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Recommendations for Budget-Friendly High-Performance Windows

beedigs | Posted in General Questions on

Can anybody recommend brands and lines of windows that are high performance and provide good air seal qualities that won’t break the bank?  We talked to one European brand company and after the numerous back and forth and finally getting a quote, they have a minimum order of $25K which our smaller project won’t meet, so I am starting over with my search.  Climate zone 2 here, hot and humid.  Any other tips as far as windows are concerned are greatly appreciated.  Are there even any USA-made high performance windows that can compete with European windows?

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Replies

  1. GBA Editor
    Kiley Jacques | | #1

    I’m giving your question a bump. And I am glad you asked it because I have it in mind to ask Scott Gibson to do a Product Guide article on choosing high-performance windows, which would clearly be beneficial. You may be interested in this Q&A thread: Choosing Affordable High-Performance Windows.

  2. charlie_sullivan | | #2

    My usual recommendation for moderately priced high performance US made windows including triple-pane is Comfortline Fiberframe. Casement is the style that gets you pretty good air sealing, or where it makes sense just go with picture windows that don't open. In Zone 2, you will probably find double pane adequate for U-factor, and will be more focused on keeping solar gain low. An option to consider to get lower U-factor than most double pane windows is a surface 4 low-e coating. The potential drawback of that, condensation in extreme low temperatures, won't be an issue in your climate.

  3. MaineLaxRef | | #3

    I am in the process of designing and contracting for a modest house with 22 windows (5 operable, 17 fixed) and 5 exterior doors. Same general issues.

    European Architectural Supply (discussed by Steve Baczek on the Build Show) quoted me a set of imported triple-glazed uPVC windows (small job) at $4830 for windows + ~ $2500 for shipping), which compared favorably with a set of vinyl windows (some double & some triple) from Paradigm (a local manufacturer; casement instead of tilt/turn) at $6250. Both their door-sized tilt/turn windows ($927) and entry doors ($1380), plus shipping) compared very favorably with JeldWen Siteline doors ($3000 + shipping). ThermaTru doors might be available for $800 each, though.

    Also, Pinnacle Window Solutions quoted the same window list with American-built Euro-style tilt/turn triple-glazed windows for $9200 + $500 shipping. They quoted me the JeldWen doors.

    Finally, Pinnacle also quoted the same window list with JeldWen vinyl all triple-glazed (casement for operable units) for $6433 + shipping.

  4. spenceday | | #4

    I've never dealt with them but I've heard good things about Aplen windows. Euro style, high performance and made in Colorado
    https://thinkalpen.com

  5. jonny_h | | #5

    I'm struggling with this right now too -- I guess your $25k minimum quote was from Zola, I had the same thing. One key will be what material you're interested in. If you're OK with PVC or fiberglass, you'll have more luck on both price and north american availability. I've seen recommendations for some of the Canadian fiberglass manufacturers, as well as Alpen (I've talked to Alpen and they were reasonably responsive so far). If you want wood or aluminum clad wood (which I would prefer if I can find it), it's proving difficult to find something at a budget-friendly price point / without crazy shipping.

    1. jameshowison | | #6

      Hmmm, Zola gave me guidance of $35k minimum to make it economical, so I guess it's going up :) I don't actually understand how any package makes those levels, unless we are talking either massive houses or extreme environment passive houses.

      Glo, who also ships container per order from Europe, says their minimum order is 15 units, so I'm guessing that works out to over $15k (but they haven't said yet).

      1. jonny_h | | #7

        Well, to be more correct, they told me they had a $25k minimum, not including the shipping costs of $6000! They gave me budgetary guidance of $80/sqft for the "classicplus clad" line, which is midrange clad wood. However, in talking to other manufacturers I've found that the costs for operable can be almost double the cost for fixed, so you really need at least two "budgetary" prices for rough estimation (doors are also different, and there's a lot more nuance in it which makes it hard).
        For clad wood tilt-turn, I've seen anything from ~$50/sf to $115/sf from different manufacturers.

        Anyway, after hearing the minimums and shipping costs from some importers, I'm rethinking the scope of my project and continuing to look for window options :)

        Anyone have experience with Fenstur in Canada? (fensturwindows.com)

        1. beedigs | | #8

          Hi Jonny_H,

          Which windows did you end up getting? I was so excited with Zola until after talking back and forth the sales agent forgot to mention about the minimum quota $35K so back to the drawing board for me. Thanks in advance!

