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Product Guide

Buying Windows

To make an informed decision, it’s important to understand what's listed on the NFRC label, and what isn't

Mavrik imports European windows like this triple-pane tilt/turn unit. It has a PVC frame and a U-factor of .17.

While working full time at Fine Homebuilding and doing my best to be an attentive father and husband, I remodeled the home we were living in on nights, weekends, and “vacations,” and on a shoestring budget. In hindsight, I had bitten off more than I could chew. And though I improved the house in a number of ways, with a little more time and money, I could have done better—maybe that’s always the case.

One decision that I don’t regret is my choice in windows. I replaced all but one of the windows on the house with units I bought off the shelf at Home Depot (one large window I had to order). They were all from Andersen’s 400 series—white vinyl-clad exterior with unfinished pine inside. At the time, this was the premium window in stock at my local Home Depot.

I didn’t put a lot of thought into this purchase. After hearing many builders’ positive opinions on Andersen windows as a great value and visiting Andersen’s headquarters for meetings a few times in my role at FHB, I felt good about the company and the product. And while I could say the same thing about Marvin windows, the Andersen units were available when I needed them, ten minutes from home.

This is not how I would advise anyone else looking to buy what can be one of the most expensive product purchases on a project—do a little research, please. I had to do some of that research when I was tasked with the intro presentation for a recent BS* + Beer Show. Here is some of what I learned.

The quickest way to compare the performance of American windows may be checking out the National Fenestration Ratings Council (NFRC) label, or at least…

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7 Comments

  1. Peter Sperry | | #1

    Awesome article and especially timely for those of us trying to find windows. Of concern here is the availability or lack thereof windows with U-values in the lower end of the range. If it’s going to take a 0.15 to have “homeowner comfort,” where does one procure such windows? Marvin Elevate triple panes spec out to 0.20...Prossimo’s European windows go to 0.17...where do we find windows in the 0.10 to 0.15 range?

  2. AnonymousUser | | #2

    Hi, Peter. The link below shows that the Alpen Zenith Fiberglass Series 10 has offers u val 0.10 for fixed and 0.14 for operable:
    https://thinkalpen.com/products/zenith-series-windows-doors/zr-10-fiberglass/

  3. Charlie Sullivan | | #3

    Great summary. Don't underestimate the importance of that last paragraph. I did my research on selecting windows very carefully and then let a young, inexperienced carpenter decide on and implement the installation details. He got all the flashing details wrong and had to reinstall them to fix serious water problems.

  4. User avater
    Thomas Hutegger | | #4

    Great article, thank you!
    I wanted to import windows from Europe because i am very disappointed in what is available. None of the us companies i looked at offered a crosscut of the profiles they use, while in Europe this is the first thing they show you.
    European windows have a steel core in both window and frame, thus there’s no easy cracking due to the house shifting; they add stability.
    In my last two homes i eventually decided against importing. In my current home, though, i am importing them - from a company (Hrachowina.at) that my dad had used in the 70s, and whose windows are in perfect condition to this day, more than 40 years later!!!
    The cost incl shipping and customs is still much less than good quality Anderson windows (if there is such a thing!).
    I am very glad, you emphasized the importance of good installation! I‘ll be sure to look over their shoulders to ensure good air- and water sealing…
    (Anderson offered 26k for 20 windows, Hrachowina costs me 12-13k depending on how much the installation is going to cost)

  5. Yeldog | | #5

    So ..... it depends?

    Here is my take ... purchase decent windows that fit the style of the house and install them properly ... install them properly and install them properly.

    Few people can can afford European windows ... let alone assure they are properly installed. We fixate on double stud walls -- triple pane windows. This insulation is better than that .. and we still build poorly.

    The Andersen 400 series is a fine window for the price .. have them at my beach house on the Jersey Shore. In case not familiar -- it's a vinyl wonderland. The 400's fit right in! Being a Bucks County Farmhouse guy .... It was very hard for me to order them with white screens and pre-finished white interiors .. but, that's the look as well. That was +15 years ago and they look like the day they went in w/o touching them. The 22 Lapage windows and two doors for just the addition of my current project (1870 stone) went past 70k w/o install. Few can afford. Are they "better".? No-- IMO. Do they look better? ... yes. It's the same with Marvin or Pella or other big player ... looks. Neither can match the look of Loewen ... but, they cost a fraction.

    I'm a closed cell foam guy ... not always popular around here. IMO - Energy efficiency is about leaking. -- stoping it. My guess is unless the whole house is as tight and energy efficient as the windows ... better places to work on when building the average house.

  6. Joe Martin | | #6

    Likewise Brian, thanks for the thoughtful exposition. I'm an energy geek, designer, builder like the rest of you I imagine, and also represented both Alpen and Intus for a number of years. The energy modeling is a useful tool for drilling into the load calcs for HVAC, but it cannot describe the comfort and control experienced with a well installed triple glazed assembly. Intus has chosen to bail on the residential market (importing replacements was just too costly), but Alpen - (right here in the US) continues to improve and enhance their offerings. The Tyrol series is an EU style pvc window (tilt-turn and fantastic doors). https://thinkalpen.com/products/tyrol-series-windows-doors/
    They have also been certified by PHIUS, etc. And with the center heat mirror film in the center, the weight is more like normal window. I was skeptical of the film at first, but represented them for 10 years with almost no IG failures, and they quickly honor any warranty issues. The performance metrics of their windows is just stunning. https://thinkalpen.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Tyrol-Series-Passive-House-Data-Sheet-2019-05-v3.pdf
    I have since handed off my dealership to a local Chattanooga concern, https://www.greens.build/
    and don't mean to proselytize too much here, but with years of experience with Alpen, I can't say enough good things about them.

  7. Eric Birenbaum | | #7

    One thing most people do not consider when buying windows is how are the insulated glass units installed into the frames. I worked for a glass company for thirty nine years installing glass shower doors, mirrors, tabletops and replacement glass in windows where the glass had failed; either broken or leaking. Windows with stops and sealant were fairly easy. Wrap around frames with corner nails or screws holding them together were doable. When you got into clad frames or some of the totally glued together or fiberglass frames it was either very expensive labor wise to replace an IG or impossible. Many times I would inspect a customer's unit and have to tell them it would be cheaper to buy a whole new sash, if it was even still manufactured. Sincerely Eric Birenbaum 8/5/2020

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