Dear PoPville – Replacing Window

Photo by PoPville flickr user Mr. T in DC

“Dear PoPville,

I am planing on replacing all my windows soon (14 windows) do you have any recommendation for good contractor?”

A couple of other folks have also written in about replacing windows. So in addition to recommendations for contractors – how do you know when/if you need to or should replace them?

55 Comment

  • Use Home Visions Inc! They are by far the best in the DC area. High quality, low prices, and the customer service is impeccable. They are the kind of guys that you are ok with having in your home. I highly recommend Home Visions!

    • ah

      Hey, cheaper than paying POP for an ad!

    • The Craftsman Group. They can refurbish your existing windows or build new ones. If you have a nice old row house and want to keep the historic look and feel, these are the guys you want. These guys are truly artists. And, they really are right here in the neighborhood on Fairmont street — they’ll ride their bikes to the job.

      They are very busy, however, so be persistent.

      If you want something modern, DO NOT call them.

      I’m not affiliated, just a happy customer.

  • Wheaton Window and Door. I got my storm windows from them. They’re local and have been around awhile.

    • Really? I was just thinking Wheaton was the last company I would reccomend. Their quoted prices were easily 15% higher than the next highest person and their customer service sucked. They stood me up one appointment and showed up 1.5 hours late on the next.

      • Yeah, they refused to deal to my wife insisting that they speak to me only. Weird in this day and age

        • Although my wife had a great experience with them about a decade ago, Wheaton is now awful.

          If they give you an estimate–and I had to badger the sales person to put anything in writing, even after he put the hard press on me when he came to measure things out– they’ve got sales people who will be calling you for months. (Even after the work is complete and you’ve told them so.)

          • Wow. I had a pretty good experience with them for the storms, but I think their quote for some basement windows I’m looking into seems high, so I will keep looking.

  • Thompson Creek. Locally owned and they make windows here (In Maryland)

  • I need to do this as well, I plan on getting a window specialist because the warranty behind windows matters a lot. I hear ads for Thompson Creek on WTOP all the time, has anyone used them?

  • I’d first focus on what windows you will be using as it makes a difference. Windows aren’t necessarily just “windows” and I wouldn’t hire any old random contractor to simply install any window. Quality windows are expensive as hell and an easy way to decrease your HVAC costs immensly, but it negates the enormous cost if those specific windows aren’t installed to their specs.

    Choose the window you can afford and that serves your goals. The best brands out there (Pella, Marvin, Anderson) are sold by tons of people locally. Then find a local vendor of said windows and ask them for some reccomendations for their installers.

    Lowes and Home Depot also sell and install all the major brands so you might want to start there just to get familiar with them.

    • +10

      I’d go to Depot or Lowes first and “window shop” pun unintended. In no time at all you can get an idea of what 3 or 4 brands all cost. Then if you are against buying at the big boxes you can atleast go to the independant dealer armed with costing info.

  • I second Thompson Creek. They are quite awesome.

  • Regarding payback on windows, it’s incredibly low. Unless you have voids to the outside to begin with , paybacks are typically 15+ years. Especially for rowhomes, window replacement won’t really affect your heating/cooling bills. Stick to mid-performance, properly installed replacement windows. Installation is key, no matter the R-value of high performance windows, you gotta figure it is still just a piece of glass in an uninsulated brick wall.

    • Umm, worst advice ever.

      The single pane crap you can buy at $100 bucks a window and the double pane, solar reflective, insulated windows that cost $600 bucks are as night and day as an open window or closed one, and we haven’t even talked about resale value.

      And the thermal mass of the brick is more efficient than half the crap windows out there today.

      My next door neigbor and I are poster child examples of window and insulation effectiveness.

      I replaceed all my windows 3 years ago (Pella) and had blown in insulation in my attic.

      My electric bill never exceeded $110 a month last summer with the A/C cranked all day for my stay at home wife and baby. My next door neighbor was running 300-350 a month with the system off most of the day.

      You choose.

      • I’m sure you’re right about the resale value, but the efficiency savings last time I were minimal, particularly when compared to the cost of adding a single pane storm instead. Of course, I live in a middle rowhouse, so I don’t actually have many windows. I imagine the calculations are different for those with a larger percentage of glass.

        Insulating the attic, on the other hand, is a huge money saver.

      • Hilarious. Your very example proves the previous poster correct.

        If you replace a dozen windows with highly efficient replacements that cost $600 each, and cut $200 off your heating bill for 3 winter months a year, that is a 12 year payback!

        Windows have at least a decade long payback in most applications.