          1. jonny_h | | #9

            Hi beedigs,
            Windows really are maybe the trickiest thing to spec! Long story short, I haven't decided for sure yet but leaning towards Inline fiberglass, more detail below on what I'm looking at to attempt to provide you with more information:

            My desires: Triple pane, "high performance". Replacing ~2/3 of the windows in my house, including a sunroom and patio door. Window schedule subject to refinement (notably two of the triangles are removed in the latest version), but attached for reference. Total window area ~300sqft. Interested primarily in tilt-turn operation, maybe casement (for performance over double hung, otherwise not a fan if window cranks and interior screens), not so much double hung. Strong dislike of PVC ( / vinyl / uPVC / fiber reinforced vinyl ) as a material, strong like of wood, meh towards fiberglass. Initially was set on aluminum-clad wood.

            First, the long list of companies that got ruled out for the most part:
            - Talked to Zola, long leadtimes + minimum order + shipping cost scared me away, though they were responsive on the customer service side.
            - A small domestic shop called Schiavone Woodworking, $113/sf expensive and not really any technical / performance data available ("I don't concern myself with the technical information, because I don't have to" when asked)
            -Talked to 475 about their imported Optiwin products. Pricing on some of those looked maybe doable (budgetary $/sf available on their site), but long leadtimes, shipping costs, and they weren't the most responsive -- gave me the impression that they were super busy.
            - Talked to a local importer of Unilux, who proceeded to recommend against Unilux and recommend Bildau & Bussman instead, but price was around $100/sf+
            - Tanner Windows was like 40k + 10k shipping, way over budget
            - European Architectural Supply (Makrowin) was at 35k plus 6.5k shipping

            Next, the shorter list that was still in consideration:
            - At the top of the line, Cembra (importer of Rieder windows) was coming in around 27k plus 3.5k shipping. Originally the shipping was much higher, and I told them no, but Thomas worked with me to get the shipping cost down and to iron out some of the specs. Pretty responsive and I would have liked to work with them. My original budget was around 20k, so these definitely blew the budget, but I was starting to mentally prepare myself for budget inflation for what looked like a very nice product.

            - Fenstur Windows (Canadian) has a good looking product, with not a lot of technical information or reviews publicly available. They made me sign an NDA, so I can't share exact details, but pricing for a wood only (no Al-clad) product was a bit less than Cembra -- unfortunately shipping costs were high to the point of pushing the cost almost equivalent to Cembra. They were responsive and helpful though -- but the logistics of getting windows from Vancouver to Ohio (and concerns about transporting gas-filled windows across the intervening high elevations) made this less feasible.

            - Alpen came in somewhere around 22k for their fiberglass casement Zenith 625 line. "Fiberglass" and "crank-out casement" are both compromises down from my ideal specs, and I have lingering doubts about the longevity of the suspended film, but they do have good performance and good reviews. I also like that they do seem to care about pursuing high performance, and they're one of few windows that have Living Building Challenge DECLARE certification. Shipping costs were also much lower than others, being closer. I'll likely re-quote with them when I have a final window schedule.

            - Inline (which I've heard also manufactures the frames for Alpen) came in around 15k + 1k shipping for their tilt-turn line. Also responsive, got back to me quickly with a quote and provided all the technical information that I asked for. They don't have as much information available directly on their website, but they use Cardinal IGUs and can share frame performance data when asked.

            So, lessons learned: In terms of original budget, my original goals were apparently unrealistic, so something's gotta give. I was almost prepared to compromise on budget, but (a) I think I'm the only one who really cares about wood and aluminum (my wife doesn't), and (b) we have an asbestos issue that seems to be growing in scope and cost to remediate, which is eating up budget and making me question even staying in this house. That leaves me looking at the lower cost options, of which Alpen has some plusses and minuses, and is the higher cost option, and Inline is the lower cost option that still seems to have acceptable performance and reasonable reviews.

            Sorry this doesn't explicitly clarify your situation at all, just a quick review of my months-long window shopping expedition and some of the pricing I've gotten.

            EDIT: Sorry, missed the part where you're in zone 2. I'm in zone 5, so totally different considerations, making my triple-pane research mostly irrelevant to you. Carl's right, you'll likely only need double pane but mostly a focus on low SHGC. Leaving this long post here for others who stumble onto this page, but editors can delete if it's excessively irrelevant.

        2. beedigs | | #11

          Hi again,

          Thank you for sharing your extensive research on the windows for your own project. I have asked Alpen for a quote but still looking around for some more leads before narrowing down to one brand/product. I'll look into Inline and see what comes up for me. Thanks again and please update me when you reached a decision for yourself. Curious, why are you not a fan of uPVC? and why do you prefer wood? why meh for fiberglass? are you shopping for doors too?

