This question isn't actually about the reviews per se (so don't close it), but I didn't know what else to call it.

I need to get some basic windows (new construction) and am getting very frustrated because every time I find a brand of windows that I can get, when I look up the company, there's pages and pages of one star reviews with "won't honor warranty", "leaks", "rude terrible service", "got all foggy after a year", etc.

And this seems to be true of every brand of window that I've come across, high priced or low. Now I've never had problems with windows that came with a house that I've lived in, but from the reviews it would seem that there's a bad window epidemic in America. I'm not convinced that's the case. Some cases may be bad contractors that installed the windows incorrectly. But how much is bad product vs bad installation, is impossible to gauge.

So here's the real question: Since reviews seem to be useless at determining what brand of windows are good, what factors should I be using instead to judge the quality of a window or window company?

Clarification: I'm looking for new construction rather than replacement windows.

  • I've seen this too and don't have an answer (unfortunately), just a comment. With window companies, doctors and many other service businesses, the typical person will only post if they are upset. And even when they are upset, a good business will try to fix the problems - and the problems may not even be their fault but due to misunderstandings or "buyer's remorse" (especially with window companies because the jobs are so big & expensive, and doctors because you put your health in their hands). So if 2% (pretty low!) are upset and they all post it can still look bad if the the other 98% say... – manassehkatz-Moving 2 Codidact Mar 17 '19 at 14:20
  • nothing at all. After all, why bother to search for a review site for a "ordinary, normal proper job well done". That is, I think, why so many businesses now follow up with surveys that end with "If you liked us (which is reinforced mentally by the survey complention process) please Like us on Facebook, post reviews on Google, etc." With products the posting tends to be more even - if you order online then the followup email gets you right back where you started (eBay, Amazon, Home Depot, etc.) so posting a positive review is "fresh" and easy. But with a service business there is a delay and – manassehkatz-Moving 2 Codidact Mar 17 '19 at 14:23
  • a disconnect - you got the service by someone putting windows in your house or by visiting a doctor's office, not by a few clicks to order online - so now you have to register, login, remember what you got, etc. - more work to do for no benefit to yourself. – manassehkatz-Moving 2 Codidact Mar 17 '19 at 14:24
  • 1
    Probably because each of those companies is also involved in the "replacement windows" game, and that's a racket. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Mar 17 '19 at 14:43
  • @Harper I agree - I could use new windows (but can't spend the money on them so haven't done it) and every so often will let one of the many salespeople that come by give a free estimate ("good for a year - or forever - no charge...blah blah blah") and every time come away they are a racket. Latest was roof (not as bad as the windows but need to do it sometime) - I was upfront "not signing anything this week or this month and we'll get back to you if/when we're ready" but the guy went through his whole pitch and quoted a price and when I repeated my original statement, he then calls... – manassehkatz-Moving 2 Codidact Mar 17 '19 at 15:02

You're really asking two questions: "why do window companies have terrible reviews?' and "what should I do?"

Why do window companies have terrible reviews?

There is no single "best" answer. In the U.S., the "Window" industry has lots of companies, like these:

  • local fabricators ("We are the factory!"), who buy glass by the truckload as a commodity, cut the glass and put it into frames (usually vinyl, sometimes fiberglass), and have their own installers. These guys often run "50% off" sales", "buy one get one free", and spend tons of money on advertising: billboards, radio, TV commercials. You can probably guess that anything that's regularly sold as "50% off" or "BOGO" is over-priced to begin with, or corners have been cut on quality.

  • small-time contractors who will install anything. You can luck out and find a good one, or you can find one that will disappoint you.

  • "Window replacement" divisions of the major national window manufacturers. You should know that "replacement windows" are not exactly the same as windows designed for new construction, and because they have installer crews, the national Replacement Window companies (like the local guys) are "sales-focused" (meaning production and revenue). They are also sometimes run as an "arm's length" division of the parent company, so they benefit from the parent's reputation, but they are more than just a manufacturing company that focuses on a quality product -- they also have to deal with the public (retail), hire installer crews, and compete with the local guys in an industry that's not known for a stellar reputation. These are the companies that will come to your house for a "free in-home consultation", sit on your couch, ask you if your spouse is home, ask you to "sign up today", offer "this week's special pricing", etc.

It may be that you were unlucky and picked "bad ones" to investigate their reviews, but bear in mind, the "barriers to entry" are low. I agree with the comments that "the typical person will only post (reviews) if they are upset"(1). Some people in the comments even say that the whole window-replacement industry is a racket.

What should I do?

If the "yellow pages" / online search method isn't working for you, here are two easier ways to go.

1. Find an independent home store.

Find a lumber yard that sells windows, doors, home improvement items and the like that does business with both the general public and contractors.

If you're lucky, and there are more than one in your area, start with the one that's been in business the longest. Go talk to them. They likely have a few contractors that they refer business to, or an in-house installation department, where they "sub out" to local contractors.

A business with a physical store to maintain will likely have screened their contractors well, and you know exactly where to go if there is a problem.

You may pay a slight premium, but a local business with a good reputation is a very good place to start. You generally won't feel any pressure to sign-up for an installation when you walk into such a place, because that's not their business model (they have folks walking in all the time).

Talk to them about the windows they carry. If you're looking at brand-name windows (in the U.S., names like Marvin, Pella, Andersen, Jeld-Wen), ask them about the different grades (levels of quality, or 'series') and what the differences are. Some of the bigger brands not only have different grades, they get down into the "builder-grade" using different brand-names (like "Silver Line by Andersen").

Tell them what's important to you.

  • Insulation R-value.
  • Ease of cleaning.
  • Whether the screens are on the inside or the outside.
  • Exterior and interior colors.
  • Whether you want the glass to be as flat and non-wavy as possible.
  • Price range you can afford.
  • Materials (wood, vinyl, fiberglass) -- if you don't know windows well, especially have a discussion about this.
  • How the windows operate.
  • Warranty.

You should be able to learn a lot about the product, and can come back to them multiple times until you're comfortable. Take their business card and let them know you'd like to come back with more questions. There won't be any pressure to sign up now while a sales person is sitting on your couch.

Source: I've had positive experiences in multiple U.S. metro areas where I've lived going this route (for Windows and other items like bathroom renovations).

2. Go to a national home-improvement center.

I don't always recommend them, but if you are in the U.S. and have one of the national chains in your area (Lowe's and Home Depot), you can always go to the windows department, talk to their people, and sign up with their installation.

Their business model is similar to locally-owned stores -- they have local contractors that they "sub-contract out to" -- but you will be dealing with the store and scheduling through folks that work at the store.

You may not pay the absolute lowest rate, but in my experience you will get a good-quality installation and if there is any disappointment, they will be in a position to make it right. The national names screen their contractors pretty carefully (they have to, they can't afford bad publicity) and require their contractors maintain minimum levels of satisfaction.

My personal preference is to support locally-owned businesses in my community when I can, but if #1 does not work for you, then #2 will give you a good-quality result at a fair price.

Source: Personal experience dealing with the inside-sales desk at both of the national chains.

There is no one best answer to this question, but this should get you moving on your project.

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