I really procrastinate when it comes to major household projects. I try to extract as much useful life out of things that I can. But eventually the looks, safety, condition, or performance of things finally require replacing. After being in our 32 year-old home for 13 years, it was time to replace the old metal framed windows. We now have two windows where the seal broke causing condensation, two others that won't open due to the frames shifting, discolored and chipped frames from decades of sun exposure and hail damage, and really poor heating/cooling efficiencies.
I didn't do the most in-depth shopping but picked up learnings about materials and features through engaging in the process of having different companies and reps come out to provide quotes. I'm also no window expert and won't go into technical mumbo-jumbo in this post, but wanted to share a few things I learned in case they help others going through the same process. Here is a summary of my findings:
Frame Material - the first decision to make is frame material. Vinyl is the everyday choice and then there are upgraded materials like fiberglass or wood. Andersen also sells a proprietary vinyl/wood blend similar to Trex decking called Fibrex that seems very durable. I enjoyed seeing the corner cutout of each material to get a feel for the weight, quality, and flex of the construction. Andersen seemed bullet proof, the mid and high-range vinyl were pretty sturdy as well but not as good as Andersen, and the low-end vinyl seemed cheap. I didn't shop wood because of the Denver climate being too harsh and I didn't shop fiberglass either because I couldn't find a manufacturer that offered a lifetime warranty on their product. Anlin is a vinyl manufacturer that has a mid-level line called Catalina and a high-end line called Del Mar. The Del Mar line comes with several frame enhancements including insulated chambers to block temperature transfer in the frame itself. And the frames include fiberglass frame inserts to make them seemingly as durable as Andersen and other fiberglass options.
Frame Coating - the other part of the frame that matters is the coating. Andersen seemed to have the strongest coating that included titanium dioxide to protect it from sun, wind, and hail. That coating was also separate from but embedded onto the Fibrex frame material itself acting as another layer of protection. Not sure how susceptible that coating is to chipping but if it did, it was covered by Andersen's warranty. Vinyl doesn't have this separate coating so may discolor and weaken overtime but the mid and high-end vinyl also includes titanium dioxide for added protection against the elements.
Glass Thickness and Features - the glass plays a major part towards the energy efficiency and sound reducing aspects of windows. Both of these were critical to me because I am not getting much energy efficiency today and we back up to a busy residential street so would like better sound reduction. The most important part is double pane glass filled with argon gas but that is pretty much standard across any window line. The Andersen rep said most vinyl uses 1mm glass and they use 3mm glass. Well, Anlin has a sound feature that has 3mm glass on the outside pane and 5mm on the inside pane. This change in thickness interrupts the soundwaves to reduce sound even more. This is standard in Anlin's high-end Del Mar line and an optional upgrade in their mid-level Catalina line. The UV blocking and solar heat gain are also important factors, and it is relatively easy to find stats from each manufacturer that measure performance. Anlin also sold optional upgrades to really reduce the UV penetration. One other feature that Andersen offered was to fill the argon gas at the site with a plug. This is important in Denver given the altitude, but the Anlin reps gave me confidence that they pressurize their windows specific to the location at the factory and deliver it by not going over any high altitude mountain passes that would jeopardize that pressure.
Screens - for the lower and mid-range windows, you will get just a standard, flimsy window screen. The high-end windows including Anlin Del Mar and Andersen come with upgraded screens that have much more durable frames. Plus Andersen and my Anlin installer, Lifetime, warranty the screens against damage as well. Anlin's Catalina line can be upgraded to include the more durable screens used in the Del Mar line.
Rollers - the way the windows and sliding doors move is with rollers. Again the lower and mid-range windows will typically use plastic parts that are prone to failure. Whereas higher end windows may have upgraded metal parts and more rollers in general to provide a smoother opening and closing experience. It may not matter much with a lifetime warranty because failure of the cheap parts would be covered, but I like the piece of mind of going with parts not prone to failure to begin with.
Cleaning & Security Features - there are a variety of features that improve security and cleaning ease. First is the ability to setup a stop on the inside for how much the window can be opened. This allows the windows to be opened for airflow say at night in the summer when temps are cooler without worrying about an intruder opening the window and being able to get in. Some of the windows can also be removed from the inside making it easier to clean to save having to clean from the outside. Andersen had both partitions operable and removable, a neat feature but didn't seem to me to be worth the upgraded price.
