I've been shopping for vinyl replacement windows in the Northern VA / D.C. area for several months, and have read most of the excellent posts on this board. Have a handful of quotes on various windows (Vytex Heritage / Georgetown, Quantum2, HomeDepot), but would really appreciate some answers to questions below as the sales brochures and pitches haven't provided enough clarity.
1. The higher end windows have either a heat mirror or 3rd pane with krypton/argon, while the mid-range windows are "plain" low-e/argon. I have read and analyzed all the specs (U-, R-, SHGC, etc.), but would like to know what do these specs mean in terms of heating/cooling dollars. One company "guarantees" 40% savings in heating/cooling with the high-end window. Another says mid-range can save 30% (no guarantee). One manufacturer implies that the high-end might qualify for energy savings tax credits. Bottom line: all other things being equal (e.g., the rest of my house is not a leaky sieve), after replacing my 20+ double hung, old, drafty, wood sash/vinyl-jambliner windows, should I expect about a 10% difference in dollar savings on heating/cooling between mid-range and high-end vinyl replacements?
2. The difference between high-end and mid-range windows is about $4000. Assuming the installers are comparable (yes, a risky assumption, but more later) and purely considering aesthetics here:
(a) Are the built-in grids pretty much the same for all manufacturers? The mftr websites sure don't seem to use this as a distinguishing factor, and the photos on the websites don't show the grid details. I have external grids made from beveled molding wood. Going with built-in grids for ease of cleaning. Wondered if there is any difference between mftrs.
(b) Does "virgin vinyl" really mean that the window will not fade, or are high-end and mid-range vinyl windows all likely to fade at the same rate?
(c) Does adding an exterior color to the vinyl window (cream or brown) affect fading? And, how much should this color option cost per window? I've had quotes ranging from $60 to $200 per window.
3. Regarding installation: I'm aware about the importance of good installation. All the quotes have stated that they do their own installation and don't subcontract. I've learned not to "judge" the quality of a contractor by his/her appearance -- have had a grungy, unshaven contractor end up doing the best drywall job I ever saw, while a clean-cut well-spoken contractor did barely average work. So,
(a) Are there certain things I should stipulate in the contract regarding the work (other than completion by certain date, clean-up, removal, payment upon completion) to help ensure a quality job?
(b) If I observe the installation, what should I watch for?
(c) After installation, are there visible things I should look for besides obvious checks (e.g., windows operate smoothly, no crooked windows, etc.)?
I would appreciate your experienced insights.