      • And, all your electric savings were from the blown in insulation. Windows on a rowhouse account for about 10% of your energy loss. Your roof system for about 50%. You’re saving $200 a month; $20 of that is from your new windows. Therefore, one $600 window would take 30 years to pay for itself. That’s just one window. Today’s windows last about 40 years before they break and need to be replaced.

        If the reason you’re looking at windows is because of energy, you’re looking in the wrong place.

        A leaky, pre-War window can be fixed for a fraction of the cost of new windows, perform nearly as well, and last twice as long as the new window. Your best value is fixing a window rather than replacing it.

  • A lot of people don’t know this but in DC, the government actually owns your windows, along with your front porch, and every thing in your medicine cabinet. Check your plats.

  • Another window question – I have searched every square inch of every surface (frame, glass, popped open, etc.) of my windows and can’t find a manufacturer.

    I have the kind that pop-open to clean, but the little plastic slide bit has broken on several so the window pops in (dangerously!) on it’s own.

    I’ve searched dozens of online window sites but find no repair/replacement slides of the type I need. (Most have a raised tab on the slide, mine have an indented part.) They were installed before I bought the house, probably in the late 90s.

    Any advice greatly appreciated.

  • I cannot recommend American Energy Masters enough. They have done our storm door, storm windows over our original ones we didn’t want to get rid of, and regular windows in our back sunroom. Family-owned company out of College Park, they take the time to figure out exactly what you want and what would be the best fit for your budget, and installations have been great. I’ve recommended to several other folks who have had good experiences. They are even now doing a front door, siding and roof replacement for my mom!

    • I talked to one of their sale person yesterday, they seemed a good option, anyone else has experience with them? what brand did they install for you?

  • Call Jim Ragusa at 703-975-5500. He represents a wholesaler in the area. I bought 20 windows from him last year– good quality windows/trim/fixtures, triple pane glass (quieter and warmer), cheap as the crap I saw at the Despot, etc., excellent/efficient installers. Got grids on the top pane, clear on the bottom. Happy all around.

  • Henselstone out in Amissville, VA. They import some awesome German windows….

  • If you want multiple options/bids, try Urban Referrals. The service is completely free (really, truly, completely, no kidding!) and the response is fast. I’ve used it for several home improvement projects– regardless of the size/cost of the project, the service has always been fantastic and all the contractors they have recommended have been great!

    • Someone on the Columbia Heights Listserv suggested Urban Referrals to us for an electrician and the people Urban Referrals connected us to charged for an estimate. People we found through other recs did not, were competent and gave us a fair estimate for the jobs we needed done. I’d exhaust other recommendations before going through Urban Referrals.

  • First, determine if you’re in a historic district or not. If you are, then there’s a whole volume of special regulations concerning replacement of windows. A young couple here (Mt Pleasant) got burned when they replaced their windows, with a contract that said that historic matters were their responsibility, not the contractor’s. The Historic Preservation Office demanded that they remove all of the brand-new windows, and put the old ones back in. A compromise was worked out, but it was a rough business.

    • Which DC agency governs mods to historic homes? My home is in a historic district and is really old but doesn’t have any particular designations. Who clears my window replacement from the government?

    • Regardless of your historic district status, anywhere in DC, you need a permit to replace windows except if you are a one- or two-family dwelling replacing non-rated windows with new windows of the same material. Non-rated refers to the fire rating of the window and how long it will resist a fire. See DCMR 12, Section 105.2.9a.

      Technically, no matter where you are in DC, if you replace wood windows with vinyl, you need a permit. In theory this is good because there are fire and structural issues to consider. However, this is rarely enforced outside of historic districts.

      Inside of historic districts, this part of the code is enforced because of the added preservation regulations to preserve the beauty and look of historic buildings. The Preservation Office allows replacement windows if the historic windows can’t be fixed and the new windows look exactly like the historic ones.

      The responsibility for building permits rests with the owner. If you get caught doing work without a permit, the fine goes to the homeowner, not the contractor. So if your contractor says he’ll get the permits for you, just make sure he really does.

      If you have questions about historic district permit requirements, don’t ask DCPL or some guy in a comment section. Just call the city Preservation Office. They actually call you back:

  • I recently went through the entire ordeal of finding various folks. I had Kenny’s Home Improvement 240-682-6360 do the windows on the front of my house (6 total). Actually, Kenny’s brother in law owns the window business and they did the project together. Locally manufactured windows, high quality, great install and extremely affordable vis a vis the national brands.

    Call him and see who builds the windows, I can’t remember who it was. They measure… windows are ready about a week later and install was done in one day.

    I replaced 3 original windows (1920s pulley type) and 3 late 60s/early 70s vinyl. The energy savings/comfort level change was immediate and the noise reduction was amazing.

    Good luck.

