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Marvin Ultimate vs Pella Architect windows

AndreaBlume | Posted in Energy Efficiency and Durability on

We are building a new house in a cold winters (8,500′ elevation, climate zone 6B). It is designed to be energy efficient (e.g., thick exterior insulation on walls and roof). For windows, we are looking at quotes from Marvin and Pella. The prices are comparable (Marvin 10% or so higher). U factors are also similar (around 0.21 for tripane). I have a few questions have not been able to get clear answers on:

* Air leakage: Marvin says their casement windows have less than 0.01 cfm/ft2 air leakage for their casement windows in the Ultimate series. I could not find data on Pella Architect. Does anyone have experience?

* Overall quality: Pella seems to have had problems with quality in the past. For example, there was a class action lawsuit because of water penetration into the window sash, behind the aluminum cladding. This is a number of years ago. Is quality still a concern with Pella, even for their higher-end lines.

Fiberglass vs aluminum: Marvin offers exterior fiberglass cladding or aluminum cladding. The thermal performance of fiberglass is better of course, and it is less expensive. What about durability? (Marvin’s warranty for aluminum-clad windows is 20 years vs 10 years for fiberglass clad windows.) 

I’d appreciate any help people can provide here.

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  1. _jt | | #1

    This was helpful.

    I ordered from the local company with the most efficient windows. I've been very happy with the results. I haven't experienced the cold season with them - singles replaced with triple panes I'm sure will be great - they are rated "R-5" for what that means. U 0.2

    In the summer time there is very little darkening but zero heat gets through. It's significantly reduced the heat load on the house as a whole. Looking forward to see how it works out in the winter. (Zone 6A)

  2. ssnellings | | #2

    If thermal performance is the goal, I'm not sure those two manufacturers are the best choice, but perhaps local service/affordability is the goal.

    In the last few years of projects we've installed (guesstimates) 95% Marvin, 4% Andersen, and 1% Pella. I'm in the Midwest.

    Here is Pella's design performance guide:

    1. AndreaBlume | | #3

      Thank you for the response. Yes, local service and affordability did play a role. However, which other manufacturers would you recommend?

      1. ssnellings | | #5

        I actually agree with you that local service/affordability are the primary considerations. I wouldn't purchase a window that doesn't have a local rep to bother if something goes wrong. I'm also not working on passive house projects, so that trade-off is easier for me (I can use lower-performance windows).

        Here in the Midwest I don't really have a good feel for it (most projects go Marvin). When I was back on the East Coast I would be comfortable with anything I could get through Pinnacle Window Solutions out of Maine because I knew they would come out and fix any issues I had. Brands they carried that you might be able to find locally: Alpen and Loewen. They also carry Logic, but I think that is a house brand.

        This is a good article to help put you in the 'window selection mindspace':

        If you go Marvin, they do have a triple paned option. If you go with that and install mostly casements, you'll be making some reasonably good choices regarding thermal performance and air infiltration without getting into the weeds. They do make some tilt-turns, but Signature line only and I don't know what specifications are available.

  3. onslow | | #4

    Ms. Blume,

    Your parameters sound very familiar. I live at 8000 ft in a 6B in a superinsulated home built in 2015-16. At the time I was researching windows, I was shocked to find that neither of the two vendors you mention would put argon in windows installed at altitudes over 4-5000 ft, as I recall. I can't find the original emails, I probably trashed them with the quotes. Given that Denver is the "mile high" city I was baffled at the rather low elevation they quoted.

    I suggest you contact ThinkAlpen. They ship their windows with bladders attached to capillary tubes that allows the argon gas fill to expand and contract which balances the window. Getting the windows here to my site meant going over at least one 10,000 ft pass, and Alpen Windows was the only company offering pressure equalizing balloons to ensure safe arrival without stressing the seals and the argon fill intact. It works quite well even if dealing with the tubes is a bit fussy.

    I did look at a total of five sources, and perhaps Marvin and Pella have changed the rules and will guarantee delivery to higher altitudes with argon. However, I would get that information confirmed and in writing first. In my particular design period, only Alpen would or could ship windows to my altitude with argon or krypton. A foreign manufacturer of euro style windows said they could, but it involved sending the units in a negative pressure balanced state that would mean the windows bowed inward until they made it here. I was not encouraged by that description, plus the costs and timeline for delivery were not within budget.

