Many homeowners don’t realize even realize how noisy, dusty, or uncomfortable their windows have become until they have them replaced. And new windows offer more than a chance to change your home’s look. They may also help you with noise insulation in your bedroom or keep the sun off your back in your kitchen.
To understand how new windows can affect your household’s overall comfort—and even your safety—we sat down with Dan Hatcher, the owner of Zen Windows in Austin, Texas. Here’s his take on the matter:
How can a homeowner tell that it’s time for a window replacement?
One is that the windows don’t work anymore. We replace a lot of windows that just don’t work anymore—people can’t even raise them anymore. But that’s also a safety issue. If you can’t open your bedroom window and there’s a fire in the main part of your house, the only way you’re getting out is to throw a chair or a dresser or something through your window. That’s not the way you want to be getting out of your house. So in some cases, you could call it—especially if it’s a bedroom window that doesn’t work—that could be a life or death issue.
A second sign that it’s time for a replacement is the curtains on your windows. If there’s a storm howling outside, and your curtains are moving, that’s a sign that you need to replace your windows because they’re drafty. They’re just leaking air like crazy—and that makes them very energy inefficient.
A third reason is that the seals have failed, or the glass is just so weathered that it can’t be cleaned anymore. The windows will have a haze on them, kind of like how your car headlights become hazier over time from weather and debris.
Tell us about your process. What happens when a customer comes to you for a quote?
Zen Windows is a virtual company, so if you needed windows and gave us a call, we’d say “Well, tell me about your windows.” So in the process of telling me about the windows, we can find out all the information we need to get your quote, and then we’ll email you with it, so we don’t even have to come out to your home.
So do you have an online form that initiates the quote? Or do people tend to call you to get that process started?
We do have a form, but for most people, it’s a five-minute phone conversation. The only reason I would need to come to your house to give you a quote on windows is to give you a high-pressure sales pitch.
In fact, I just need an approximate size, not even the exact size. Because quoting a window is kind of like a hand grenade. If it’s not an exact size, it’s pretty much a general size or a type. So [a customer will say] “I’ve got a window that’s about two feet by three feet and I want to make it a casement window.” And I’ll say, “okay, I know the price.” I don’t have to come to your house to determine that.
We send people information on our windows online, they do the research on our windows online. So they send me an email that says, “Dan, we accept your bid, what’s next?” Then I’ll have my installer come and set up a measuring appointment to come out and measure with his equipment.
So the guy who’s doing the installation will measure the windows according to how he has to install them—so they are custom fit for each side.
How do you help customers that want to change the size of the window then, like if a homeowner wanted to make more of an architectural change?
My installers can do that. A lot of times we have people who want to do that—especially with egress windows. Those sills might be high, and they want to come down with them. A lot of times we’ll have people who might have three big, tall windows in their living room, and they want to turn that into a door. So we’ll take those windows down and extend that opening down to the floor, and install a sliding glass door, or whatever they’d like. My guys can do all of that.
Your company is unique for offering online quotes. What can customers expect to see in that quote?
They’ll get the approximate size and types of windows, and the type of glass—the glass package—that those windows will have. And if there’s anything like grids or anything special about the windows, that will be in that description as well, along with the price for all of it, installed.
What are some of the most important energy-efficient features to think about when you’re changing your windows?
The main thing is, you could choose a glass package that might cost $200 more, with .02 more points on the SHGC, and the only way you could tell the difference on it would be to have an electronic instrument on it. You wouldn’t be able to tell any difference in the way it feels. So let’s say the sun is beating down on your breakfast table, and now it’s so hot that you have to eat breakfast at your counter. A difference of two points on SHGC is not going to make a difference in terms of whether or not you can still sit at your table.
All of the windows we sell are the type of windows where if the sun’s beating in through the window, you’re not going to feel it. We do offer packages that can get the numbers lower, but in my opinion, that’s overkill. The difference that it would make in your monthly electric bill or gas bill is negligible for the price that you’d pay to make them more energy efficient.
Now if you get lower, will that save you money? Yes—but three dollars a month maybe? Two dollars? And you’d have to pay $200 per window to get that. So the way I look at energy efficiency is, after a certain point, you can be so nitpicky you can end up costing yourself a lot of money for something you’d need instrumentation to tell the difference on.
So for most people, just updating the windows to a more efficient model may be enough? Are there other benefits from new windows?
Yes, we had a lady who lived off a busy highway, and she had single pane windows. We replaced her windows in February, when it’s as cold as it gets. It was a two-day job, and so the first day, we did the back side of her house. And she told us the next day, “we had trouble sleeping last night.” It didn’t make sense, because those new windows would block out all outside noise, and it would also insulate her home enough that she might not have even needed her heating. And she said, “Yeah, our heater didn’t run all night and I couldn’t hear the traffic. It’s too quiet.”
Another customer, we had a two-day job out there, and I came out there on the second day and I saw him at his breakfast table. He said, “Yesterday we couldn’t have been sitting at this table. The sun would’ve been way too hot.”
So noise insulation and comfort are two benefits. What about improved insulation?
If you live in a place where it’s cold all winter, I would say you’re nuts not to have triple pane glass because of the effective insulation. But here in Texas, where it’s cold for three days at a time, or maybe at most, a week, triple pane is kind of like going overboard with those Low-E numbers. It’s overkill. A double pane window in Central Texas does you just fine.
