Best Replacement Windows From CR's Tests
How well do they hold up to wind and rain? Our tests show the winners.
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.
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.