From shoddy to shady, some window companies in Hampton Roads are either clueless about proper installation or out to make a quick buck and then disappear. Because replacement windows are such a major investment, don’t simply hire the first guy to show up on your doorstep with a flyer (or a company advertising $199 window specials).
In the first article of this two-part series, we looked at tips for choosing the best replacement window model, as well as the difference you’ll see from new energy-efficient windows. Now that you understand what goes into a quality window, you need to be aware of common problems in the window industry, thanks to unscrupulous window installers. I chatted with the owner and window specialists at Quality Built Exteriors about some of their horror stories, where they got called in after another company wreaked havoc on a home.
Gerald Massengill & Steve Jacobs are sales reps who have worked with replacement windows for decades.
Mike Reedy, owner of Quality Built Exteriors, has also sold replacement windows for many years.
All of these professionals are skilled at finding the source of window problems—and solving them. Here are the issues they’ve encountered most often from a shoddy window installer:
He goes out of business before the problems start.
Mike: It never fails. Every year around Christmas, four to five of our competitors go out of business. They get more service calls than they can handle, so they just close their doors and restart under a different name. By the time your problems start, they’re already gone.
Gerald: Some problems show up after only a few years. Bad seals start busting around the windows, and then they fog up. You can see it on people’s houses when you drive by. But you often can’t get the company back out to replace the sashes, and then it’s too late. Once condensation has gotten inside, all you can do is change out the whole window.
He puts “band-aids” on the problem until the warranty ends.
Steve: I watch it happen all year long, it’s nuts. The window starts leaking or separating, so the window installer comes back out to do a quick fix that will help just long enough to wait out the warranty. Then they say, it’s your problem now! Others will claim the problem is due to something else unrelated to the installation. We see it all the time!
Mike: Of course, if you get the right window and a proper installation in the first place, you won’t even need to call someone back out. Condo associations often come to us, especially those by the water, saying ours was the only window that didn’t leak during a storm. Then they want us to replace windows for all the other units in the building.
He sells you a cheap window that won’t perform well.
Gerald: People think they are getting low-E glass and argon-filled windows, only to find out later that they were given clear glass with no gas filling. One customer called us and said they’d bought energy-efficient windows from another company, but that they still felt cold. We came out and put a heat lamp on their window to test it and find out (low-e glass and argon should greatly affect how much of the temperature comes through), and sure enough, the heat came right through… just like the cold was doing. They had to buy new windows all over again, sadly. When we had gotten the first of our windows put in, I put the heat lamp on it so they could feel the difference, and they were amazed. They just didn’t know what to look for with the original company.
Mike: When you get a cheaper window, you often end up replacing it within months or years because it just doesn’t perform. I’ve noticed that a lot with customers who bought the cheapest windows being advertised. The window company goes under because they have to do so many service calls and work orders, and meanwhile the homeowner is losing energy efficiency and dealing with problems like water damage from leaks. If it’s not gas filled and/or low e (a slight tint that you can’t see with the eye, which reflects light), it’s not going to perform as well. And with a cheap window, simple things like direct sun can bow the vinyl. When you upgrade just a couple steps up in a window, you get a much better result, including thicker glass.
As a consumer, it’s hard to tell a good window from a bad window (at least at first), so it’s important to do business with a reputable company with a lot of positive reviews. It boils down to the quality of the window as well as the quality of the installation. We take extra steps to make our windows perform—such as filling the frame with foam to make it stronger and more energy efficient! You can’t see it, but it’s insulated all the way to the core. Also, our locks are drilled in to a metal frame underneath (some companies just screw them into the plastic, which will eventually come off).
He doesn’t remove the siding/brick/stucco around the window first.
Steve: Removing the siding materials around the window is key to a proper fit and seal. Just yesterday, I was called out to a stucco house with window problems. Their insurance company had referred them to us, and I hated giving them the news that the problem was due to improper installation (which insurance does not cover). The contractor, which was a major local company, had not removed the stucco first, and then had flashed the windows poorly (along with the roof). Water had been gradually leaking in, and the homeowner had been trying to get the remodeler to fix it for three years. In the end, we reinstalled the windows properly and replaced the stucco with vinyl siding by her request. But a proper installation in the first place would have saved her thousands of extra dollars.
He puts in the wrong window size.
Gerald: All windows today have to be custom ordered, made down to the quarter inch. At this one house we went to, the contractor had ordered them a little too big, but rather than owning up to his mistake and placing a new order, he crammed them into the opening anyway. The fit was so bad that the homeowners could not open the windows or even get the screen out.
Mike: On the flip side, a lot of companies try to put a small window into a big space, and just fill the gap with caulk and different types of insulation. They constantly leak. We get a lot of calls for that.
He doesn’t know how to properly frame and flash around the window
Gerald: I saw where a big company in the area had installed windows at someone’s house. When the homeowner opened her kitchen window, the whole thing fell out! The window company had just placed the window there and caulked around it; they never drilled it in.
Just recently, I was putting in siding on another house that had gotten new windows installed by someone else. It turns out they had not sealed and framed the windows properly, and water was getting in like crazy. The two-by-fours all the way down the wall were rotted and had to be replaced!
Mike: To put in a replacement window rather than one made for new construction (latter is the best choice), you need more expertise on making sure it’s done right and flanged in properly. You have to remove siding and brick around it. Steve does it really well, with an aluminum seal around the outside as a lip. You might have to pay $1000 per window instead of $600 per window to have it done RIGHT. People out there advertising $199 are cutting everything out and selling a shoddy window. They do it to the minimum standard. If something major happens, there is no secondary layer of defense. We’re making sure there’s a safety net on the off chance even one of OUR windows leaked. As a reminder, insurance does NOT cover improper installations—on anything!
He uses low-grade installation products
Steve: This one couple purchased a house and were upset to find what they thought was termite damage. But then they found out it was water damage from their windows, and were told to call us. We discovered that the house had replacement windows that been installed using low-grade materials and the wrong type of installation process, which let in wind and water. In the end, they needed over $7,000 in structural repairs to their drywall and floors from the years of infiltration, and also had to replace the damaged windows. Even when you buy the best-quality window, if it’s installed cheaply, it can let in water—and that’s when you’ll start getting wood rot, mold, microbial growth, and yes, termites.
He isn’t upfront about the vendor who made the window
Mike: Make sure you hire a window company that’s been around a while. Research the company and who is making the window for them. My vendor, Soft-Lite, has earned a bunch of honors and recognition for their quality (including the 2018 National ENERGY STAR Sustained Excellence Award). I have them custom-make my windows; I can dictate what I want to sell and have it fabricated to my quality level. I also have exclusive rights to sell that product in Hampton Roads, so you won’t find my windows anywhere else around here. And finding a good window is difficult! It’s why we ended up having one made to what I felt was optimal for Hampton Roads homes. I saw what my customers needed and then had it made factory direct; we then pass the savings along to the customer. People often don’t realize just how good a window they’re getting from us!
Call Quality Built Exteriors for a free quote on replacing your windows!
Melissa James is "The Exterior Enthusiast" for Quality Built Exteriors. She has written about home decorating and improvement since 2005.
Learn more. Got a question or comment for Melissa? Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org