          1. jonny_h | | #13

            Well, since you asked, I'll ramble on a bit more :P

            -I'm not a van of PVC from a variety of standpoints. From the materials / environmental standpoint, I know that vinyl windows don't include the plasticizers that other flexible vinyl products do, and I know that use of PVC products is contentious in green building circles (and I did use PVC DWV pipe), but it makes me feel warm and fuzzy to minimize its use. From the performance standpoint, I know lots of manufacturers claim that their PVC-based frames are better for some reason or another, but I have yet to see a vinyl-framed window that still looks and performs well after a few years. And aesthetically, I just prefer a natural wood appearance on the interior.

            -The last point leads me to the "meh" on fiberglass. It's IMO a higher performance material than fiberglass, and certainly durable, but still limits one to painted solid colors rather than wood. I don't have experience with fiberglass windows, so I don't have strong opinions, but it's just not aesthetically the same as wood. I'm going to see if maybe Inline has a tiny window sample that fits in a UPS-able box that they can send me to touch and feel.

            -Preference for wood, then, is a combination of aesthetics and a preference for using natural materials with end of life options other than "bury it forever". There are, of course, potential environmental concerns around the glues and finishes used, as well as the impact of harvesting the wood itself -- but it's all tradeoffs.

            - The only door on my list right now is the sliding patio door. In fiberglass, it'd be either a 3- or 4- panel unit, while in wood it's be a 2-panel lift-slide. It's by far the most expensive opening, and the most demanding performance-wise. I may explore other options here. The house has other doors that can / should be replaced as well, but that's scoped as a future project.

  6. Expert Member
    CARL SEVILLE | | #10

    In CZ 2, there isn't much value in going to triple pane windows. You should get adequate overall performance from any high quality domestic manufacturer. If you do the modeling for triple vs double pane I expect you won't see much energy savings from the increased U values. Make sure your design manages solar gain as much as possible and get the lowest SHGC you can. Casement windows will give you a better air seal, but if you want to go with sash windows I expect you won't see enough improved performance to make a huge difference. In my house in CZ 3, I used Windsor windows, U factors in mid 20's, SHGC ~18, mostly double hung units to fit into a historic neighborhood. Total of about 400 CFM50 final blower door test, HERS 44 without any solar.

  7. walta100 | | #12

    From an economic point of view triple pain argon filled with super insulated frame windows will never save enough energy in zone 2 to repay their cost. In zone 6 or 7 it could make sense.

    From a comfort point of view in zone 2 I doubt anyone is going to feel cold next to a window maybe in zone 4.

    It seems to me solar gain coating would be the big option in zone 2.

    I think you should consider building a BEopt model of your home (about 20-40 hours) and use it to select the most cost effective windows, wall and HVAC system.

    https://www.nrel.gov/buildings/beopt.html

    Walta

    1. beedigs | | #14

      thanks for your feedback. i have downloaded the beopt software just this past weekend and i am hoping to be able to model our home on it and not have to undergo too much learning curve to achieve it

      1. walta100 | | #15

        Be sure to find and watch the training videos.

        Walta

        1. beedigs | | #16

          i know, right? i just finished modeling my project this morning and for some reason I can’t pull up the graphs to show comparisons on different selections. the graphs do not show anything. i will try to find a better more beginner-friendly tutorial on BeOpt

          1. brian_wiley | | #18

            That one alluded me, too. I actually found what I was looking for in an old article (link below) on GBA from 2011:

            It’s a little tricky to figure out how to run the program in optimization mode. Here’s the key: after creating the house you want to model, right-click on the tab for the “case” and choose “new case.” A new tab will appear with your new case. In the “Analysis” box at the top of the screen, make sure you are in “Optimization” mode, not “Design” mode. On the Options screen of the new case, highlight a range of specifications rather than a single specification for building components like walls, ceilings, and windows. You can do this by clicking one wall option, then holding down the “Shift” key, and then clicking another wall option farther down the list. That will highlight a range of options. BEopt will consider each of the highlighted options as worthy of consideration. Options that aren’t highlighted won’t be considered. Once you’ve selected these ranges for all relevant categories of building envelope specifications, click “Run.”

            Those videos that Walta posted are also super helpful in getting the hang of things.

            https://www.greenbuildingadvisor.com/article/beopt-software-has-been-released-to-the-public

  8. walta100 | | #17

    They have redone the website again so I cant find them on the BEopt site.

    From what I remember this list of 16 videos are the ones I watched

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8gm5-pNyJ6M&list=PLHC0xDtkdjgec8QhVt7exJY3tpSLEFk-d&index=3

    Walta

  9. beedigs | | #20

    anybody tried this windows and doors company? https://www.eurowindowsdoors.com/

    perusing their website i saw this on there: "Optional passive ventilation
    The patented ventilation system GECCO for a controlled exchange between inside and outside air provides improved room climate and greater living comfort." Does this mean it's meant to be a little leaky to allow the exchange between inside and outside air??

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