How do you buy a quality window? It's no easy task, given the fierce amount of competition out there. If you take the broadest approach possible—every single manufacturer out there—you have a collection of data so weighty and confusing, your search fails before it begins. The world of flooring, drywall, and paint manufacturers is fairly tight and contained; the world of window manufacturers is not: it sprawls. Where do you even begin to sift the good window makers from the poor ones?
Begin With NFRC Members
Using the National Fenestration Rating Council’s (NFRC) list of window manufacturers reduces that number from thousands to hundreds. The non-profit NFRC is an industry group composed of members of the window manufacturing industry.
So, while it is not in the business of pitting one member company against another member company, it does issue a set of standards under its product certification program. So, all standing NFRC members, for example, include an energy performance label on their windows that lists ratings for solar heat gain coefficient, U-factor, visible transmittance, and air leakage. Choosing windows from NFRC members will ensure a certain level of quality that may not be found with other window companies.
Do Window Brand Names Matter?
Do you need to look for big brand name windows to get a good window? What about those smaller regional brands? Branding does matter, in particular, because while there are hundreds of window companies, it is a very fragmented industry.
Choosing a brand name window will nearly always ensure a certain minimum level of quality. Older, established window companies have remained in business not by gouging or cheating customers in the short-term but by providing a reasonably consistent product over years if not decades. If these major brand name companies put out a bad product or provide poor customer service, they do have mechanisms in place, such as warranties, to cover the customers. Off-brand companies might offer warranties but fail to honor them. Worse, they might offer the warranties but not remain in business long enough to honor them.
It is important to remember that even if you do not care about window company brand names, other people might. When it comes time to sell your house, some real estate agents like to stress certain attractive brand names that may be found throughout the house, from appliances to flooring to windows. So it can work to your advantage to have major brand names, particularly legacy brands, on your windows when it comes time to sell.
Best Major Brand Window Manufacturers
Andersen Windows & Doors
In business for over a century, this Minnesota-based company produces a full complement of fenestration products: doors, windows, skylights, and more. Out of all of the major window brands, Andersen has risen to the top to become a "major among majors."
Jeld-Wen began operating in Klamath Falls, Oregon in 1960, but like many other companies eventually shifted operations to North Carolina. Jeld-Wen has aggressively been buying and starting smaller fenestration-based businesses in the last decade, making it a multi-layered, full-service company.
Along with Andersen, Pella is probably one of the best-known residential window companies in the U.S. True to its name, Pella is still based in Pella, Iowa. Pella operates its store-within-a-store operations in Lowe's Home Improvement stores.
Marvin Windows and Doors
Based in the U.S. Midwest, Marvin Windows & Doors has been a fiercely family-held and family-operated company since 1904. Over the years, Marvin has racked up awards for window quality and customer satisfaction. In 2012, President Obama held up Marvin as an example of American manufacturing quality, along with the fact that Marvin refused to lay off workers during a deep economic downturn a few years earlier.
When corporate conglomerates amass home-related companies, there is the danger that these smaller companies may lose their sense of identity and mission. For Milgard Windows, it helps that its corporate parent is Masco. Masco may not roll off of most tongues but many of its subsidiaries may: KraftMaid Cabinets, Merillat, Delta, KILZ, Behr paint, and, of course, Milgard. Milgard offers full lifetime warranties on all of its products. Unlike most window manufacturers, which rely on partner companies to supply them with glass, Milgard makes its own glass at its California plant. Milgard is one of few vertically integrated window companies. But because Milgard controls every step of the manufacturing process, high quality is ensured.