Installation Process - be sure to ask how the installers plan to measure and install the windows. The best ones will come back to measure every window accurately and custom order each window instead of installing generic sizes and then fitting the opening to that window size. They say this extra measurement allows them to get within 1/8" of the window opening. Plus ask about how they will fill any gaps because that could be a source of air penetration that will impact efficiency no matter what windows you choose. Finally, be ready to do some paint and drywall touchup. No matter how good an installer is, invariably there will be some areas on the inside that don't look right and it's not the window installer's responsibility to get it right. I also look for window companies that have their own in-house installers. If you go with windows from a big box retailer like Lowe's or Home Depot, you may end up getting a rushed and sloppy installation from an outsourced contractor. One final thing is the lead time. Andersen was 4 months vs other installers were only 6-8 weeks out. I really wanted to avoid installing windows in the winter if I could.
Warranty - there was a big difference in warranty both among window brands and installers. This was important to me because I plan to own my home for a very long time, if not forever, and ideally only want to go through this process once. You'll hear talk of a double lifetime warranty which means the warranty covers you for however long you own the home plus the next buyer. But if they sell their home after that, the third owner would no longer have the windows under warranty. There is some fine print in the transfer of that warranty to the next owner so be sure to pay attention to that. Some manufactures either cutoff their warranty at 10 or 20 years or had some specific transfer requirements to get out of the warranty in the event of a sale. This includes Pella who only offers a 10 year warranty and Andersen who only offers a 20 year warranty. Anlin has a full double lifetime warranty. And then the local company I went with that installed Anlin, Lifetime Windows, had their own no-questions-asked product and labor warranty that was on top of the manufacturer's. It was the simplest, all encompassing warranty I saw. The only exclusions were Acts of God and other insurable events. This was important to me and influenced my decision heavily.
Price - For my 22 windows and 2 sliding patio doors, the pricing was approximately $25K for low-end vinyl, $35K for mid-range vinyl, $45K for high-end vinyl, and $65K for Andersen Fibrex or fiberglass. At first, the sales job of the Andersen rep convinced me of the "value" of Fibrex, but the more I researched after that visit, I realized the mid to higher end vinyl would be sufficient for me. Andersen used a lot of scare tactics about vinyl not holding up to Denver's weather, and they may be right. But the vinyl reps pointed out that Andersen's windows are 60% vinyl so may not hold up any better in extreme weather situations. Plus with the Anlin warranty and then the Lifetime Windows' installer warranty on top of that, I felt I was making the right choice for me going with the high-end vinyl option.
Quoting Process - the quoting process is silly to me. It still feels very door-to-door salesman-y. I am much more of a factual person and don't need all the gimmicks. I also really didn't like Andersen's pricing method. They were the second company I had out so had not finished my research. But they gave a 30% discount instead of a 20% discount if I signed the quote that day. That ended up being $8K in savings so I felt forced to buy that day in the event Andersen ended up being my choice. Thankfully, Colorado has a three-day cooling-off period when it comes to contracts, but that meant I had to scramble over the next 3 days to figure out whether Andersen was the best choice for me or not. Thankfully, I was able to learn in that time what I needed to know to determine Andersen was not the best for me and I was able to back out of the contract.
Financing Process - once you sign the quote, then next step is to figure out how to finance it. Thankfully I was in a position to be able to take advantage of cash discounts. It turns out though that the discounts weren't steep enough. It was better for me to take advantage of 12-24 month interest-free financing and park the cash in a CD or money market account which are earning 5%+ interest rates at the moment and let that money build until the interest-free window ends. Note, this did involve a credit check. In the case of Andersen, it was a hard credit check which frustrated me because I asked and the rep said it was a soft check. Lifetime Windows was a soft credit check.
Conclusion - in the end, I am very impressed with Anlin's warranty and quality. It seems they are the right manufacture to go with for vinyl. There are likely several dealers in each metro area that can offer Anlin. However, there is likely only one dealer that exclusively offers Anlin's upgraded Del Mar line. My recommendation would be to find that dealer because I was impressed with that line of window. The Catalina is also a good choice and saves quite a bit of money, plus features in the Del Mar line like upgraded glass for sound and sturdier screens can be added to the Catalina line. But I liked the enhanced insulation, fiberglass inserts, and metal rollers that are exclusive to Del Mar. Plus the simple, no-questions-asked warranty from the installer on top of the manufacturer is really what justified the premium for me.