What to include in a window installation contract

There are many reasons that replacing your old windows seems like a bright idea. But new views come with a steep price tag.

While some contractors tout resulting energy savings as a reason to invest in their window wares, their extravagant claims and estimates often are sketchy. Plus, ratings that Checkbook receives from local homeowners indicate some companies often supply their customers with substandard products and do lousy installation work.

To make your search for new windows easier, Star Tribune readers can access Twin Cities Consumers’ Checkbook’s unbiased ratings of local window installers until Dec. 5 via checkbook.org/startribune/windows.

Start window shopping by visiting installer showrooms. Ask staffers to explain features and installation techniques and grab catalogs to peruse later. And if you are adding or enlarging windows or doing new construction, get ideas online and from home design magazines.

You’ll want windows appropriate for your house’s architecture and your neighborhood. If you live in a historic district or a neighborhood with a homeowners association, find out what is allowed. For example, preservation officials or homeowners association rules might ban vinyl windows or specify certain types of window muntins (grids). Ignore them and you might have to tear out what you install.

You’ll find a very wide price range for each type of frame material. In general, vinyl is the least expensive option and wood usually is midrange with exterior-clad wood more expensive. Fiberglass models top the price list.

Despite what you might hear from a salesperson, new windows that replace old, drafty ones won’t pay for themselves in energy savings. Check claims about energy savings with info available from the independent Efficient Windows Collaborative (www.efficientwindows.org).

For information on durability, check Consumer Reports. It periodically tests about 15 models for resistance to wind and rain. Also compare warranties: Better-sealed window units tend to come with warranties of 20 years or more and don’t prorate reductions in the covered value as time passes.

Know that choosing a good installer is as important as choosing the right windows. Unfortunately, in addition to making sketchy claims about the environment and energy savings, some companies abuse customers with high-pressure sales tactics and substandard products and installations.

Once you’ve decided on a window model, obtain several written price quotes. You’ll find enormous price differences for the same windows and work. For example, for one carefully specified replacement job Checkbook’s undercover shoppers received price quotes from area companies that ranged from $3,384 to $6,000.

The Inflation Reduction Act includes provisions that can help pay for window installation projects. For 2022, if you install Energy Star-certified windows you can claim a $200 tax credit on your federal return. Beginning in 2023, that tax credit gets increased to equal 30% of the cost of eligible improvements, with a maximum credit of $600 for window replacement jobs.

Whichever company you hire, make sure you get an airtight contract. It should include:

  • Detailed information on the product and installation procedure (whether flashing will be installed, whether the windows or trim will be painted, size of window openings and glass area after installation).
  • The contractor’s insurance information. The company should carry two types — general liability and workers’ compensation — and be willing to show you a certificate that confirms coverage.
  • Payment schedule. You should be able to pay all, or at least half, the contract price after the work is complete. The more you leave to the end, the more leverage you’ll have to make sure the work is done satisfactorily.
  • A notation that your project will qualify you to receive the federal tax credit, if applicable.
  • Work schedule. The starting date should be firm, so you can prepare for the job. A completion date is less important because most projects can start in a week or less and take only a day to complete. But it’s wise to add a phrase indicating that the work will be continuous and a note about who will be onsite supervising the job.
  • Quality promises. To provide some recourse if the job proves to be obviously substandard, contracts should contain a phrase to the effect that the contractor will complete the project in a workmanlike and professional manner.
  • Cleanup. Because window replacement projects generate a lot of construction debris, carting it away and paying disposal fees should be part of the contract.
  • Compliance with lead abatement laws. If you have any reason to believe your home contains lead-based paint — and if it was built before 1978 it probably does — ask contractors to show proof of their lead renovator certifications. In any contracts you sign, include a statement requiring contractors to follow EPA regulations for containing the work area and minimizing the generation of lead-paint dust.

Twin Cities Consumers’ Checkbook magazine and Checkbook.org is a nonprofit organization with a mission to help consumers get the best service and lowest prices.

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