Tom Shafer

The 3 most critical replacement window decisions

September 16, 2011

I'm always surprised by how many people think cost alone should determine their choice of replacement windows. Buying decisions must take into account design, window frame materials and energy efficiency, just for starters. Secondary options such as performance features for certain geographic areas, hardware, types of screens, grids, between-the-glass blinds or shades, and color, are less crucial choices, but all can affect window replacement costs. Without considering these factors, you cannot look at cost and understand what you are getting--or not getting--for your money.

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Top 3 decision-making categories

  1. Design. The first decision you make should be the windows style. Your home's architectural design often determines this selection. Does your home's style dictate hung windows (those in which the sash moves up and down, either from the bottom -- single hung -- or from the top and bottom -- double hung)? Casement windows or sliders -- and even a combination of these window styles -- might be more in line with your home's architecture.
  2. Materials. The most popular materials include wood, wood--clad with either vinyl or aluminum--and vinyl. While each material has important pros and cons, oddly enough, the feature that guides most buyers in this category is often color. Wood can be stained or painted. Vinyl windows are usually white, but can come in almond or clay colors, too. Aluminum-clad windows are available in many colors, but vinyl-clad is generally white. Fiberglass, a relatively new material for windows, has a white exterior and is available with a wood-grain interior that can be stained or painted.
  3. Energy efficiency. Thermal choices can affect your long-range costs where energy savings are concerned. Verify with your window supplier whether the U-Value and the Solar Heat Gain Co-efficient (SHGC) -- measurements of the amount of heat and sunlight that penetrates the glass--meet the U.S. government's Energy Star criteria for your geographic area. As of this writing, tax credits are still available for windows with a minimum U-Value of .30 and .30 SHGC. While windows that qualify for this credit are usually more expensive than those that do not, you stand to save money on heating and cooling costs as well as receiving the tax credit on your 2011 federal income tax filing.

Compare features from each manufacturer

To help window shoppers with their replacement window, decision-making process, I devised the following window comparison chart to follow two different manufacturers for each category. Features are listed in the left-hand column: the two columns on the right are for keeping track of the brands for your two top window contenders in each category.

Window Comparison Chart Window Comparison Chart

Use this chart to compare two windows side-by-side and see how they compare based on the features they offer.


As each decision-making category is considered, list the manufacturer whose product most closely meets your criteria. If more than two manufacturers qualify, you can add more columns.

Following this process through each category, one or two manufacturers should begin to emerge as the strongest choices. That's when you can make your cost-based decision.

About the Author

Tom Shafer has decades of experience in window sales, marketing and product development. He's worked closely with window design engineers in testing, design, and building code interpretation. Past employers include United Windows and Doors and Norandex, MI Windows. He currently works at a home improvement retailer.

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