Home windows

Home Window Buying Guide
Home Window Buying Guide
Window Shopping

New windows can enhance the look of your home and make it quieter and less drafty, and new windows are easier to clean and maintain than old windows with combination screens and storm windows.

But forget what the ads say. Saving money on your energy bill is not the reason to replace your windows—it could take decades to recoup the $8,000 to $24,000 you’ll spend on new windows and installation. 

Energy Star-qualified windows can lower your energy bill by an average of 12 percent. That's only $27 to $111 a year for a 2,000-square-foot single-story home with storm windows or double-pane windows, $126 to $465 if your home has just single-pane windows, according to Energy Star.

Use our home window buying guide to learn which materials, types, and features are most important to consider. We also provide unbiased ratings to help you choose.

1

Through The Looking Glass: What We Found

How We Test
To find out which windows are best at keeping your home comfortable and dry, we tested more than two dozen double-hung and casement-style windows for air and water leakage. We found significant differences between brands in types and frame materials. Working with an outside lab, we subjected the windows to heavy, wind-driven rain, and winds of 25 and 50 mph at outdoor temperatures of 0°F and 70°F. Given the high cost of replacing windows, the more you know, the more informed choice you can make. Don’t rely on a contractor to choose for you.

Ways to Save
If your existing frames and sills are still sound and square, you’ll save money on materials and labor by using partial replacement units. They're also known as “pocket replacements” and fit into the existing frames. Otherwise, you'll need full-replacement windows. These include the frame, sill, jambs, and usually what’s known as a nailing flange, which attaches the window to the outside wall around the opening.

Federal tax credits are available for windows installed in 2016 (and retroactive purchases made in 2015) for Energy Star-qualified windows. Some utilities and city and state programs also offer rebates or incentives if you buy Energy Star windows. Go to stores and check out the windows, inspect the frames, and try the handles.

Finding an Installer
Even the best windows won't deliver the look or comfort you expect if they're installed poorly. Many major window manufacturers train and certify installers for their specific products. Using the same contractor for purchase and installation can minimize the chances of problems arising later. Look online for certification from the American Window and Door Institute or InstallationMasters—and get multiple bids. They should include specifics such as window brand, number of windows, size and type, plus any add-on features. Installation details should be noted, and labor and material costs should be broken out.

2

Glass Housings: Window Materials

Wood window frames and all-vinyl are popular. We also tested all-fiberglass. You may still find some all-aluminum windows, but their popularity decreased with the development of vinyl. Our tests found that the material doesn't guarantee performance and neither does price, and there are excellent and mediocre double-hung wood-frame and vinyl-frame windows.

Photo of a wood window frame.

Wood Frame

Most are solid wood, though some may include composite materials (e.g., plastic with wood fibers embedded in it). You can choose from a variety of hardware finishes, allowing you to pick a style that matches your home.

Photo of a vinyl window frame.

Vinyl Frame

They're typically the least expensive and do not need to be painted or stained, but most are white and usually they can't be painted. There are also fewer hardware options. Among casement windows, there was little difference between vinyl and wood frames. 

Photo of a fiberglass window frame.

Fiberglass Frame

They're relatively new. While you won't have to paint them, they can be painted. Fiberglass needles embed the plastic to make it stronger and stiffer, but there aren't many brands available. We tested Integrity from Marvin Ultrex and Pella Impervia. 

3

The Glass Menagerie: Types of Windows

In addition to materials, window variables include the number of panes, how they are hinged, how they operate, and how much ventilation they offer. Here's a look at the various window types.

Photo of a casement-style window.

Casement Style Windows

Providing an unobstructed view, casement windows are hinged on one side, like a door, and a crank lets you open them outward.

When fully open, casements allow good ventilation and easy cleaning. They're usually more airtight than double-hung because the sash locks against the frame to close.

The casements we tested excelled at keeping out cold air and rain and can be used in any area of the country.

Note, however, that window air conditioners cannot be installed in casement windows. 

Casement Style Windows Ratings
Photo of a double-hung window.

Double-Hung Windows

A popular choice. The lower inside sash slides up and an upper outside sash slides down, improving air circulation and making full screens ideal.

Double-hung are easy to clean since you can tilt the sash on any of the windows in our tests. They're also a smart choice if you plan to install a window air conditioner, though most now have a fairly high trim on the sill that may require significant shimming to stabilize the air conditioner.

Some double-hung windows we tested are better at keeping out cold air or water. That's important if you live in a chilly, windy area (hello, Chicago!) or if home is the Florida panhandle or other rainy region. 

Double Hung Window Ratings
Photo of a casement-style window and an awning-style window.

Other Types

Single-Hung Windows
They look like double-hung, but only the bottom sash moves. (They usually cost less as a result.) The top sash is sealed to keep out cold air and water.

