Replacing windows in your home is a worthwhile, but costly, investment. Because your windows keep you safe from the outside elements, they are one of the most important features of your home—not to mention an indicator of upkeep and maintenance to anyone considering whether to buy it. A trustworthy window replacement contractor is your safest and highest quality option if you want the project done correctly, both in the short and long term.

At Modernize, we frequently speak to homeowners about their home improvement projects. In our recent interviews, half of the homeowners who undertook a window replacement home improvement project did so to increase the value of their home, and 80 percent of them found a contractor for the job through referrals. But it’s important to properly vet and research contractors before choosing your perfect fit, even if a friend or a family member personally vouched for them.

Here are some tips to keep in mind while you make the pick.

1. Get to Know Your Window Replacement Needs

A trusted contractor will be able to assess, identify, and explain potential improvements or upgrades to your home’s windows. Still, it’s best to approach your search for a contractor with some idea in mind of what you need—and even what you don’t need. This will ensure your project is focused and lessen the opportunity for unnecessary and costly improvements you didn’t want in the first place.

If your windows are shattered or broken during a storm, for example, they need to be replaced or repaired immediately to restore your privacy, safety, and comfort—not to mention your property value. But not all window damage is easy to distinguish. And if it goes undetected, it can cause bigger issues—like structural or foundational damage—down the road. Damage to your windows from seasons past might have gone unnoticed, or prior homeowners may have neglected problems you have now inherited like mold or poor insulation.

It’s always good policy to triple check for new—and old—indicators. Hail damage, for example, could result in damage that is not as apparent as broken glass, from torn screens to cracked glazing and dented flashing. Wind damage could leave behind dents in the glass, damaged frames, or cracked siding.

If you do find some damage, carefully document it and safe proof your house against hazards it might cause. A reliable contractor should still double check your work. But seeking estimates with specific information in your hand will make the vetting process that much more easy and, ultimately, successful.

2. Aim for the Most Reliable Window Replacement Contractor

To ensure a long-term and sustained increase to home value, a reliable contractor is key. There’s a lot to consider under the umbrella of reliability. In recent interviews, 90 percent of homeowners requested a checklist to help them find and vet contractors. Modernize now offers homeowners a free, digital Contractor Checklist as a simple, step-by-step guide to assist with your windows project.

Here are some things you can do to ensure you find the best possible window installation contractor.

Ask for Referrals

A strong majority of homeowners approach all home improvement projects by first gathering referrals. Some of the most common approaches are:

“Call them. Pick up the phone, ask them a lot of questions, and if possible go and see [the completed work],” recommends Skip Bedell, who stars in HGTV’s Catch a Contractor. “I’ve found that if people are really proud of the job that was done on their house, most of the time they don’t mind letting other people come by and see it.”

Vet Your Options

One of the most important parts of your search is vetting different contractors and comparing their work.

  • Request quotes from three to four contractors in your area.
  • Visit the website of each contractor.
    • Is it updated and professional looking?
  • Explore the customer reviews for each contractor.
    • Are they mostly positive? Consider negative reviews and responses.

Talk to Your Favorites

Once you have a short list of your top choices, get them on the phone. A trustworthy contractor will appreciate an opportunity to discuss your project further, and a conversation allows you to get to know them. While you know best what you want to learn in the conversation, here are some questions we recommend you ask:

  • How long have you been in business?
  • How much experience do you have with window repair or installation?
  • What is your project estimate?
  • Can you provide a list of references?
  • Can you provide proof of insurance for personal liability, worker’s compensation, and property damage coverage?

“If they’re not licensed and not insured, you don’t want them in your house. Period. End of story,” Bedell advises. “The license is a huge help in that if you have a problem later on, you can go to the licensing agency and get assistance in filing any complaints.”

