The best time to make a decision about buying new windows is NOT while a tropical storm is brewing in the Caribbean. Hasty decisions to install hurricane protection in your home (or any structure) will rarely result in the purchase and installation of the right type of product or degree of protection.
We tend to get anxious and forget the most important rule of common sense shopping: don’t buy an expensive item without making sure it’s what you want or need. No one likes to be taken advantage of or find out, after the fact, that they didn’t make the best buy. Impact-rated windows (sometimes simply referred to as “impact windows”) are one of those items that many homeowners feel compelled to purchase without doing the proper research. If you don’t get the relevant information, it’s easy to make a bad decision that could result in buyer’s remorse. Here are some tips and information to help guide you in your decision making:
1. Old is not bad. Before you even consider new windows, impact-rated or non-impact-rated, perform an independent energy audit on your current windows. Most power companies like TECO, FPL or Duke Energy should perform this service for free. A professional audit can cost up to $500. You may find from the audit that spending just a few hundred dollars to weatherize your current windows can save a good deal of money on your energy bill. You may even find that you’ll save even more money by not needing new windows at all.
Even if your windows are old, they can still be good, especially if they are old wooden windows. Installing some replacement felt strips, some seals, and some caulk can make a world of difference in the performance of your current windows. Also, don’t think that new windows will be the solution to water leaks. Even new windows can allow water to enter your home in an amount that is “within the manufacturer’s acceptable standards.” Unfortunately, this is a phrase commonly used to address warranty issues related to air and water leaks. For whatever reason, your “acceptable standards” never seem to be as high as what you thought you paid for when you signed your contract.
2. Hurricane proof? Impact-rated windows are a “sacrificing” form of hurricane protection. They are designed to break, but once they break, they are not supposed to allow the wind to pressurize the inside of the building. Many people misinterpret the term “impact rated” as meaning “unbreakable” or “hurricane proof.” None of these terms is exact. In fact, impact-rated windows break much more easily than window companies would like you to know. To be clear, there is no hurricane-proof window or shatterproof window for residential use available from any of the major window manufacturers in the US.
There are plenty of videos online showing the mess that results from a broken impact rated window. If you don’t want the expense, mess, and inconvenience of replacing them after they break in storms, vandalism, or have a maintenance accident, you need to protect them. You can always choose to let them break and then file a claim with your insurance company, but we all know what happens to your policy rates when it comes time to renew.
3. Accidental breakage. Never rely solely on impact-rated windows for downstairs hurricane protection. A hit with a hammer or being hit by a rock will result in hundreds of dollars (or more) in damage. Whether the rock came from a lawn mower or the hammer from a window maintenance accident, both will cost you a lot of money to replace the window.
4. Vandalism. Due to their high replacement cost, make sure your chances of a “smash and grab” burglary attempt are nil before considering impact-rated windows. A vandal or street thug with a hammer, drilling tool, rock, sling, or glass cutter can cause thousands of dollars in damage to impact-rated windows very quickly. In most cases, regular windows with clear security panes are a more cost-effective approach.
5. Beach houses. If you live on the beach, always close windows (impact-rated or not) to prevent windblown sand from etching the glass during a storm. Some insurance companies already require you to close them, so if you don’t, your wind damage claim may not be honored for this type of damage.
6. Energy saving? Don’t be fooled by energy-saving claims about new impact-rated insulated windows that pay for themselves. Independent studies have shown that the payback time using energy savings exceeds 40 years, no matter what the salesperson tells you or the graphic you use. The more expensive the unit, the greater the profitability, not counting ongoing replacement costs due to seal failure in IGUs (Insulated Glass Units). Learn more about energy saving windows by doing a search for “Wood Window Replacement/Energy Analysis.” There are many independent studies available that refute the window industry’s energy saving claims. The FTC (Federal Trade Commission) has also issued written warnings to some of the glass manufacturers who have made unsubstantiated energy saving claims. Please Be Careful.
7. Repair or replace? Find out how far into the future replacement parts for your windows will be available. Get any guarantees in writing. If replacement parts are not available after just 10 years, it will mean that any window with broken springs, latches or seals will not be repairable. This means you’ll be buying new windows, again! This is one way window manufacturers lock in future business. You can read more about this on any of the online window replacement forums.
Speaking of replacement, most window warranties are “pro-rated” and only pay a small percentage of the replacement cost after the first few years of ownership. For example, if your new windows come with a 20-year warranty, ask a company representative to show you a what-if scenario of how much a new window would cost (using current prices) if it only lasted 15 years. Make sure you are aware of all maintenance procedures the owner must perform to keep the warranty in effect. Most “no maintenance” claims made by the seller only apply to the first year. After one year, the owner is responsible for caulking and other tasks annually for the entire duration of the warranty. Also, check what the “acceptable range” is for water penetration. Very few impact windows are guaranteed 100% waterproof during a tropical storm and I doubt any of them will be by the time they are 10 years old. Using blinds to keep water and wind away from windows is the best way to prevent leaks.
8. Good frames. Good quality powder coated or painted aluminum frames are stronger and will ALWAYS last longer than pvc frames. Its longer lifespan far outweighs ANY energy benefits of pvc over aluminum that the seller may use. The expected useful life of pvc when exposed to the elements is about 20 years; aluminum far exceeds 50 years.
9. Level of protection. Check with your local building code and insurance company to see what level of storm protection is required in your area. You will be entitled to premium discounts for the wind damage portion of your insurance policy. Remember that your building code is a set of MINIMUM standards used to determine the amount of protection needed – more is better. Closing your windows with approved protection should give you the maximum discount allowed, regardless of your window rating.
10. Installation. The choice of your installer can be just as important as the choice of product. Many established installers criticize (sometimes unfairly) new installers who are just getting started or don’t have an established track record. The state of Florida requires a building permit for hurricane protection installations, so you’ll need to have an inspector verify the installation (even if you install it yourself). This helps put installers on level ground and ensures proper installations, so insist that a permit is obtained for your project and don’t worry too much about giving a licensed and insured new installer a chance to save you money. Every installer was a “newbie” once.
Standard size windows usually do not require a large deposit to start your project, but if you order something custom sized you may be required to put down a 25-50% deposit. Custom size windows will only fit your house, so most factories won’t accept them.
Get started today! Investigate, investigate, investigate! Knowledge is power and an informed consumer is the only kind of being. When a salesperson realizes that you know the score from the questions you ask, he has to respect his knowledge. When you already know the basics of the quality of the product you want, you lessen your chances of getting something you don’t want. If you feel like your intelligence is being insulted or you don’t feel like you’re getting what you asked for, don’t be afraid to send them down the road. There are still honest window sellers out there who are professionals and work for companies with integrity. You just have to keep looking until you find them. Don’t give up or give up!