There are many things to consider when shopping for replacements.
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NEWPORT NEWS, Va. -- The window where you stand to watch the birds feed or your roses bloom could be the biggest energy drain on your house.
Windows are huge thermal holes, places where you can lose as much as 30 percent to 40 percent of your heating and cooling costs, according to industry experts.
In fact, replacing all residential windows in the United States with more efficient models would save $7 billion over the next 15 years, according to the National Fenestration Rating Council, a nonprofit group that developed a window energy rating system based on whole-product performance.
Choosing replacement or new windows for your home is a daunting task because there are more than 300 manufacturers making them.
Each company's product has its own bells and whistles -- blinds or grilles between panes, tilt capabilities for easy cleaning and, just recently, storm-protection features -- and you pay for those niceties.
"When you compare the prices of windows, you can't make a blanket statement," says Robert Criner of Criner Construction in Yorktown, Va.
"All have different lines within their banner of manufacturing," he explains. "And it's all in a state of evolution constantly."
There are a lot of nationally recognized brands out there that contractors seem to favor -- Andersen, Certainteed, Caradco, Lyf-Tym, Marvin, Norandex, Pella, Peachtree and Simonton. Each company offers several lines with features that fit most pocketbooks. For a mid-range replacement vinyl window, you can expect to pay about $350 to $400 per standard-size, double-hung window, installation included, depending on construction costs where you live.
There is, however, some rhyme and reason to selecting a window meant for your needs.
First, consider your environment and the architecture of your home. If you are replacing or adding windows, you need to match or complement what's already on your house.
You also need to choose a window that's right for your climate, depending on whether you live in a northern or southern state and whether cooling or heating is more important to your comfort.
Evaluate what kind of maintenance you want to do on the windows.
Wood ones need paint or stain, vinyl ones require cleaning with something gentle like Soft Scrub.
There are also some new improvements available in windows.
Fiberglas-frame windows are arriving more and more on the market, and are expected to make a major impact, just like the strong Fiberglas doors that have become so popular.
And, if you hate cleaning windows, you'll like the fact that PPG makes SunClean, a self-cleaning glass that can be used in residential windows.
Regardless of what brand or style window you prefer, look for the Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star rating on the label because multipane glass is no longer the main measure of a good window, according to the EPA.
Welded seams, Low-E solar-protective coatings, gases between the panes, good weather stripping and glass spacers made from steel, foam, fiberglass or vinyl -- not aluminum -- are some of the hallmarks of a quality window.
And, if you live in a waterfront location frequented with strong winds and salt spray, you may want to consider thicker glass panes, maybe even laminated ones, which some new building codes may now require.
Warranty a must
But, there's one all-important characteristic you want to make sure you get with any window you select -- a good, reputable warranty.
And, any warranty is only as good as the company that stands behind it, so be sure to deal with a company that has a history of backing its product and taking care of its customers.
"I go for looks, how they operate, but mainly who is going to stand behind them," says David Cross of Cross Remodeling in Hampton, Va.
Dennis VanCamp with Hatchett Home Improvement in Newport News, Va., agrees you should carefully evaluate the warranty you get with your purchase.
"In the past there have been several contractors selling windows with lifetime warranties, but after a couple years when a problem arose neither the contractor nor the manufacturer were to be found," he says.