Best Replacement Windows From CR's Tests

How well do they hold up to wind and rain? Our tests show the winners.

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light coming through a window into a room Photo: iStock

The best replacement windows keep out noise and the elements while letting in maximum light. They’re easy to open and clean. And they’re energy efficient, saving you money on utility bills.

Ideally, these glass protectors won’t shatter your finances. But don’t expect to get off too easy, pricewise. Replacement windows get costly quickly because they’re typically custom-made.

"One can go into Home Depot and buy a window or windows off the shelf, and a homeowner with some skills can install them," says Rico de Paz, who leads CR’s replacement window testing. "But the odds of finding the exact-sized window for an existing wall opening are slim or none."

That means even if you do the installation yourself, you’ll need to buy a custom-manufactured window through a home-improvement center or a window dealer. Many people order them through their contractors. Unless you have a connection in the business, the least-costly replacement windows will typically set you back several hundred dollars apiece, factoring in installation. Higher-end and custom replacement windows can easily run in the four figures.

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For this reason, it’s wise to comparison shop. Ideally, you’ll get a handful of bids, each representing a custom plan tailored to your home. The person developing your quote is likely to steer you toward a particular window brand and certain energy-efficiency specs and styles. Once you have a range of bids, you can compare them and choose the best one for your wallet and window needs.

You can use our test-based replacement window ratings to ensure that you get a quality product. The ratings include windows from Alside, Andersen, Atrium, Jeld-Wen, Pella, Ply-Gem, Reliabilt, Simonton, and Window World. You can also check out our replacement window buying guide to get a feel for what features and styles you might encounter in your search, as well as how to find an installer.

How We Test Windows

To put these custom products through their paces, we ordered a double-hung window from a variety of manufacturers. Our previous window testing has shown that most windows stand up to simulated aging; we now focus instead on how well a window can withstand the elements.

“We gave each manufacturer measurements for a 3x5-foot window so that we could simulate someone having their windows made—then we tested the windows for wind and rain resistance,” says de Paz.

After installing each window in a wooden frame, test engineers seal one side and rig a specially made device that simulates wind velocity. They raise the air flow by 25 mph and 50 mph and measure air leakage with a flow meter. We run this test at 0° F and 70° F to evaluate whether the frames can hold up to the shrinking that can happen at low temperatures.

To test rain resistance, we simulate windblown rain by pelting the window with 5 gallons of water per square foot per hour. Windows that earn an Excellent rating in this test can withstand simulated wind up to 74 mph, or gale-force winds. The worst windows leaked at about 35 mph.

Our tests found that even within the same brand of replacement windows, not all lines perform the same. Below, CR members can view some of the best windows from our testing.

Vinyl Replacement Windows

Vinyl windows make up the largest part of the replacement window market. They don’t need to be painted or stained, but you’ll probably find fewer options when choosing colors and hardware.

Wood Replacement Windows

Most wood window frames are made of solid wood. They’re generally the most expensive type of window, and sellers typically offer many finish and hardware choices.

Composite Replacement Windows

Typically made of wood fiber and a thermoplastic resin, composite windows look more like wood than vinyl windows do, and they generally cost less than solid wood windows.

Tobie Stanger

I cover the money side of home-related purchases and improvements: avoiding scams, making sense of warranties and insurance, finding the best financing, and getting the most value for your dollar. For CR, I've also written about digital payments, credit and debit, taxes, supermarkets, financial planners, airlines, retirement and estate planning, shopping for electronics and hearing aids—even how to throw a knockout wedding on a shoestring. I am never bored. Find me on Twitter: @TobieStanger