Tuesday Tips: Window Shopping

One day I will have windows that don't leak frigid air in the winter and hot damp air in the summer. One day I will have windows that don't require a ladder and extra life insurance to clean. One day I will have windows that slide up and down with ease. Replacing the windows in your home is a big financial endeavor and one I will likely undertake in my lifetime. I tapped the expertise of Celia Kuperszmid-Lehrman, deputy home editor at Consumer Reports magazine, who shed some light on when and how to shop for windows for the home.

Tip #1: Know when it's time to replace the windows. A few clues are whether you have single glazed or double glazed windows. You can tell by looking at the window and seeing if there are two pieces of glass together or one. You'll want to get rid of the single glazed. Vinyl windows bought in the 1970s are good candidates for replacement as well. "Some of those may be showing signs of age because they weren't as good at making the vinyl stiff," Kuperszmid-Lehrman said.

Tip #2: Don't replace the windows thinking you'll immediately start saving money on your heating bill. It should be considered an investment with long-term rewards, says Kuperszmid-Lehrman. The more immediate difference will be less noise coming in and an easier time opening, closing and possibly washing the windows.

Tip #3: Go with standard size windows. Custom sizes will add 15 percent to your bill, which for an average house can range from $7,000 to $20,000. Also consider a partial replacement, which means the frame around the window can be salvaged and just the actual window is replaced. You can also save money by only doing a few windows at a time. Start with the ones that are in the worst shape and in the draftiest part of the house, which is usually on the north side, according to Kuperszmid-Lehrman.

Tip #4: Don't cheap out on the installation. "This is one of those products where the person who installs it is nearly as important as the product," Kuperszmid-Lehrman says. Window installers should go through some of the same measures as any other contractor you hire. Check their references and see if they have had any complaints filed at the Better Business Bureau. Get multiple bids, with details of what they propose to do. Brush up on some of the installation lingo by getting a copy of the installation instructions for the windows you've picked out. Then you can ask lots of questions about how the windows will be installed and whether the contractor plans to deviate from those instructions at all.

Tip #5: Go with a factory-approved installer. That way, if there is a problem during the installation, you're not dealing with finger pointing between the window manufacturer and the installer. You can find a certified installer through the American Window and Door Institute and Installation Masters, two organizations that have certification programs.

Tip #6: If you're replacing the windows because they seem drafty, try caulking around them and the storm windows first. That, along with some weather-stripping solutions, could solve the drafty problem. "Do it in one of the rooms that's the leakiest," says Kuperszmid-Lehrman. Investing in storm windows and getting some of the windows repaired could also plug up the leaks.

Tip #7: Get new windows installed in the winter. Many people hesitate to do it in cold weather because they envision their house being open to the elements. Window installers may be have some deals and discounts during the cold months.

Have you had your windows replaced recently? What lessons did you learn? Where did you find the best deals?

By Tania Anderson |  December 16, 2008; 12:00 AM ET Home Improvement , Tuesday Tips
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