This is a guest blog post by Ryan Carey, of My 3 Quotes.

The cost of window replacement can be quite a shock to homeowners. It is a huge business in the Twin Cities with the extreme weather we have, and customers almost always ask about a window's energy efficiency first. The next concern they have is how the window looks. I don't think anyone would argue with me when I say that wood windows look the best, hands down. However, wood windows are not in every homeowner's budget. They are typically more expensive, and staining charges drive up the price even more. Stainable composite and fiberglass options also look great and reside in the higher price range.  So the question comes up, "Can we get a less expensive window that has just as good of an energy rating as a wood, composite, or fiberglass window?"

If you read "Window Replacement Part 3: Marvin, Andersen, Pella," you know my thoughts on pros and cons of the big 3 window brands. They each have some great options to choose from, and they make great-looking windows.  In this post, we will discuss a few of the popular vinyl window lines in our market for the homeowners who are looking to keep the price a bit more manageable.

"Vinyl is cheap, right?"

There is no doubt that vinyl has a stigma attached to it as being cheap in a lot of people's minds.  Some think white is the only color choice and can't imagine it looking good in their house.  Others who have done some research on the internet might have found some scathing articles about how vinyl windows basically fall apart immediately after they are installed (and some do!).  Thirdly, many wonder why they have never heard of any vinyl window brands and it makes them uneasy.  Have you heard of any of the window brands mentioned in the title of this post?  Probably not, unless you've recently had some quotes done.Dark oak wood grain 

The vinyl companies rely on contractors' salespeople bringing in the windows, break-down kits, heat lamps, etc... to show the customer their product. They rarely do any national advertising. Some contractors that sell these windows do an informative presentation and leave quotes behind or send the quotes later. Other contractors that sell these windows may use the high pressure sales pitch in hopes of having the customer make that decision in one night. That is why you will see pricing all over the board for these products. The vinyl windows cost less than their wood counterparts, so the overall price should be less. However, a salesperson could end up pricing the job higher than any wood window job and giving you a discounted price that's good "for that night only." If you signed up with a company in one visit, chances are you paid too much. Those pitches are designed to capture higher margins.

Stay with their higher end options!

Sales tactics aside, these vinyl window manufacturers all make comparable high quality products in their upper-end lines. They all make lower end lines, too, which I can't recommend in our climate. You're already saving money by going to vinyl; don't get greedy and pick their cheapest line or you will regret it. The upper end lines all have lifetime warranties, better weatherstripping, better U-factors, and sturdier extrusions. Lower end vinyl lines are occasionally used by builders to save money or by contractors trying to be the cheapest price, and that's what can give vinyl windows a bad name. I've seen 5-year old low-quality windows warping and allowing major drafts to the dismay of homeowners.

The following four brands that I recommend all have several color choices including woodgrain laminate looks on the interior (see picture of dark oak woodgrain vinyl window next to stained oak trim). Those woodgrains, in many cases, change the minds of people who are looking for a wood look and steer them into vinyl.  Some say, "Wow, that's vinyl?"  Others see it as "looking fake" and go in a different direction. Using a beige interior (see picture)  has also been a popular option to go along with stained wood casing.

Beige vinyl window  

A contractor selling any one of these brands may tell you theirs is wayyyy better than the others. Truth is you'd be hard pressed to find much difference in any one of these brands in their top lines, in which their double pane windows with upgraded glass should have a U-factor of .27 or .26. This typically outperforms the wood window U-factors with comparable glass. The lower the U-factor the better. 

Cherry woodgrain

Lindsay Windows is located in Mankato, MN, and has been making windows since 1947. One of their upper end lines, the "Pinnacle", has excellent energy ratings and has a great look for the inside hardware. Their local rep lives here in the Twin Cities. They have 3 woodgrain options, and reportedly there are more on the way.  See picture of their cherry woodgrain with cherry-stained trim.

Soft-Lite Windows is located in Ohio, like many other vinyl window manufacturers, and they've been making windows since 1937. Their upper end lines like "Elements" and "Imperial LS" work great in our climate. They have 4 options for interior woodgrains.

Simonton Windows is also located in Ohio and has been making windows since 1946.  "Impressions" and "Reflections" are some of their upper lines that perform well here. They have 3 woodgrain colors.

Alside Windows is located in (you guessed it) Ohio and has been in business since (you guessed it again) 1947. They also make vinyl siding. Their upper end windows like "Sheffield" and "UltraMaxx" can handle our heat and cold. They have an extended line of woodgrains that can match nearly any trim.

Do you notice something similar about these lines? They all have been around for 65+ years, which is very important to me when a company is giving a lifetime warranty. How good is a lifetime warranty from a company that has been in business for 5 years? I recommend upper end windows from any of these 4 manufacturers based on their longevity and track record. There are hundreds of other vinyl window manufacturers out there, and if the research shows similar longevity and U-factors, you can feel pretty comfortable with them as well.

Keep in mind some of the contractors have these manufacturers private-label a window just for them, so you may not see the names mentioned above. If the double pane window is .27 or lower, then you'll know it's in their upper lines. Because of the local angle combined with the performance and look of their product, Lindsay gets the nod from me as my favorite vinyl window to work with.

Ryan Carey has 15 years of experience in exterior remodeling for Twin Cities Homeowners and Property Management Companies. He is the owner of My 3 Quotes, a company that provides the free service of collecting 3 competitive home improvement bids for customers. For more information, visit www.getmy3quotes.com for free home improvement estimates on window replacement and more.

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