Meet the Finalists

Meet in-person with your top contractors to review project-specific details and expectations. You can use Modernize’s free worksheet for homeowners to compare contractors. Be sure to bring up the following with each contractor:

  • Ask to see proof of insurance, which should provide their insurance company name, policy number, and policy limits.
  • Discuss who will manage warranty details and responsibility.
  • Make sure to get a fixed price before signing a contract.

3. Don’t Wait Until Your Windows Need Replacement

If a recent storm blew out a window or caused peripheral damage requiring a window replacement, you will want to get the project done as quickly as possible. But you certainly don’t need to wait for a storm to blast through before creating a meaningful relationship with your local windows contractor.

If you have a trusted contractor who has perhaps offered you an assessment of your house’s windows, shown you options for new windows, or helped you learn the needs of your home, you will have less work to do when an emergency does arrive. You could stop by showrooms to take a look at windows or use Modernize to find local window replacement contractors. Whatever tool you choose, we recommend you do so on your own time instead of under the stress of an emergency.

The right time to find a reliable contractor is now.

4. Be Aware of Warning Signs and Avoid Hidden Costs

As with contractors for any home improvement, some are not honest professionals. Before choosing your contractor for an affordable window replacement, be sure you can trust them and that their estimate is transparent and complete.

Door-to-door contractors, for example, flock to areas impacted by storms, and scam unsuspecting homeowners with offers that boast pre-payment or covered deductibles. The best way to avoid scams is to choose a local, trusted contractor—someone who has been around and stuck around, and whose reputation and reliability are central to their success. You can confirm this by checking their physical business address and validating their licensing.

Here are additional warning signs that can protect your window replacement budget:

  • Avoid contractors who request the entire project cost, or large cash deposit, up front. A down payment shouldn’t exceed 10 percent or $1,000. “If someone is asking you for a huge chunk of money before they’ve done any work at all, that can raise a red flag,” Bedell explains.
  • Avoid anyone who pressures you to sign a contract immediately.
  • Be wary of any outliers in your quotes. All estimates should be relatively similar unless the material type is significantly different.

When it comes to window replacement projects, there are some hidden costs homeowners could be surprised with down the line. The best way to avoid these is to ask the contractor about them.

A great example of a hidden cost for window replacement projects is complications with lead. If your home was built before 1978, your walls are likely coated in lead-based paint. In recent interviews with Modernize, all homeowners with older units were surprised about this possibility. Windows carry a higher lead exposure risk due to their exposure to outside elements and paint friction—renovations and repairs can create toxic lead dust. Testing for toxic lead typically costs between $200 and $400. If you have an older home, talk with your contractor about a lead paint test, and how it could impact the cost of your window replacement project.

Other examples include old window disposal and framing changes. Here is Modernize’s full review of the possible hidden costs in window replacements.

5. Evaluate Window Replacement Contractor Quotes the Right Way

The best contractor is not always the cheapest contractor. And the best window replacement quote isn’t always the lowest.

A recent Modernize survey revealed 63 percent of homeowners compare three to four contractor estimates ahead of a home improvement project. Evaluating multiple quotes helps homeowners scope their budget and encourages contractors to be competitive with their pricing. It’s important to understand your window estimates and why quotes may vary from each other. Before comparing your own set of estimates, see our guide Evaluating Contractors’ Window Replacement Quotes.

Here are some musts in any estimate you find:

  • Lots of details
    • The more description the better, what Bedell calls “every aspect of the work.”
  • Clear start and end dates
    • An experienced contractor should be able to know when your windows will be replaced and good to go. “This is hugely important,” Bedell says, “because another big problem that people run into is when a contractor says it’s going to take two weeks to do your job and six months later he’s still there because he only came one day a week.”

Comparing contractors is easy and effective with our free worksheet to help homeowners find the best window replacement contractor. No matter what you use to determine who will replace your windows, it’s important you keep in mind that saving money today could cost you much more money later if the windows don’t hold up or, more realistically, the process to replace them is shoddy. Quality, especially when it comes to your windows, is a lifelong investment.