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I'd like to support local and there's 3 companies nearby that offer custom made vinyl windows. They all seem to be >30 year old companies, which I respect a lot.

I did a ton of research it seems like 2 out of 3 of the companies build windows using a system by Quantex and/or Chelsea Building Products, but it seems like hundreds of companies build windows using this system and all of those companies use different brand names for their windows. It's very hard to research the quality of these windows. It seems that most custom window shops use premade plastic extrusions or wood profiles and just cut/assemble like a custom art framing shop does, so I'm less worried about who engineered the windows, but I am worried about the quality. Who else is buying from them if they're this uncommon? Are they white label manufacturers for other brands?

I've read that a lot of the home store windows aren't great, and I know local lumber yards can order "better" national brands, but I'm at a loss on how this industry functions and who's making what quality. There's no readily available information on alternatives to these brands, most of the docs I've found are aimed at high rise architects, not small residential.

What would you look into for the local window companies? Any reason I should or should not go with a "no name" versus a national brand?

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I guess it depends what you mean by quality. It seems like the only thing you are interested in is the frame. You have no requirements around the glass?

I've bought windows from a small manufacturer before - they forgot to drill the weep holes. Post drilling the weep holes look pretty rough. One of the triple GUs had a 2' long scratch on the interior of the glass (this is the glass manufacturers fault but doesn't say much for the quality assurance on the side of the window manufacturer).

Are you doing the install or do they have a team? I'd go out and take a look at some of their other installs and talk to customers who have their windows. I'd also take a look at their warranties.

I also bought windows from a local company but toured their factory. I also specified the low-e coatings. This was a higher end window company though and their product is/was great.

I've bought windows from the box stores as well - they seem good. Typically you buy from a window manufacturer if you are after high performance and custom sizes. The box stores are great for pricing if your window openings are sized for there in stock sizes.

Cost effective and energy efficient kind of go against each other. On a new build I typically go with less windows but bigger. I find the best compromise is vinyl frame with steel reinforcement, triple pane windows with 366/180 on surface 2/5 and a 90/10 argon/air mix and a super efficient spacer. Absolute best performance would be fiberglass frame, triple pane, 366/180 on 2/5 and a 90/10 krypton/air mixture. 3mm glass is quite thin so possibly in the future I'd opt for 4mm or thicker. Also some 3mm is actually less than 3mm depends on the glass manufacturer.

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  • IMHO, the defects described in your second paragraph really ought to be fixed by replacement under warranty. For sure the scratch, and even the weep holes (even if it's theoretically feasible to repair in-place). This is where a manufacturer's warranty and their responsiveness come into play. FWIW, we installed Milgard vinyl windows and fiberglass doors in our new construction and while I've got quibbles about fit-and-finish in places, anything truly a defect, they have been 100% on top of dealing with, including complete replacement of one defective door. Completely headache-free. – Peter Duniho Jan 16 at 0:30
  • They did come out and put in weep holes and replace the glazing unit. More of a hassle than anything else. The site installed weep holes were quite rough though, these were cut into the metal frame of the window with tin snips and a shaky hand by the look of them. What fit and finish issues did you have with Milgard? – Fresh Codemonger Jan 16 at 7:23
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    "site installed weep holes were quite rough though" -- that's part of my point. My presumption is that properly constructed, the windows would have been delivered with factory-finished weep holes, with better fit and finish. "What fit and finish issues..." -- my biggest complaint is the relatively flimsy/imprecise lockset hardware that makes up their multi-point French door latch. The thumb lock in particular has a cheap feel to it. I had an Anderson door that IMHO was built a lot better (granted, 20 years earlier...I didn't look at the latest examples). – Peter Duniho Jan 16 at 7:26
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    I have other complaints, but they are less significant, and anything remotely "defect" oriented, they've come right out and dealt with. They say the lockset is operating as designed, but other stuff has involved things like misaligned windows and doors, non-square door frame, missing/incorrectly-sized window screens, that kind of thing, all of which were addressed promptly once we discovered and reported them. I have great respect for a company like that, that provides that kind of responsive customer support. – Peter Duniho Jan 16 at 7:30
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What would you look into for the local window companies? Any reason I should or should not go with a "no name" versus a national brand?

Seems like the approach would be the same as for pretty much any other durable good: verify the reputation of the company, weight that according to how long the company's been in business, and then keep that in mind as you evaluate the warranty that they offer. The evaluation of the company's reputation will include information about how responsively that company honors its warranties.

For reputation, you can look at resources like the Better Business Bureau, Yelp, Angie's List, etc., and that's useful. But even better would be to ask around. Talk to building contractors to see if they have experience with the companies in question, and even window installation contractors (who may have their own agenda, but will at least have more direct experience with the products in question).

You should also ask for references, but take any of that with a grain of salt. Any company or contractor will do their best to make sure the only customers they let you talk to are ones that they are sure will give them a good review. But you can at least get an idea of how good the windows could be, and what kind of customer service the company could provide.

People often say to get three references, but my experience has been that three is often too few. You are more likely to get at least one really honest, critical evaluation (as in "I know you liked this company, but if you had to say anything about what they need to improve on, what would it be?") if you get five or more references. It's more work, but it's probably worth it for something as expensive and critical to the health of a building as windows.

(Full disclosure: I have plenty of times, even after getting several references and following up on them, been disappointed with the level of quality of service I've gotten from a contractor. I chalk this up to the fact that a large proportion of customers can't tell the difference between a good job and a crap job, which makes it impossible for them to give realistic feedback about the quality of a contractor. In any case, references are probably the least-informative type of research a consumer can do.)

You may also be able to parlay the references into additional contacts, i.e. the company that installed the windows, if not the manufacturer, as well as possibly getting site visits to see the installed product. Installers may work with a variety of brands, and can offer you better and less-biased advice about the different manufacturers, including the relative number of warranty claims between companies. Again, more references means higher likelihood of a wider variety of installers to talk to.

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