Why You Shouldn’t Buy DIY Windows at a Box Store

Replacement Window Shopping Mistake #12 – Buying windows at a box store to install yourself

So you’re sick of all of these pushy window salesman and you’re just going to install the windows yourself?  That’s a perfectly reasonable game plan.  Frankly, it’s not that hard if you’re pretty handy and comfortable making large holes in your house.

Contrary to what many window salespeople will tell you, installing windows yourself does NOT void warranties.  To all the salespeople who will comment about how wrong I am, go read the warranty and show me where it says that.  It doesn’t.

So you certainly can install windows yourself.  That’s fine, but you certainly should NOT buy them from a box store.  The windows they sell tend to be the absolute cheapest models out there and I don’t mean cheap in a good way.

You have 2 options when buying windows at a box store, stock sizes off the shelf or custom windows.  They’re both bad choices.

How can that be?  Why wouldn’t the large warehouse store carry nice models? You’re right that it’s not intuitive.  It makes sense that you could get a perfectly nice product at those big stores.  Unfortunately you typically can’t.

The reason has to do with the distribution models used by most manufacturers and the old timey sales tactics used by most dealers.  Here’s the quick breakdown:

Most high quality windows are sold by pushy old fashioned window dealers all over the country.  Those dealers are trying to charge people $800-$1000 or more per window.  To get that price the window product typically needs to be pretty nice.

These pushy dealers collectively make up a pretty large segment of the market for these nice windows.  The manufacturers who make those windows and sell them to those dealers don’t want to jeopardize that business.

If those manufacturers sold their products in Home Depot or Lowes they would need to offer them at much more realistic price.  If Product A was listed at Home Depot for $250 per window it would be hard for Dealer X to sell it for $1000.

In order to avoid losing their high priced dealer business the manufacturers of these products don’t sell to box stores.  The companies who do sell to the box stores are very large manufactures who typically cater to the new construction market. In that end of the market the focus is on price and not quality.

Those manufacturers of cheap windows have nothing to lose if their products are on the shelf at the box store.  Their tycpial customer is a big builder.  He wants it cheap and he’s not shopping at Lowes anyway.

So the only products you tend to see available are the cheapest options out there.  That means they’ll use cheaper hardware, come with more limited warranties, get significantly worse efficiency ratings, have very high (bad) air infiltration rates, etc.  You can save money buying these windows, but you’re stuck with pretty low quality windows.  That might not be what you want.

So how should I get nice windows to install myself?

Great question.  If you call around you can probably find a window dealer who carries certain products who will sell them to you without installation. It used to be that nobody would do that, but we’re seeing it more and more now.

They may give you that old line about voiding the warranty.  I wouldn’t suggest arguing with them.  You probably won’t win.  I’d just move on to the next one. You may need to call several to get someone reasonable.

For example, my company starting offering windows without installation several years ago and it’s become a pretty decent part of our business. For a listing of the areas we cover you can see this page. If we’re not in your area post a comment here and I’ll be happy to recommend someone if I can.

The windows we offer are going to be a little more expensive than what you’d get a a box store.  They’re also going to be a fair bit nicer.  Whether that works for you or not is completely up to you.

For example, I just had a customer email me today to let me know that he could get American Craftsman windows from Home Depot for less than our quote.  That’s absolutely true. It’s also true that after sales tax the price was only about $500 different for the entire order and the model I was suggesting was head and shoulders nicer.

Sometimes cheap windows are what you need and that’s completely fine. If you’re putting windows in your shed or a low end rental those cheep brands will work fine.  If you’re looking for nicer windows you can find them out there for a DIY application and you’ll be glad you did.

For more info on installing your own windows check out this section.  Or, you can find our listings of the very best local window companies here.  Some will probably offer windows without installation and some may not.  This would be a good place to start.

Why Window Installers Make Bad Window Suggestions

Replacement Window Shopping Mistake #17 – Taking a suggestion from a window installer. 

I hear from an extraordinary number of people about their experience shopping for both new construction and replacement windows.  Very frequently I hear about how surprised someone is to be having a problem because the window they picked came so highly recommended.  When they tell me an installer recommended the product I’m not surprised at all.

Folks sometimes think that because an installer works with windows all day long he must be an expert.  Window installers certainly do know a lot about windows, but they’re usually not window experts in the way you’d want them to be if they’re suggesting products.

Remember, the installer has completely different priorities than the customer when it comes to selecting a window.

Ask yourself what is important to a window installer.  He wants the windows to be inexpensive, he wants them delivered quickly, he wants the people he orders from to be knowledgable and helpful especially if/when he orders something wrong.

Now ask yourself what is important to the end user (you) when selecting a new construction or a replacement window.  You probably want the windows to hold up for the long term.  You’d want them to seal out the elements, to be energy efficient, to operate easily, etc.

You see a window installer doesn’t really care about the air infiltration rate of a new window.  He’s not walking around the house in his socks on a cold Sunday morning feeling a draft. He’s not operating that window 10 years from now or dealing with a warranty issue down the road.

He installs the window, it works well, he gets paid and walks away.  That’s a great window in his book.

Installers don’t make bad suggestions because they’re bad guys.  They make bad suggestions because their priorities are different than yours.

The difference between a window with a 0.26 and a 0.04 air infiltration rate is not important at all to a window installer.  He probably doesn’t know the ratings because they’re meaningless to him. They’re just not part of his job. He probably doesn’t know what the condensation resistance rating is or how one option will affect the STC rating. Those things just aren’t what he deals with.

These things aren’t important to the installer, but they’re very important to you.

Of course it’s definitely important to have a good installer involved in your project.  You want someone who knows what he’s doing, who’s been around the block a time or two and who will be able to make sure the project turns out great.

Just don’t let the installers pick out windows for you. Putting in windows for a living is different than living with windows for 5, 10 or 20 years.

Do you agree with this thinking or do you think I’m completely wrong? Post a comment below and let us know about it.

For more info on different types of replacement and new construction windows you can find our section on window ratings and reviews here and you might also get a laugh out of our section on replacement window sales tactics.

If you’d like to hear from someone who can probably make a pretty good suggestion you can find our listing of the best replacement window companies here.