Where do you start your window replacement process? With so many resources available online, through the word of mouth, and possibly even in your mailbox in form of fliers, it may be outright daunting trying to cut through the weeds and get the right information you need. Part of the problem here are the window companies themselves. They often omit information or outright lie to make their products and methods seem more appealing to close the deal.
That’s why with all the information out there today, it is especially important for you as a homeowner to have at least a basic understanding of what a window replacement is, the different types of products available, the main types of window installation, and what you can hopefully expect from a specific company if you decide to go with them.
Window Replacement Research Guide
We’ve put together this window replacement guide with a list of resources that can help you figure out what your window replacement needs are, provide some information about properly-accredited window companies, and hopefully begin to stir some questions in your mind about your personal window replacement needs. Note: there is plenty of information offered by different window companies, but in the interest of fairness, most of the resources offered here are by third-party independent organizations, or by the government of Canada. You’ll note that some of these guides and websites are fairly lengthy, but they often offer a summary that still provides plenty of useful information.
When should you replace your old windows?
A lot of times when we speak to homeowners, it becomes clear that they’re not sure whether to replace old windows or repair. It is true, most window problems usually have a temporary fix that can extend their life. But if your windows look like they have water damage on or around the frame, and there are significant drafts, or if the window frame is coming apart, it is probably best to start thinking about replacing. With some exceptions, windows should usually get replaced every 20-25 years.
Check out this video on how to look for signs of damage on your windows:
A good starting point in learning about replacement windows is the guide on Improving Window Energy Efficiency from Natural Resouces Canada. This guide is great for helping you recognize problems with your existing windows, the solutions available to you on the market, as well as some answers to the most common questions homeowners have at the outset of their replacement. If you read nothing else, try to at least look at this guide before your window quote appointment.
If you really want to get into the knowledge and become an expert on replacement windows, check out the much bigger and more comprehensive Consumer’s Guide To Buying Energy-Efficient Windows and Doors. This guide is 50 pages long, but is conveniently structured into chapters for easy reading.
Improve energy efficiency in your home
In many ways, window replacement is a solution to a bigger scale problem, the problem of energy efficiency in your home. Proper air flow is a big part of energy efficiency. How well your home prevents air from escaping, keeps the heat in, and allows for circulation of air, is at the essence of good energy efficiency. But simply getting new windows will not make your home energy efficient. Understanding that they are part of a bigger efficiency system, will. The whole concept of a system is important because often windows rely on other structural components in your home to be sound and secure. It makes no sense for example to replace your windows if you have a leaky roof right above them, as the incoming moisture will negate any benefit of a replacement.
Check out this Natural Resources Guide To Keeping The Heat In your home. This guide takes the approach of recognizing your home as a system and offers lots of insightful information on what measures you can take to make your home energy efficient. There is some information on window replacement specifically, but there is a ton of good stuff about best practices, materials, and tips for ensuring maximum energy efficiency from your home.
Make sure you’re buying quality windows
Once you start getting window quotes, there is a good chance that most companies that you see will say that their windows are the best, and are of the highest quality. And because with replacement windows it is difficult to judge their performance just by looking at them, you may find yourself wondering which product really is better. Thankfully, if you are looking for quality, then all the information is already available to you.
The best way to get energy-efficient windows is to buy products that are Energy Star rated and CSA certified. Energy Star is an international organization that rates household appliances and building materials based on their energy efficiency performance. In Canada, Energy Star outlines three specific climate zones for window performance. Most urban areas in the country fall under Climate Zone 2, and require windows to have an ER rating of 29 or higher.
Energy Star and CSA (Canadian Standards Association) use similar rating parameters when assessing how well a window performs, and whether it’s rated for one area or another. In the majority of cases if a company’s windows are Energy Star rated they will also be CSA certified in Canada. The performance data is collected for all the different window configurations and options and is available publicly, so there is a very concrete way to compare window performance between two companies.
For a searchable list of ENERGY STAR participating window retailers and their ratings check out this Natural Resources Canada page.
You can find the list of the participating CSA companies and the window performance ratings on their Certified Product Listing Page.
Another important thing to remember is that these organizations require their products to be labeled with their respective logos. It is part of demonstrating to the customer that the windows are suitable for their climate zone, and that the homeowner is getting exactly the product they paid for. Be sure to ask if a company’s windows are Energy Star rated and CSA certified before purchasing, and look for those symbols on the windows when they arrive at your home.
Get the right installation for your replacement
You now know that to get quality windows you should shop for products that are Energy Star rated and CSA certified. But how do you make sure that the installation quality matches that of the windows? After all, no matter how good the new window is, it will still leak and cause damage to the wall structure if not installed correctly. So is there a governing body that certifies competent installation?
New construction windows in Canada, have to be installed in accordance with the National Building Code. But when it comes to replacement windows there is a lot more room for interpretation in the code. Replacement windows and doors most often have to be installed in accordance with CSA’s Window, Door, and Skylight Installation Standard. You can purchase the publication yourself, but it is also available in parts online. What’s more important is that the company you decide to go with is actually familiar with the standard and utilizes it. Often if the company’s windows are officially CSA certified, the company also takes it upon themselves to abide by the installation method standards.
Another way good installers are recognized in Canada is through the participation in the WindowWise program. WindowWise educates, certifies, and quality assures window and door installers around the country. While abiding by CSA standards is almost mandatory for any window company, participation in WindowWise is not. One big benefit companies that participate in WindowWise have, is that they usually offer a labour warranty of 5 years, which is significantly longer than the standard 1-2 year labour warranty. Learn more about WindowWise on their official website.
Does a window installation require a permit?
A common question that always comes up at the outset of a window installation, is whether a permit is required. Simply put, if you are not looking to expand any of your existing window openings, you don’t need a permit. Replacing windows with the same size unit doesn’t affect the carrying members in the wall structure, and doesn’t need to be approved by the city.
However, if you are looking to expand your windows (especially sideways) it is almost certain that you should get a permit from your municipality before any work commences on your property.
Check out window companies’ online reviews
Hopefully, the above information will help you get familiar with window installation processes, products, and best practices. It should also assist in narrowing down the list and eliminating some companies whose windows don’t meet Canadian standards for energy efficiency.
Once you narrow your list down, it is a good idea to check out what people are saying about them online. We left this part for last because online reviews should be taken with a dose of skepticism. A lot of companies today indulge in getting fake or assisted reviews to boost their reputations. Vice versa, there are companies who may not have a lot of online presence and are getting unjustly hurt by the few negative reviews while the bulk of their good work goes undocumented. That’s why window reviews aren’t necessary ideal for determining whether a company is good or bad. What they are good for, is noticing patterns of where a company falls short on their promises. Read several bad reviews or complaints about a window company, and there is a good chance the majority of them will be about a similar issue. Most often it’s things like bad communication from the head office, or changing project timelines and installation dates. It will be up to you to decide whether the company is still worth giving your business to, but at the very least you can be aware of where they faltered in the past, and maybe even ask them directly if you will experience the same problems if you decide to buy from them. Bringing attention to problems they had in the past, can only help ensure the company does everything in their power to prevent the same mistake from being repeated with you.
The most common sites for company reviews in Canada are Homestars and the Better Business Bureau. You can find out what existing customers are saying about local window companies on Homestars and BBB, check their ratings, and look for some common complaints clients had in the past.
Learn everything you need to know about replacing your windows:
Get answers to the most frequently asked window questions
Find out what questions YOU should ask at your quote appointment
Follow the window replacement process in our visual INFOGRAPHIC