    I won't mention which manufacturer's rep tried to tell me that air was as good as argon and that the argon leaks out anyway. I will say that the Alpen people were much more on top of the actual energy details in all regards. The windows you refer to as fiberglass clad are most likely not clad, but framed with it. Fiberglass frames come in different forms. The Alpen pultrusion frames have performed well and are a good thermal match to the glass/frame expansion you will see, especially at high sunny altitudes.

    Some things to consider if this will be your first home in high country. Wind is much more constant and peaks higher than the midwest burb we came from. You may be making a similar shift of environments. The sun is waaaay more intense. And I am not sure what finishes can really deal with the UV load. Do not pick really dark colors if you can avoid them.

    I had been advised by a friend that built earlier in a nearby location to NOT put a lot of opening windows in my design. His advice was appropriate, we only crack open a few, partly due to the wind, partly due to the dust from Utah. Obviously, egress windows are necessary, but the banks of awning windows I had planned to put in have not been missed. Our porch is rarely tolerable to use.

    Contrary to some thinking, I went with the lowest SHGC and do not regret it. The heat to be had in the winter is not worth the gain you get in the summer. Even though we regularly enjoy very cool average temperatures in the evenings, the summer heat gain from high SHGC windows would have pushed us into needing AC. The design of the house makes it unnecessary (so far). The incremental climate warming is arriving even at 8000 ft, I may need to do AC in 10 yrs. Your call on needing AC, we based our choice on how much we hate fan noise.

    I can say the air sealing on our windows has been exemplary. The awning and casement seals are quite amazing. Our neighbor once arrived to help plow and we never heard him, which is quite a feat if you have ever heard a diesel powered skid steer. I assure you I do not have hearing problems. The window latches are adjustable and the crank mechanisms have held up well. The fiberglass frames have proven stable and a good match for the stresses placed on windows by the sun.

    If you google Alpen, it is certain that you will encounter a common internet problem. Nothing ever goes away. You will find references to problems that date back 30 years for the heat film technology and ten years for the ill fated Serious Windows period. The company is no longer the people associated with Serious Windows to my knowledge. I went ahead with my Alpen decision knowing the back stories and I do not regret my choice. The films are just fine. The seals are doing fine. The performance is superior to what I would have had if I accepted the ridiculous claims about argon not being relevant to energy efficiency.

    .21 U value for a tri-pane is very unimpressive. You will find that the window area in most houses can result in half the energy losses or more. You sound like your home design would be even better if you select windows that are also well insulated. At the very least, talk to the Alpen people and see what they can offer. I am saying this not because I am a hidden agent of any kind. I am saying this because as you note, the proper information you really need to judge the windows you have looked at is not very forthcoming. Try to find what the asterisks mean about "certain regions". I tried one sites window selector which produced U values that again, did not impress. No mention of altitude restrictions.

    The comfort level of good triple pane windows is worth any apparent price increase. I do not recommend the interior coating option as it lowers the condensation point of the glass and it is subject to damage if abrasive window cleaners are used. Our U .15 fixed units are quite comfortable to sit next to even at zero or lower.

  4. jimkas | | #6

    We just went through a similar exercise and and ended up going with Alpen 625 Series.

    We are remodeling a 35 y/o house with existing Pella clad casements as well as adding an addition and ADU. We are in Colorado, Climate Zone 7, 8300' elevation with significant sun, snow and wind exposure as the nearest neighbor is over 1 mile away.

    Looked at Sierra Pacific, Marvin, Pella and Alpen. I am a soon to be retired Residential and light commercial GC from the midwest. We have installed lots of clad Marvin and Pella and have started to see the eventual decay and deterioration of them as the cladding traps moisture. You seem to have a 25-35 year life with them. We have also remodeled 100Y/O historic buildings where the solid wood windows were able to be rehabilitated and will be good for another 100 years.

    We looked at custom mahogany windows with IGUs but the cost was too much, so eventually decided on solid fiberglass for the durability, insulation, and paintability when the factory coat fails. There was not contest between the Marvin integrity (or whatever it is named now) and the Alpen. Alpen were about 15-20% more, but far better in terms of build quality and detailing, approximately 2X the R-value, and able to handle all the sizes and shapes and have everything match. With the Marvin lines we had to mix and match with some interior wood clad and some ultimate to get the products to fit our needs. If we went with the all Ultimate quote it would have been equal to Alpen.

    First order is coming in about 2 weeks so we are hoping they perform as well as expected.

    1. MelonyJ | | #7

      Checking back to see how you like your Alpen product, what the installation process was like and your overall opinon is on the aesthetics and performance. Did they mentioned a peformance grade associated with your Alpen windows and do you know what wind loads you're dealing with where you live? Thank you!

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