Replacement Window Buying Guide

Replacing old windows can enhance the look of your home and make it quieter and less drafty. Many double-hung windows currently on the market are now easier to clean and maintain than older windows with combination screens and storm windows.

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

How to Choose Replacement Windows

How We Test
To find out which windows are best at keeping your home comfortable and dry, we tested double-hung windows for resistance to wind and rain. (We don’t test single-hung windows because they’re less common.) 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. We found significant differences among brands.

Given the high cost of replacing windows, the more you know, the more informed a choice you can make. Contractors often have their preferred brands, but don’t rely on a contractor to choose your windows 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 replacement units. They’re also known as “pocket replacements” and fit into your existing frames. If your frames are too old and deteriorated, 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 for Energy Star certified windows expired at the end of the 2016 tax year. But some utilities, as well as city and state programs, offer rebates or incentives if you buy Energy Star windows.

To be clear, though, saving money on your energy bill is not the primary 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. 

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

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

Glass Housings: Window Materials

Wood and vinyl frames are popular. We also test composite windows that include some made of fiberglass or from a combination of wood and plastic materials. You may still find some all-aluminum windows, but their popularity has declined with the development of vinyl. Our tests find that the material doesn’t guarantee performance and neither does price. You’ll find both excellent and mediocre double-hung wood-frame and vinyl-frame windows. Here are the types of window materials to consider.

A wood window frame.

Wood Frame

These window frames are made of solid wood with the exterior covered in aluminum or vinyl to protect the wood from the elements and reduce maintenance because they will not need to be repainted. You can choose from a variety of hardware finishes, allowing you to pick a style that matches your home.

A vinyl window frame.

Vinyl Frame

They’re typically the least expensive and do not need to be painted or stained. They’re usually white, and most can’t be painted, so keep that in mind if you want to coordinate your windows with the color of the exterior paint. Vinyl frames have fewer hardware options.

A fiberglass window frame.

Composite Frame

These frames are made from fiberglass or from a combination of materials and typically do not need to be painted or stained—though you may have limited color choices. They're also typically the least expensive type of frame. They may have parts made of solid wood and others from laminated wood or plastic with embedded wood fibers. The combination is typically used to give the look of a solid wood window, while trying to make the underlying structure more stable than that of solid wood. Fiberglass windows are made by embedding fiberglass needles in plastic, making them stronger and stiffer than vinyl, but there aren’t many brands available. 

The Glass Menagerie: Types of Windows

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

A double-hung window.

Double-Hung Windows

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

Double-hung windows are easy to clean because 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 in our tests are better than others at keeping out cold air or water. That's important if you live in a place where it's chilly and windy, such as Chicago, or where it's rainy, like the Pacific Northwest.

Double Hung Window Ratings
A casement-style window and an awning-style window.

Other Types

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.  

Casement-Style Windows
Though a smaller part of the market, they provide an unobstructed view. They're hinged on one side, 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 when closed the sash locks tightly against the frame. However, window air conditioners cannot be installed in casement windows.

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.

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

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 cold air and water out.

Find CR's Window Ratings Here

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.  

Features to Look For

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

Replacement 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.

Alside vinyl windows have several replacement and new construction lines including double-hung, casement, and bay windows. Alside windows are custom made to fit existing window openings. They are sold predominantly in the Eastern and Mid-Western parts of the country at independent home centers and also sold at Lowes.
Andersen is one of the leading manufacturers and marketers of windows. Renewal by Andersen windows are available in multiple replacement and new-construction lines in widely sold double-hung and casement styles. Andersen window lines include wood, clad, vinyl, and composite construction, and also low-emissivity (low-E) and argon-filled (gas-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.
Atrium vinyl windows have several replacement and new construction lines including double-hung, casement, and sliding windows. Atrium offers a wide selection of custom built vinyl windows in a variety of styles and colors as well as a variety of glass and grid options including low-emissivity (low-E), argon-filled and triple pane glass. They are sold at independent home centers and through Lowes’ Reliabilt service.
One of the leading manufacturers and marketers, Marvin windows are available in multiple replacement and new-construction lines in widely sold double-hung and casement styles. Marvin's window lines include wood, clad, and composite construction, along with low-emissivity (low-E) and argon-filled (gas-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 widely sold double-hung and casement styles. Jeld-Wen window lines include wood, clad, vinyl, and aluminum construction, along with low-emissivity (low-E) and argon-filled (gas-filled) glass for high efficiency, and are sold through independent home centers and dealers.
One of the leading manufacturers and marketers, Pella makes its windows available in multiple replacement and new-construction lines in widely sold double-hung and casement styles. Pella window lines include wood, clad, vinyl, and aluminum construction, plus low-emissivity (low-E) and argon-filled (gas-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.
Reliabilt vinyl windows are available in multiple replacement and new-construction lines in widely sold double-hung and casement styles, plus low-emissivity (low-E) and argon-filled (gas-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 widely sold double-hung and casement styles, along with low-emissivity (low-E) and argon-filled (gas-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.
Window World is one of the leading manufacturers, dealers, and marketers of replacement windows. Window World sells a variety of window configurations including double-hung, casement and bay. Window World offers a variety of stock window sizes, and provides installation. Window World windows are sold at Window World retail centers and through partnerships with independent home centers.
Weather Shield wood-clad windows are available in multiple replacement and new-construction lines in widely sold double-hung and casement styles, along with low-emissivity (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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