Buying Quality Windows: Do Brand Names Really Matter?

Close-up of the closed window of a building
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Homeowners often ask, how can I get a quality window? If you buy from one of the big three national brands--Pella, Marvin or Andersen--you are likely to get a decent window.

If you look at something like the National Fenestration Council’s list of window manufacturers, there are hundreds of manufacturers out there, some prominent, some not.

So the question is:  Do you need to look for big brand name windows like Pella or Simonton in order to get a good window?  What about those smaller regional brands?  How do they play into this?

To answer this question, we spoke with Lou Manfredini.  Lou is host of the "Mr. Fix-It" call-in program and a regular contributor to NBC's Today Show.  Lou says that:

National Brands are Important

Bottom Line:  Lou says that national brands do matter.

I have a very strong opinion about this. Branding does matter, in particular, because while there are hundreds of window companies, it’s a very fragmented industry. 

Regional Brands Do Not Confer the Idea of Quality to Everyone

Bottom Line:  He notes that regional brands may be high quality, but they mean little if you are not from that area.

[Gilkey Window Company is] from Cincinnati, and they make a…fine vinyl window, but it’s only in Cincinnati. 

[A]ll of a sudden you get relocated to come into Cincinnati and somebody says, “Oh, look at this great house that you’re going to buy, and isn’t it awesome, and they just put in these Gilkey windows.”

And what does that mean to you? It means nothing, right, you don’t know.

And so the branding part of it, whether it’s a Pella or an Andersen or a Marvin or a Weather Shield or Lincoln, these are brands that people recognize across the country.

Brands Help You Command a Better Selling Price

Bottom Line:  He says that, even if you do not care about national brands, people interested in buying your house might care.

So you really have to weigh in what your overall goal is on your home, from a standpoint of what your budget is, and how much pain you want to go through in the whole replacement process, and when you go to sell the house, that branding adds value.

So, you know, real estate brokers are very savvy, right, they list all the highlights of your home, close to this great school, close to transportation, it’s near this park, you have hardwood flooring throughout the home, you have Marvin windows and doors installed, or you have Pella windows and doors installed, that has value to the potential buyer, and I would always argue that that’s really the best investment for people.

There are Only Four Window Materials You Should Buy

Bottom Line:  Within the budget realm, Lou notes, the only materials that you should look for are vinyl, wood, composite, and fiberglass.

Now, within windows, what people need to understand is there’s really three choices: there’s vinyl, there’s a composite or an extruded fiberglass window, and then there are wood windows, preferably with aluminum cladding on the outside.

And each one of those fits a specific budget. However, the extruded fiberglass windows are comparable in price to some of the wood windows. But with vinyl…you’re going to buy a decent vinyl window in this country for about five hundred dollars per opening, installed.

You Can Expect Windows to Last 10 to 25 Years

Bottom Line:  He notes that cheap windows can be expected to last a decade, higher quality economy-level windows, about 25 years.

And you have to go into that knowing that, at best, and I mean at best, it’s a ten year proposition, meaning, you’re going to replace those windows again in ten years.

Now, if you get into one of these composite windows or a wood window with aluminum cladding from one of these major manufacturers, it’s a 25 year plus proposition because of the quality of the frame and how they’re built, and that window’s going to cost you a thousand dollars per opening, so it’s double the price.