One of the most dramatic enhancements you can make to your home’s exterior is to install new windows and doors. By selecting a product that matches the character of your home, you can give your property a dramatic facelift. In addition, if your current doors and windows are older and beginning to fail, replacing them may prevent costly water damage and cut down significantly on your energy bills.
Of course all these benefits come with a price. Installing new windows and doors is one of the costlier upgrades you can make to your home. If you’re on the fence about replacements, or if you want to know how to manage costs on your replacement windows, there are some key points to keep in mind when planning the project and when talking with contractors. And because you’re looking at a sizable investment the first question to ask is whether new windows or doors will get you the most bang for your buck.
How Important is the Return on Value to You?
It’s hard to put a value on aesthetics. If you have windows or doors that look dated or dilapidated, then the pride you feel when you pull up your driveway and see your home may outweigh the short term cost of replacement.
Fair enough, but what about energy savings? It’s no secret that windows and doors are major drains on a home’s energy budget. There are two key values to check to determine how energy efficient new windows are: the U-Value and the Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (SHGC).
The U-Value is a measure of how well the windows keep heat inside your house in winter, and SHGC shows how well it keeps the warmth of summer sun out of your home. In both cases the lower the number indicated the less heat transfer. Keep an eye out for the values as you shop windows, and they’ll help you compare apples-to-apples.
Another factor in savings on upgraded windows is the insulation around the openings. Many times the original windows were not installed with proper insulation, or the installation standards have changed since the original windows were installed. By ensuring that your contractor takes advantage of the opportunity to improve the insulation around the window, you can capture energy savings far past the benefits of the windows or doors themselves.
Ways to Keep the Cost Down
While the cost of a large-scale window and door replacement is significant, there are several places you can look to find ways to reduce your expenses.
The biggest way to save on a window or door replacement is to select a product that does not require a new opening, or the widening of an existing hole. It’s significantly more labor-intensive to widen an opening than to reduce its size. This is especially true if your home has brick, stucco, or another type of siding that isn’t easily modified.
This doesn’t mean it’s wrong to add new windows—far from it. Sometimes the addition of a window or wider door can have a huge impact on the feel of an indoor space or on a home’s overall curb appeal. You should be able to work with your contractor to find a good balance of cost versus value that works within your budget.
Stock vs. Custom
A related topic is the difference between custom-sized or stock windows and doors. Most window and door manufacturers make a number of stock sizes in advance. If you’re not able to use these sizes, then you’ll have to order custom windows or doors, and the material cost of your project will increase significantly.
Work in Phases
One of the beautiful parts of window and door installations is that the individual units can be installed in any order. This means that you can replace some of your windows now, and some later. Most people who choose to install this way replace the windows or doors on the front of their home first, and then do the other sides in later waves, often broken up over multiple years.
If you choose this option, go in understanding that the overall cost of the project will increase, you’ll just be paying for it in smaller chunks. Also, be sure to select a large, stable brand of window or door—you don’t want to swap out half your home only to find out later that specific color or design isn’t manufactured anymore.
Doors and windows come in a variety of materials and styles. If you stroll down the aisle of your local hardware store you’ll see windows in vinyl and wood, grills or plain pane, and window grills that come in integrated or snap-on varieties.
The right choice of windows for your home depends on your personal taste and the architectural style of your home, but giving some thought to the style and material you select may mean that you can save money by shedding unneeded frills and concentrating on the elements that matter most to you.
Insert vs. Full-Frame Installations
Replacement windows are available in insert and full-frame options. An insert installation slides inside the existing window frames, meaning that the contractor won’t have to do as much demolition, saving on labor pricing.
The downside of inserts is that they have a reduced pane size (which means less light), they don’t allow you to add additional insulation, and they can only be used if the existing frames are in good condition.
Finding the Right Window and Door Installer
When you’re ready to choose a window or door installation pro, the single best thing you can do is to ask for references. Working with a qualified professional contractor puts you at a great advantage, but you should still do your homework. Ask for phone numbers, email addresses, and addresses of the pro’s past clients so that you can contact them for reference.
Some contractors only provide addresses, based on the assumption that you can see the work from the street. That’s fine, but if you’re not shy, it’s still a good idea to knock on the door and ask the previous clients whether they’re happy with their new windows. I’ve generally found that when people feel they got a good price and had a good installation experience, they’re happy to let people know; if they don’t feel that way, well then they’ll want to complain. Either way, chances are you’ll hear plenty about their experience with their windows.
If your home was built before 1978 or if you suspect that lead-based paint is in your home, then ask your contractor if they are Lead Renovation, Repair, and Painting certified (RRP). This simply means that they are trained in the appropriate safety precautions to take while they work in your living space. If you don’t have lead paint, you don’t need to worry about that certification.
Once you’ve established a rapport with your contractor, make sure that you take the time to find out what their plan is for order of installation, how they’ll keep the mess contained indoors, and what their plan is in case of rain or other adverse weather during the install. (You don’t want to have your front door torn open while a monsoon rolls in.)
The secret to a successful home improvement project is good communication. Stay in contact with your contractor and raise any questions or concerns promptly, and you’ll be well on your way to a successful window and door installation.