Our window replacement project now complete, it is all over but the Blogging
Really, our choices were vinyl or wood. Aluminum had no real advantage, fiberglass was out of our price range, as were wood-clad or other complicated hybrid window styles.
So we did what most semi-informed consumers do, we delved into the marketplace.
Full disclosure here, Tig and I are bad consumers. By that, I mean we just don’t do the shopping thing well. To say we have high sales resistance is to downplay the problem. It is more that we rarely find anything worth buying. A trip to the Mall is something we avoid at all costs, as it fills us with what Hunter called “Fear and Loathing”. I simply do not enter the retail environment in the month of December. When one of us decides we need to buy something, say, a shirt for work, we steel our resolve and enter the fray, and rarely come out satisfied with our purchases, and more often walk out having bought nothing, realizing that we are not the target market for anything. The modern consumer experience is not designed for us, and we are not designed for it. So why force the issue?
So when Sssssalesmen start coming to our house with quarter-cuts of windows as samples and lots of glossy brochures, to do a few measurements and drop us an estimate with an abstract 5 digit number on it… this is usually a bad experience for all involved. I am not going to name any of the non-successful bidders, they live in their own window-sales Hell, may the Flying Spaghetti Monster have noodly mercy on their souls. Suffice to say, we saw them all, or a wide enough sampling so as to be statistically significant.
We asked a lot of questions, and some were better at answering them than others. The higher-priced people made compelling cases for rigidity of the vinyl, for higher numbers of void spaces in the window frames, for colour options, for muntin designs to match the heritage of our house.
The problem with vinyl becomes pretty clear: if you want a strong structure with lots of void space for thermal efficiency, there needs to be a big, thick window frame. Making that big, thick window frame fit into the pre-existing hole in the house, without getting into expensive and difficult mucking about with stucco and plaster and drywall, you start to lose significant window space. In a 1940 house with relatively small window space to start with, this becomes significant.
Also, vinyl, for all it’s flexibility in design, is kind of ugly. You can have pretty much any colour you want, but white is about the only colour offered (economies of scale limit the ability of these companies to extrude numerous colours locally). The size of some of our double-hung windows limited the ability of their relatively weak frames to support the structure; so many sssssales people pushed us to alternate styles that were less appealing. The design elements (muntin grilles, opening hardware, etc.) were generally cheap-looking and added on, and took more away from the look than they added.
Then there were uncertainties about the install. We had guys promise to do the total install of 19 windows in one day, “no problems”. That is a pretty bold promise to make in a 70 year old house after 2 minutes of looking at a window. It did not instill confidence that they would be taking utmost care or managing unforeseen issues with my best interests in mind. One test of this was to show the ssssssales person that crappy downstairs install I pointed out earlier. The range of reaction we got were telling. Some were aghast that anyone would slap a window in like that, while others basically said, yeah, it doesn’t look too bad, must have been a funny sized opening… you should maybe add a little silicone… . Needless to say, that quick-filtered many proposals (and, perhaps not paradoxically, those were generally the lowest bidders).
Another irritant was never really having an impression of how the windows in their glossy brochure would look in our house. Invariably, the ssssales guy would show up with a ¼ of a window so we could see the void spaces that made them so efficient, but rarely with a complete window. Some offered local references, and this lead to us wandering the streets of Queens Park and West end looking at (not through) innocent people’s windows. We also tried to go to any showrooms or warehouses so we could put our fingers on the actual product, see what it actually looks like. This caused some of the ssssales people discomfort, and some companies really didn’t have a showroom or display product (other than the ¼-cut window with all those wonderful void spaces!) to show. Is it just me, or is asking someone to spend 5 figures on a product they really haven’t seen a normal thing in sales?
After a couple of months, and more than a dozen sales folks, it seemed we were back to Square 1. Exploring the options for wood windows lead us to a couple of fairly large and well-regarded companies, and initial meetings looked good. We got to go to an actual showroom to look at actual windows, install options looked good. Unfortunately, being a relatively small project to some of these companies, it seemed options were limited. Not totally limited, but very cost limited. As these windows were manufactured in far-off places familiar only from Coen Brothers Movies, every little deviation from a “standard” size of install added up quickly. Wood manufacturing does not have the flexibility at the factory level that vinyl does.
Then we found a local company that seemed to get it. They made wood windows specifically for the heritage-home market, and their ssssales guy was also the owner, so he was interested in making us happy instead of his commission. He was also very straight-forward about what was and wasn’t possible in our house, he was realistic about what we could (and should) do. He was incredibly patient taking the time to answer our questions, but didn’t call us every day to try to close the sale. He was also asking a little more than we wanted to spend. But pretty soon in, Tig and I know we found our guy, we just needed to figure out how to get the windows.