Thinking of Replacing Your Old Windows?
Pick windows that fit your style, but also that are easy to care for, so you don't end up wearing more Windex than the window.
If you own an old house with old or original windows, you've probably already given some thought about how to make those windows look better, easier to open and to clean, and more energy efficient. There are different options in dealing with old windows; having them restored or repaired, adding storm windows to the outside, or replacing them. The window replacement route can be the tricky and will require you to stay on the ball throughout the entire process.
Shopping for Replacement Windows
When shopping for replacement windows, take your time and look at windows by a variety of manufacturers. Try to go to showrooms or stores to avoid in-home evening visits by salesmen and see how manufacturers' windows differ. Try each window to determine how easily it opens, closes and locks. How easy will it be to wash them from the inside? Some window sashes have releases at the top and fall inward for easy cleaning. Others flip at their centers, so you will have to push the sash up half way, grab the top and bottom and forcibly flip it. This can pose a challenge with upper sashes, especially for large windows, and you may end up wearing more Windex than the window.
If you live in an historic district like Georgetown, you must use wood windows on the publicly visible areas of your house. You can save some money and use aluminum clad wood, fiberglass, or even vinyl windows on the back. If you opt for vinyl windows, be aware that they do not offer the same durability and energy efficiency of other types of windows and have a very short life span (only about 10 years).
While replacement window manufacturers can closely match your existing windows with their standard stock, many homes in Georgetown have oversized and uniquely shaped windows where the standard won't work and will have to be custom made. There are many companies that specialize in handmade, authentic historic window reproductions (that are energy efficient too) that can made to any specification.
Considering snap on muntons (window pane grids)? Don't. While they might make window washing easier, they can look cheesy from the outside and are a major historic and design faux pas. They certainly won't get the approval of the Old Georgetown Board. (See my previous GeorgetownPatch posting "Avoiding Permitting Headaches With Historic Homes"). However, some manufacturers now make windows with removal muntons on both sides of the window pane, giving a more authentic appearance and often can get historic approval.
Beware of window manufacturer salesmen and their "I can only make you this special offer if you sign today" sales pitch. If you schedule an in home visit with one, you're guaranteed to hear it. Chances are that such a time sensitive and special price IS their normal price and you can get it again later if you decide to go with that company.
Should you choose to let a name-brand window manufacturer do the installation, or go with a contractor who orders the windows from the factory and installs them himself? Some have had better luck with a contractor whose reputation is based on their work (the installation), as opposed to a window manufacturer, whose aim is to sell you the windows. It has been my experience that window manufacturer representatives, no matter what they promise, will lose interest as soon as the window order has been placed and they have gotten a check. You'll probably never see them again and if there's a problem during installation, you may end up having to explain it to a switchboard operator.
I have advised on all types of window projects over the years, and my clients say the best advice for replacement window projects I have ever given is— plan to be at home during the entire installation. Don't even think of popping into the office for a couple of hours. Make sure you have lunch in the house so you don't have to go out. A lot can happen in a very short period of time. The window installation crew's goal is to get in and out as fast as possible so they can move on to the next project and keep their bosses happy.
Don't pay the full amount for the project up front. This is your guarantee that the work will be completed to your satisfaction. In most cases, you'll be asked for a deposit that will cover the cost of placing the window order with the factory and for any additional supplies. When I did my own window replacement project, I withheld only about $2,000, but that was enough to get the sales representative, along with the crew, back to the house on a Saturday morning to go over and correct some significant problems.
In upcoming articles, I will discuss the pros and cons of various options for old windows to help you decide which option is best for you and your home.