If someone has a noise problem outside their bedroom, we might recommend triple pane, because it does give you a measure of extra soundproofing. But even with the double pane, we have people remark all the time how quiet their house is.
Let’s talk about the replacement process. Once a homeowner gets a quote, accepts a bid, and makes an appointment for the installers, is there anything they can do to get their home ready?
If they have blinds or shutters, those need to come off before my guys get there. An exception to that is elderly people, who don’t have any help—we’re happy to do that for them. But we prefer that the homeowner do that themselves because if my guys break something, then they’re liable for it. For able-bodied people, we would just prefer if they do it themselves.
About how long does the installation take?
It depends on the installation—really, we can’t tell until my guys go to pull the windows out. Sometimes it seems like windows really love their house and don’t want to leave. So it just depends on how difficult it is to get the window out. And we don’t know that until we start pulling windows. On some jobs, we can do twelve to fourteen, but we plan on eight to ten. So if we have a fourteen-window job, we plan it as two days. But it’s not uncommon for us to finish in one day.
So when the installers are there doing the replacement, what can homeowners expect?
They’ll pull windows room by room, so they’re not going to open up their whole house at the same time. So that way, we have a lot of people with pets, so they’ll move their pets to a back room while we do the front, and vice versa. So we kind of plan for that.
They’ll put down cloths outside and in, as well as use vacuums to cut down on the dust spreading. But with any kind of installation, it is always dusty, from drywall and such, so if you have a desk or a computer, that needs to be pulled back. Again, for elderly folks, my guys have no problem helping with that.
On the install, it’s going to be noisy. But that goes around the house. It doesn’t happen all around the house at one time.
Is there a certain time of year when it’s better to replace windows—for instance, to prevent losing AC or heating during the job?
If I had my preference, I would do fall or spring. That’s because your house is going to be open for a few hours, at least part of it. It’s really not a big deal except in the parts where the main living part of the house is—that’s going to affect more of the house than the bedroom. Those rooms, you can just shut the door and you’re done.
In fact, our busy times are the spring months and the fall months. October until Thanksgiving is our busiest time of year.
Obviously the price is going to vary depending on how many windows a homeowner needs to replace. But if a homeowner is trying to budget for a project, about how much should they expect to spend?
It depends on the size of the windows, and if you have shaped windows, that can make things more complicated, but about $600 per window, installed is a good rough estimate. You can go with a budget window and get down to about $450 each. But our windows are the type of windows that most other companies bill for $1200 or $1800 each, even though we charge about $600, and that’s because we don’t pay for sales positions or saleroom costs.
We do sell a high end window. It’s not the cheapest window, but it’s the best price on a high end window that you’ll find. When people call here, they usually talk to me, not a salesman. So that’s one of the advantages that Zen has over most companies. We’ve cut out most of the infrastructure that other companies have.
What happens after the window is installed? What can a homeowner do to extend the lifetime of their windows? Any sort of maintenance you recommend?
A vinyl window is relatively maintenance free, which most other windows really don’t have. The corners are welded, so it doesn’t matter if your house moves, because it’s not going to crack individual windows. It’s flexible enough that it moves with the house, whereas some of these harder materials—composite and so forth—they have to be mechanically joined at the corners. That means that over time, as your house moves and sets, those loosen up. Other than pulling them out and tightening that fit back up, I don’t know of anyway to do that. But with a vinyl window, you don’t have that issue.
The only thing that will affect a vinyl window is if your house moves enough that it gets out of alignment. And then you need to call a foundation repairman. But then once your house levels back up, your windows do, too.
There’s a reason you can put a vinyl window out in the sun every day for twenty years and it still looks the same—because if you did that with your patio furniture, you couldn’t expect it to look the same, right? It’s because in the vinyl windows, they put in a metal oxide that prevents it from absorbing UV, so it’s part of the vinyl itself. And because of that, it doesn’t degrade over time. It’s not the same PVC as your furniture.
You recommend vinyl window frames then?
Oh yes. If you look at charts for longevity or as far as energy efficiency, wood is your number one energy efficient window, period. Vinyl is the only thing that comes anywhere close to second. Everything else comes in a distant third or further. So as far as the energy efficiency of vinyl, I recommend it.
People also talk about how vinyl isn’t “strong” enough. But the strength that your windows need is in pounds, or strength against pressure. So in terms of strength, all the vinyl windows I know of are strong enough to withstand thunderstorms. You can even have hurricane-strength windows. The difference with that is the installation, because it requires more screws in the sides of the windows.
Anything else you think homeowners need to know?
The American Architectural Manufacturer’s Association gold label certification program. If you’re not a gold label company, it means you can build a window that passed a certain standard, but it doesn’t mean that all the windows that you manufacture are built that way. Whereas if you’re a gold-labeled company, it means that you can build a window that passes that standard, and they’re manufactured that way. That makes a huge difference. So if somebody says, “oh yeah, we passed the standard,” but they’re not gold-labeled, that means the window you’re getting doesn’t necessarily meet what you’re getting on your sticker.
Dan, we appreciate the insight you’ve shared with us today. Thank you!
Thank you for having me!
This interview was provided by Dan Hatcher of Zen Windows.