but isn't efficient or of decent quality, is the cost savings worth it?
Value is tricky, but it's incredibly important to consider.
The Top Factors to Consider in New Windows Are a Balancing Act
No two homes are exactly the like, and finding the perfect windows might look very different. Some might prefer looks over efficiency, while others might be interested in maximizing heat gain. Whatever the case may be, by balancing the factors to consider above, it's possible to find the right window that offers a ton of style, efficiency, and value.