Awning-Style Windows
They're hinged at the top and open outward. Like casements, the sash presses against the frame so they close very tightly.  

Hopper-Style Windows
The opposite of awning windows, they're hinged at the bottom and can open either inward or outward.

Fixed Windows
These are used where lighting but not ventilation is important. They're airtight and are available with decorative glass accents or in unusual shapes.

Find CR's Window Ratings Here
4

Looking for a Window Contractor?

If you're not up for the rather involved DIY project of putting new windows in, you can find a qualified pro to handle the install at Porch.com. What's Porch? The site connects you with local contractors to help with maintenance or remodeling projects, making home improvement that much easier.

5

Video Buying Guide

Watch our buying guide video below for more information on how to find the best windows for your house, and handy shopping tips for when you're at the store.  

6

Features to Look For

Here are a handful of important features to consider when you are shopping for new or replacement windows.

7

Home Window Brands

Andersen, Marvin, and Pella are the leading window brands. Many leading manufacturers in the window industry market multiple brands. Andersen and Marvin sell some lines only to authorized installers, and home centers such as Lowe's and Home Depot sell multiple lines. Use these profiles to compare windows by brands.

American Craftsman vinyl windows are available in multiple-replacement and new-construction lines in popular double-hung and casement styles, and in low-E and argon-filled glass for high efficiency. American Craftsman markets a line of stock sizes and has extensive special-order and custom options. They're sold at Home Depot.
Andersen is one of the leading manufacturers and marketers of windows. Andersen windows are available in multiple-replacement and new-construction lines in popular double-hung and casement styles. Andersen window lines include wood, clad, vinyl, and composite construction and also low-E and argon-filled glass for high efficiency. Andersen markets a line of stock sizes and has extensive special-order and custom options. They're widely available through independent home centers, dealers, and Home Depot. Andersen also markets a line of vinyl windows under the American Craftsman brand at Home Depot and a composite line under the Renewal by Andersen name through certified installers.
One of the leading manufacturers and marketers, Marvin windows are available in multiple-replacement and new-construction lines in popular double-hung and casement styles. Marvin's window lines include wood, clad, and composite construction, along with low-E and argon-filled glass for high efficiency. Marvin markets a line of stock sizes and has extensive special-order and custom options. They're sold through independent home centers and dealers and are premium-priced.
Jeld-Wen is one of the leading manufacturers and marketers of windows, which are available in multiple-replacement and new-construction lines in popular double-hung and casement styles. Jeld-Wen window lines include wood, clad, vinyl, and aluminum construction, along with low-E and argon-filled glass for high efficiency, and are sold through independent home centers and dealers.
Kolbe windows are available in multiple-replacement and new-construction lines in popular double-hung and casement styles and include wood, clad, vinyl, and aluminum construction, along with low-E and argon-filled glass for high efficiency. Kolbe windows are available in stock sizes and extensive special-order and custom options. They're sold at dealers.
Lincoln wood windows are available in multiple-replacement and new-construction lines in popular double-hung and casement styles, and they include low-E and argon-filled glass for high efficiency. Lincoln windows are available in stock sizes and extensive special-order and custom options. They're sold at dealers.
One of the leading manufacturers and marketers, Pella makes its windows available in multiple-replacement and new-construction lines in popular double-hung and casement styles. Pella window lines include wood, clad, vinyl, and aluminum construction, plus low-E and argon-filled glass for high efficiency. The company markets a line of stock sizes and has extensive special-order and custom options. Its windows are widely available through Pella company-owned stores, dealers, independent home centers, and Lowe's. Pella also markets a line of windows under the ThermaStar by Pella name at Lowe's.
Ply Gem vinyl windows are available in multiple-replacement and new-construction lines in popular double-hung and casement styles, along with include low-E and argon-filled glass for high efficiency. Ply Gem windows are available in stock sizes and extensive special-order and custom options. They're sold at dealers.
Reliabilt vinyl windows are available in multiple-replacement and new-construction lines in popular double-hung and casement styles, plus low-E and argon-filled glass for high efficiency. Reliabilt windows are available in stock sizes and extensive special-order and custom options. They're sold at Lowe's.
Simonton vinyl windows are available in multiple-replacement and new-construction lines in popular double-hung and casement styles, along with low-E and argon-filled glass for high efficiency. Simonton windows are available in stock sizes and extensive special-order and custom options. They're sold at Home Depot and through dealers.
Weather Shield wood-clad windows are available in multiple-replacement and new-construction lines in popular double-hung and casement styles, along with low-E and argon-filled glass for high efficiency. Weather Shield windows are available in stock sizes and extensive special-order and custom options. They're sold through dealers.
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