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Choosing Replacement Windows

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Choosing the right replacement windows, and the right company to install your new replacement windows can be a daunting task. Getting two or three estimates is always a good idea, but for the most part, the windows all look alike, with each company claiming to have the best replacement windows and the best installation.

Salespeople are trained to present their products in the best light, which means highlighting the areas where their product shines and avoiding the areas where their product is deficient. As a result, sales presentations are typically very shallow, demonstrating the surface aspects of replacement windows, without going deeper into the build quality, and long-term durability of the design. Cut-a-ways of the replacement windows which allow the consumer to see how the windows are put together are seldom seen and step-by-step details of the installation are rarely given.

Unfortunately, most consumers allow the salesperson to control the process, choosing the lowest price, or “going with their gut”, hoping that everything will turn out okay. Replacement windows are a big investment in your home and cheap vinyl windows, while less expensive initially, will cost you far more in the end. The extreme Texas heat will push a vinyl window to its limits, and beyond. The fact is, most vinyl windows sold in Texas are simply not built well enough to perform long-term, and a couple of the vinyl windows commonly sold here leak air like a sieve from day one. Even the biggest hunk of junk will look good initially, but how well will it perform? What will it look like in ten years? Will it allow water to migrate into your home?

Taking the time to do a little more research before purchasing will put you in a better position to choose quality replacement windows that meet your expectations; providing a more efficient and comfortable home for your family, and lasting a lifetime.

Additional Information

There are two primary certification organizations for replacement windows and doors; the National Fenestration Ratings Council, or NFRC, and the American Architectural Manufacturers Association, or AAMA. The NFRC rates replacement windows for thermal efficiency only, while AAMA rates replacement windows for efficiency and quality of build. While all replacement windows will be NFRC certified, not all replacement windows will be AAMA certified.

AAMA certification requires that each individual component of replacement windows be tested for compliance, and that the fully assembled replacement windows be tested to see how well it performs against air leakage, wind pressure and water pressure. In order to be AAMA gold label certified, the manufacturer must submit to two unannounced plant inspections each year to make sure that the replacement windows are being built as advertised and certified. Without this certification, there is no way for a homeowner to verify any of the claims that a salesperson may make about a replacement windows. Therefore, replacement windows that are not AAMA gold label certified should not be considered for homeowners who expect their new replacement windows to perform for many years.

Air Leakage Ratings, though often overlooked, are every bit as important as U-Values or Solar Heat Gain Coefficients, since a window’s ability to keep indoor air in and outdoor air out, is a crucial component to achieving energy efficiency. Leaky replacement windows will never be efficient windows, no matter how low the U-Value and SHGC. AAMA requires that all certified windows achieve an AL rating of .30cfm or lower, and most replacement windows are rated between .12 cfm and .18 cfm. Ultra vinyl windows are the tightest in the industry at .01 cfm, and Ultra fiberglass windows lead the fiberglass market at .07 cfm.

In order to quantify a replacement window’s strength and rigidity, windows must undergo two extreme pressure tests – using wind and water. Ever increasing amounts of pressure are applied to the replacement windows, pushing it to the point of failure. Both tests are combined into one rating, known as the Design Pressure Rating, or DP, based on the amount of pressure that replacement windows are able to withstand, therefore the higher a replacement window’s DP rating, the better. Replacement windows that are built specifically to resist high wind and water pressure are also well suited to resist high temperatures and any other natural force that may be applied to the replacement windows.

Of course, Solar Heat Gain and U-value ratings are important as well and readily available in replacement windows. Those two tests along with the Air Leakage and Design Pressure Rating tests will tell you a lot about the replacement windows you are considering and separate the quality from the junk. Make sure you know these 4 ratings for any replacement windows you are considering and see how they perform. These ratings speak to the quality of design, build, and materials in replacement windows and give an idea of what will last. In addition, as mentioned above, looking at the corner cut-a-ways of replacement windows (especially vinyl windows) will tell you a lot about the quality of the replacement windows being presented to you and often times the picture is worth 1000 words. From the outside there may be little noticeable difference to the untrained eye, but the nuts and bolts of the replacement windows as seen in corner cut-a-ways is very revealing.

So, now that you know the importance of AAMA certification, how do you verify that a window is certified? We recommend visiting the AAMA website, and having the salesperson provide you with a copy of the complete test report. The website will verify certification, and will provide the DP rating, but will not list the Air Leakage rating, which is why we recommend getting the test report. Having this information will enable you to make an educated buying decision, and protect you from making a decision you regret down the road.

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"When you're getting replacement windows, you're buying both the product and installer, and either can make or break the job. We had Ultra Windows install fiberglass windows, and have been extremely pleased with both the installation and product." –T. Evans

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