13 Things to Consider Before Buying Windows

C.E. Larusso
Written by C.E. Larusso
Updated December 22, 2021
Living room with black windows
Photo: Jodie Johnson / Adobe Stock

There are a lot of factors to consider when buying new windows or replacing old ones, so follow this checklist to avoid overlooking anything essential

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It can be stressful to buy new windows or replacement windows. Not only will your decisions play a major role in your home’s appearance and the amount of natural light that comes in, but will also have implications for everything from security to housework to your energy bill. That’s a lot to keep in mind while buying materials or making a plan with a local window company. Instead of getting lost in the complex details, take these tips to get a handle on the most important factors.   

1. Budget

While, of course, you must consider your budget sooner or later, with an elaborate project like window installation or replacement, it’s crucial to figure out how much you’re willing to spend early on in the process. There are quite a few variables that determine the final bill; don’t get too attached to a particular style or material until you’re sure that your wallet can accommodate it. If you’re doing a large job, you’ll also likely consult with a window dealer or contractor early on, and your budget is one of the first things they’ll ask about.

2. Energy Efficiency 

Windows don’t just let light into your home. They also let hot and cool air out, potentially driving up your energy bills and creating unnecessary waste. With every choice you make in your window installation journey, you weigh various other factors against energy loss. 

Fortunately, technology has come a long way in recent decades, offering a wider range of safe, stylish, and energy-efficient window options. Energy efficiency is also an important consideration as you set your budget, since there are many features you might include that could add to the initial sticker price. But ultimately, they save you money by reducing your energy bill. 

There are two key measures to understand when comparing different windows’ energy efficiency: 

  • U-Factor: The U-Factor indicates the thermal conductivity of your window. In other words, it indicates how much hot air escapes the feature when it’s cold outside and vice-versa. The scale generally ranges from 0.2 to 1.25: the lower the number, the better the window insulates your home. 

  • Solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC): SHGC quantifies the amount of solar energy the window lets in. You may want a higher SHGC if you’re more concerned about allowing the sun to heat up your home in the winter, and a lower one if maintaining cool indoor temperatures in a hot climate is the priority. 

3. Your Home’s Setting

Living room with glass walls
Photo: Tierney / Adobe Stock

Your home’s architecture and the surrounding landscaping play a key role in the way your windows look and function once installed. Maybe you’re looking for the best windows for your New England home, or maybe you have a modern house, and want to go for a contemporary window option.

You should also consider where the sun rises and sets over your home. In parts of the house that get more direct sunlight—such as west-facing rooms—you may want to spring for additional UV protection or opt for a smaller window. For those areas with less-than-ideal views, or don’t receive much light at all, it doesn’t make sense to pay for an elaborate picture window.

4. The Frame Materials

Window frames come in a range of different materials, each offering advantages and disadvantages when it comes to cost, maintenance, appearance, and insulation. The most common choices include: 

  • Vinyl: Low-cost, energy-efficient, and highly durable, but they offer a more limited range of design choices and many people don’t like their appearance 

  • Wood: Provides a classic, easy-to-customize look, and the best possible energy efficiency, but they demand more upkeep than many other options

  • Aluminum: Inexpensive and highly durable, but rated worst in terms of energy efficiency 

  • Fiberglass: Combining durability, strong insulation, and a wide variety of style options, fiberglass frames have a lot to recommend them, but they come with a high price tag

Those aren’t the only options—composite and wood-clad frames, for example, have become more widely available in recent years. There are also other factors that may influence your decision, so fully research the different window frame types before replacing or installing yours. 

5. Safety

It’s easy to forget that windows can pose a variety of safety risks. If you have young children, or are planning to have some soon, consider windows that do not open or are double-hung and open only from the top, on the upper floors to avoid any chance someone could tumble out. For windows on lower floors, consider what kind of protection the windows afford against break-ins, whether through their own locking mechanisms or with the addition of security bars. 

