Which Window Brands Wow Us

The saying, “they don’t make them like they used to,” is well applied to many lower cost window options. Unfortunately, many homeowners will replace the windows in their home if they are planning on a long-term stay.


Circa 1975, it was the beginning of the end of housing quality; when the industry shifted away from post war “pride in workmanship” to value engineering to lower construction costs. In the 90’s, our company renovated many homes with the original windows installed in the 1940’s, most were in great shape. With a little TLC they could be made to open and close easily and the only drawback was the energy efficiency (U.49) of single paned glass. Initially double pane manufacturers improved that to U.37 and now you can purchase windows with a glazing efficiency that meets energy star of U.29. While the U-Factor can take any value, in general for windows it ranges from 0.20 to 1.20. The lower the U-Factor, the better the window insulates.
Who are the market leaders? In alphabetical order: Andersen, Marvin, and Pella are the leading national window brands when it comes to quality. The key benefits of a well-established brands are that the product will last longer, offer service; and parts are generally available even for older windows. We just finished renovating the kitchen and 4 baths in a phased project in an 1980’s home that had Andersen windows. Many windows had signs of age, but we were able with most of them to get some new hardware and have the painter do a refresh without full replacement. All of these manufacturers have differences in four main categories:
1.     Cladding- when you purchase wood-framed windows today they can be clad in aluminum, vinyl, or fiberglass to protect the wood and avoid having to paint them. They are more expensive, but are highly customizable with various wood species to choose from like pine, maple and oak for the interior that can be painted or stained at the factory or once installed.
2.     Glazing- Double or Triple Glazing? Double glazing is basically two panes of glass with a space in between (usually filled with heavy gas such as argon) and this reduces the transfer of temperature from one side of the window to the other. Triple glazed windows are usually more efficient (check the U-Factor) and can add an extra degree of sound deadening.
3.     Low-E Coating- These are transparent coatings that help improve the efficiency of the glass by reflecting heat while still letting light in. Windows can be manufactured with the coating applied to the inside of the glass in colder climates to keep heat in and there are also options with better manufacturers to use higher performance coatings for southern exposures.
4.     Tilt-in Sashes & wash friendly casements- Most windows manufactured today have tilt windows so you can easily flip the window inside for easy cleaning. Some casement windows use hardware that creates a larger opening on the hinge side for the ability to clean from the inside as well.
Knowing which window is right for you will depend on what makes most sense for your scenario. What is your desired aesthetic? Some folks just don’t see a difference between a vinyl window with grids between the glass, and some folks won’t stand for anything less than a true architectural window complete with robust hardware choices and customized window mullions. Every brand offers a les complicated option, but I think Pella and Marvin offer more choices. In the picture above of an addition we went with Marcvin becuase the homeowner wanted a very specific gray color for the framing that Marvin could achieve.
Is energy efficiency a top priority? While the energy ratings are all very similar, higher end windows let you customize your energy rating a bit more. In a recent project, Marvin again won the work because they engineered the largest triple pane picture window. All you need to do is look for the energy factors and ask questions about upgrades or what types of windows perform better. Don’t forget to ask about coating options.
Which window offers the best value? This is a bit of hair splitting because everyone will have different things that are important. I can only offer my opinion since we don’t have a test lab. Andersen is my go-to for new homes in an upscale build where quality is important and we are value engineering without sacrificing anything or if we are replacing a similar window with a standard size. Marvin (arguably) makes the window with the highest standards with slightly better “fit and finish” over Pella though likely not noticeable to most folks. My favorite company to work with is…… Pella. I have a long-term relationship with our representative and when I have a design challenge or any questions on how to make the most of the product, Emile is always there to help me; plus, it’s a pretty great window.


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