The Bottom Line on Windows and Doors

The Bottom Line on Windows and Doors Looking to install new windows or doors? Like many homeowners, you might find this process to be completely over-whelming. We’ve put together some key questions to help you get started.

Why are you replacing your windows or doors?

Ask yourself these questions so you know what goals you want to achieve:

• Are your doors or windows not operating properly?

• Are they old and outdated, and is it just time to have them replaced?

• Are they drafty and do you want better energy efficiency?

• Would you prefer a different type or style?

• Are you concerned about lead paint?

• Can you take advantage of energy incentives and tax credits?

The Bottom Line on Windows and Doors

What type of replacement window installation method is right for your situation?

•    Inserts involve replacing the window sash only; the new window unit has its own frame and is installed in the original window frame. The existing trim (interior and exterior) and sills remain.

•    New construction involves replacing the entire window unit — i.e. the interior/exterior trim and window frame are removed. The new window unit is installed in the original framed rough opening, ideally with no additional frame work required.

What different window types are available?

All of the following options are available for replacement and new construction applications.

• If you choose all wood windows, possibly for historical reasons, be sure to factor in the cost of painting or staining on the interior and exterior.

• With wood interior and clad exterior (vinyl or aluminum) windows, the cladding covers the wood frame and sash on the exterior for protection from the weather. The interior is wood, which gives you the option to paint or stain.

•  Composite windows can be all vinyl (by far the most common insert-style window) or fibeglass base, interior and exterior. The fiberglass is pre-finished, typically left as is on the exterior, and painted on the interior (it cannot be stained). Vinyl comes in a few color options. Some composite windows have custom paint options.

What type of door replacement installation is right for your situation?

•  Full replacement — including frames and trim — is the norm for door replacements these days. For the most part, doors are more standard in terms of sizes than windows, and come in many styles and materials.

•   Door slab-only replacement involves removing the old door slab and installing a new slab in the existing frame. This option is done mostly with historic homes. Energy efficiency isn’t very good, but adding heavy-duty weather stripping can help.

What different door types are available?

•  Wood, the most aesthetically appealing option, comes in many styles and species. Fir is popular in this area, but mahogany, oak, ponderosa pine and other species are also available. We recommend painting or staining soon after installation and including a good storm door to protect the wood.

•  Fiberglass is the most energy-efficient and commonly installed door. Many styles, materials and options (e.g. smooth or wood grain) are available. These doors can be painted or stained. You can also have a composite door frame with vinyl cladding to make the exterior maintenance-free.

•  Steel doors have been surpassed by fiberglass in popularity. We mostly use this type of door for garage or basement-type (for the fire rating) applications.

What are good brands to consider?

Windows: Harvey, Anderson, Jeld-Wen, Marvin.

Doors: Therma-Tru, Harvey, Anderson, Simpson, Jeld-Wen.

Many replacement window companies have cropped up in recent years. After 24 years in business, we’ve seen countless homeowners spend good money on generic vinyl windows that end up needing repair parts. Unfortunately, once a window installer goes out of business, no replacement parts are available and the warranty goes away. In contrast, Harvey has been around since 1961 and provides a 20-year glass warranty for its vinyl windows. As is the case with Custom, Harvey’s warranty really means something.

Who should handle the installation?

This is the million-dollar question. A couple of years ago, we received a call from a homeowner who was having insert windows installed by the big orange home improvement store. When the installers removed one of the old windows, they uncovered extensive wood damage. At that point, they stopped installation and boarded up the opening, telling the homeowner they had to bring in a carpenter to fix the framing and siding. (They weren’t allowed to do any carpentry repair themselves.) In addition, the painting/finishing aspect needs to be done as well.

An experienced carpenter should be installing your windows — someone who will look at your house as a system. Water is the element that attracts insects and produces rot. If your windows are installed incorrectly, you run the risk of causing serious damage and having more air leak through than if you just left your old windows in place.

A Few Final Words

We strongly recommend staying away from the big box installers and the discount window specialty companies. The stories clients have told us about the latter sound like the stories people told years ago about the “tin men” (aluminum siding salesmen). These are foot-in-the-door, hard-sell, call-my-manager type companies that you really should avoid. In fact, we’d be willing to bet that many of their sales-people have no carpentry or window/door installation experience.

So please do your homework — and think about Custom for all your window and door needs.



Custom Contracting, Inc. 1267A Massachusetts Ave. Arlington, MA 02476 Phone: 781-648-2835 Fax: 781-648-0907 Email:

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