6. Glazing

For each window you install or replace, you need to decide how many panes of glass you want included. Though single-pane is an option, such windows are increasingly unpopular because they shatter easily and let heat escape easily. Double-pane windows are the standard choice. They provide energy efficiency and comfort not only through the extra pane, but with the gas that usually fills the gap between the two, which offers additional insulation.

If you have trouble maintaining your home’s temperature, or you live in a particularly loud area, you can also spring for triple-pane glass. However, the hefty price tag rules out this option for most homeowners without such needs. 

The choices don’t end there, however. You can opt for glass with low-emissivity (Low-E) coating, which allows light in while cutting down on heat conductivity, meaning less cold air escapes in the summer and less warm air in the winter. There are further glazing options for those most focused on limiting noise, people who want additionally in case of breakage, and other ways of customizing the glass’s appearance.     

7. Design

There is a nearly endless array of distinct window styles to suit different functions and tastes if you opt for customized windows—but some of the most common include: 

  • Double-hung: Far and away the most prevalent window design since the 1980s, double-hung windows feature two operable sashes, allowing you to tilt the window open at both the bottom and top.

  • Single-hung: For many years, single-hung windows were the most common type in homes. They have one sash to open the bottom half of the window, but the top remains inoperable. 

  • Sliding windows: Sliding windows consist of one or more panels that move horizontally.

  • Hopper windows and awning windows: Popular in basements, hopper windows have a hinge at the bottom and open downward and inward. Awning windows, popular for higher levels, invert this, with the hinge at the top. 

  • Folding windows: This style allows you to (you guessed it) fold down the window to get fresh air. The cost to install folding windows runs between $500 and $3,000.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg, though, so make sure to explore the full range of window types before you make a decision.

8. Installation 

Your new windows' high quality won’t make a difference if they’re not installed properly—and there’s a lot of room for error. If you’re planning a DIY project, make sure you understand all the details of the product you’re installing and be honest with yourself about your capabilities. 

When hiring a contractor, do thorough research and ask relevant questions. If, for example, you spent a lot of money to buy windows with pre-installation waterproofing, a contractor who plans to use expanding foam or sealants in the installation could undermine the protection you paid for. 

9. Warranty Protection

Most window manufacturers offer warranties for their products, but the details of the coverage vary and it’s important to understand how you will and won’t be protected. Some “lifetime” warranties only cover the three to four years following installation, while others are good for 15 or even 25 years. Almost all warranties cover the glass, and some cover problems stemming from poor installation, but very few will replace or reimburse for hardware. Additionally, understand whether or not the warranty is transferable in case you sell your home, since it could end up influencing the resale value.

10. Cleaning and Maintenance 

Before getting swept up in the beauty a floor-to-ceiling or picture window adds to your home, think carefully about the ongoing maintenance your new feature requires. Are you set up to wash the window as frequently as necessary to keep it beautiful? Or, if not, to pay someone else to do it? Additionally, different types of frames are likely to need different levels of maintenance; steel and wood, for example, need constant upkeep compared to vinyl or fiberglass. 

11. Ease of Use

Ease of use is another important factor that can be easy to overlook as you’re shopping around. How easy will it be to open and close that elaborate design as the weather changes? Do you live in a climate where your winter heating will cause your wood frame to expand, making it harder to adjust in other months? Those sliding windows may bring the most light into the kitchen, but they’re going to pose a problem when you need to ventilate the room, since they don’t open all the way. 

12. Local Building Codes

As with any home improvement project, your options are governed not only by the market, but by the building codes in your area. If you’re doing the installation yourself, or you haven’t yet discussed your plans with a contractor, make sure you have a sense of what your local government does and does not allow.

13. Box Stores vs. Window Pros

Windows require extremely precise measurements to fit correctly. Most window pros will decline a job if a homeowner has purchased their windows from a big box store because it’s unlikely that the windows will fit. It’s best to have a pro come to your home to take exact measurements then handle the installation.

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