  • The right contractor will deal with the permits for you, even with the historic office. My house is in a historic district, and Alex Szopa handled all of the paperwork. When I told the historic office who I was using (I got his name off of their website), they said, “Alex knows what he’s doing – we sign off on his projects immediately.” I could not be more pleased with the full tear-out that he did, and with the careful work he did in preserving my original moldings. His crew is fabulous. And the noise reduction and energy efficiency gains have been wonderful! Alex Szopa with Windows Craft (he prefers to use Marvin windows) – 202-288-6660

  • I don’t want to completely hijack this thread, but does anyone have recommendations for window restoration? We don’t need/want our historic windows replaced, but we have a couple that are in bad shape.

    • I used the Craftsmen Group to restore all my original six over six double hung windows.

      They did an excellent job – my windows are better than new (insulated glass, better weatherstripping). Highly recommend:

      • Thanks for the recommendation. Any sense of what the cost was per window? Should I be expecting estimates that are higher or lower than replacement?

        I looked at the Craftsmen Group’s website and they seem like the high end. Are there any other vendors you looked at?

        Thanks again.

    • You can call the Preservation Office or DCPL for references. Window restoration is easy enough that a DIYer can do, but it takes time that lots of busy people don’t have. Craftsman Group can restore anything, they’re some of the best. But if you just need paint stripping, painting, glazing, caulking, weatherstripping, or re-hanging on new sash cords (that’s what a decent energy-saving restoration includes), a good handy man can do that work.

      Old House Journal and Fine Homebuilding magazines have both had really good articles on how to restore your old windows. Googling should turn them up.

  • I’m looking for noise reasons alone. The added benefit of energy savings would be gravy. Does it really make that much of a difference for noise? We have vinyl windows in a historic district. Obviously put in when the designation didn’t matter(probably the late 80s/early 90s)…but now to replace i’ll need either wood or Clad Aluminum-I think. About 1000 a window. Are storm windows a possibility for improving noise/energy?

  • My two cents, for what it is worth – probably two cents… but nevertheless…

    The average lifespan of vinyl replacement windows is 10 to 15 years before the seals go. (Sometimes even less – I have had seals go in three or four year old windows) Then all of those windows get sent to the landfill for the next batch – because not all replacement windows can have their glass replaced, meaning the entire unit becomes obsolete – or simply wears out. It’s really a shame to get into that cycle if you don’t have to. And they are mostly made of plastic.

    The average lifespan of existing wood windows (built before the 1960’s) is one to two hundred years – if they are maintained properly. They are made from old-growth wood and could not be replaced in kind with the same quality without spending a huge amount of money. And you can paint them (I know some people would rather not deal with this), and they tend to have been designed to actually go with your house – with all the right profiles and mouldings that you can’t get today.

    Personally, I’d rather put the money into repairing what I had – unless they were already replacements at some point and you are stuck in the cycle. I’ve used interior storm windows, exterior storm windows, or just dealt with them the way they are in different houses I have owned. Most energy loss is out of your roof anyway, and frankly I’d rather have a slight draft (not a huge wind tunnel mind you, so if they are really bad, obviously I’d replace them) and have proper airflow than deal with the indoor air quality and CO2 issues we are starting to experience because we are making our homes totally airtight. Just my preference.

    Whatever you decide… don’t let a manufacterer talk you into adding casements where there were none, fake grids or muntins where they never existed, or windows that don’t completely fit the opening. Nothing looks worse than that one house on your block that got a good deal on windows but they don’t quite fit, or you have a whole row of one-over-one windows with one house that decided 6 over 6 grids would be so much more “historical.”

    Thanks for listening!

  • Ummm

    mid-performance window…as in double pane. You think those pella windows are why you are saving money? Nope, insulation buddy

  • There are so many window brand, somebody heard from “OKNA window”?

  • I used Renewal by Andersen to replace the 10 windows in my condo. Not cheap, but I am very happy with the result and they handled all of the permits (I live in a historic district).

    As for when / if you should replace your windows, the windows in my unit conveyed as-is and were in bad shape. Two wouldn’t open, two wouldn’t lock, and all were single pane. My utility bills are lower, but more importantly, I have nice windows that I can open and increase my enjoyment of my place.

  • Some things to look for when replacing windows:

    • Generally, it’s a good idea to replace windows when they cease to function normally (i.e., they become sticky or break), or when you want to update them for aesthetic reasons, but upgrading to more efficient windows primarily to increase energy efficiency can be a waste–you may get nearly as much in energy savings from much cheaper measures, like rope caulking, insulation, and curtains or blinds. In other words, it takes a long time to make back the savings from spending $10K on a whole-house window replacement, but you see immediate savings from spending a few hundred bucks and sealing up the drafts.

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