Replacement vs New Construction Windows

Folks ask us all the time if they should get replacement windows or new construction windows.   Are the windows the builder uses when they build a new home really any better or worse than the replacement windows that are sold by companies all over town?

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We’re going to get to the bottom of this great debate right here.  Get ready!

Before you can understand which option is better for you, you’ll need to understand what the terms mean.  Basically a new construction or new home window is designed to be installed before the siding or brick is installed on the exterior of the home.  A replacement window is designed to be installed after the siding or brick is already on the home.

Take a look at this picture.  Here you can see two Pella windows that I bought from Lowes.  The two models are very similar, but one has a fin that goes around the perimeter.  This is called a nail fin and it is the only real difference between replacement vs new construction windows.

new home vs builder grade vs replacement windows.
This nail fin around the edge of the window is the only difference between replacement vs new construction windows.

That’s the only difference.  Now, some people of varying degrees of honesty may tell you there are other differences beyond the nail fin (also called a nail flange).  Let’s take a look at what someone might say.

New constriction windows are builder grade windows.  They’re cheap and flimsy.

This is often true and it’s something to watch out for, but it’s not always the case.  You can see in our review of the ThermaStar by Pella Series 10 new construction window that many of them are cheap.

Manufacturers build new construction windows with builders in mind.  Believe it or not they’re more focused on the builder who buys thousands of windows than you, the guy looking to install 15 new windows in your home.

They know that builders want windows fast and cheap so that’s what they make.  Builders know that when you’re buying a new home you’re looking at the fancy tub and the shiny kitchen.  The windows are often an afterthought so they don’t spend any more money than they need to.

Here’s one way to think about it. When you’re buying a new home you’re buying a whole lot of things all at once.  You’re less focused on each individual thing.  When you’re buying replacement windows you’r just buying windows.  You’re focused on the windows and you’re trying to get the best products you can.

Manufacturers of both new construction and replacement windows know this very well and they prioritize quality and costs based on the typical customer for each product.

If you’re buying new construction windows and you’re looking for quality be careful.  It’s easy to go wrong here.

New construction windows will give me more light than replacement windows.

This may be true, but it may not.  You’ll need to have a good idea of how the windows will actually go in before you can make that determination.  Remember, the only real difference is the nail flange.  The window itself is the same.

Often times replacement windows are installed inside the existing wood window frame.  This is called a pocket installation because the window is placed in a pocket in the old frame.

There is nothing wrong with this installation method. In fact all new vinyl windows have a 3.25″ jamb depth because they’re designed to be installed in a wood frame.

Could you get more glass area by removing the existing wood frame?  Maybe, but maybe not.  If you remove the wood frame a new wood frame would typically need to be installed.  Sometimes this comes with the windows, sometimes the installer will build it on site, but it is typically part of the installation.  Is the new wood frame any thicker or thinner than the old wood frame you removed?

I have no idea, it depends on your house and you’re installer, but the difference is probably not dramatic.  This is often used as a sales tactic, but it typically doesn’t make any noticeable difference.

New construction windows form a better seal than replacement windows.

I would expect this idea is spread by folks who are more familiar with new construction window installations.  When installing a new construction window it’s easy to see how it’s sealed.  Typically the nail flange is fastened to the sheathing then there is a moisture barrier (like a house wrap) and flashing tape applied in a specific manor around the window.  When done properly it looks solid and it’s easy to see that it’s done.

In a replacement window installation it’s harder to see because you’re relying on the seal of the existing frame behind the siding.  There are literally millions of replacement windows installed each and every year with no epidemic of leaks so it’s safe to assume that if they’re installed properly there is no greater risk of a leak from a new construction or new home windows compared to replacement windows.

So, which one is better?

Like most things in the window business there isn’t necessarily an easy answer.  In general new construction windows are cheaper and of lower quality than replacement windows, but there are nice new construction and cheap replacement windows.  The best strategy we can suggest is to find some local experts to take a look at your home and make a few suggestions.

We know the window business can be difficult to navigate and we applaud you for taking the time to do your research before making a decision.  We would suggest doing the same thing when calling local window companies.  We’ve done some of the work for you.  For starters you can find our list of the best local window companies right here.

 

Update: We now have more recommend LOCAL window companies than ever before.   Click here to see who we recommend in your town.  It's 100% free.  You'll thank me.  There is no better resource; you're going to love it.  See for yourself right here.  

21 thoughts on “Replacement vs New Construction Windows”

  1. I have been looking to get my windows replaced, so it is good to hear which windows are best. It seems like there isn’t too big of a difference between them, so that is good to know. I would really like to be sure that my windows are of high quality and that they last a long time, so it sounds like replacement windows might be a better option. However, I will be sure to ask them if my window seals are good, just to make sure that the replacement windows will work. Thanks for the great post!

  2. Wow, I had no idea that new construction windows are usually lower in quality compared to replacement windows. It sounds like anyone who wants the most energy efficient windows should get replacement windows instead of new construction ones. However, you are right about the existence of nice new construction windows and cheaper replacement windows. Calling a professional really is the best way to make sure that you make the right choice!

  3. Thanks for the information on the differences between replacement and new construction windows. I’m looking for quality windows, so based on what you’ve said about new construction windows being “lower quality”, I think I will invest in some nice replacement windows. I will definitely follow your advice and do my research when calling local window companies!

  4. I actually had no idea that new construction windows are usually lower quality. Going off of just the names, I would think it was the other way around. Great information!

  5. Thanks for listing out some of the advantages of getting your windows replaced. A friend of mine works in the construction industry, and his main job is to install new windows. He also replaces old windows in older houses as well. I’ll have to show him a copy of this post. Thanks for sharing!

  6. After a purchase of a new home a I can say to stay as far away from builder grade windows as possible! They are terrible!!!!

    I had to winterize them further with insulation tape.

  7. Any advice on best new construction windows? I’m building a new home and I wanted to go with Berkshire Elites, but the company says that they don’t recommend them in new construction. I’ve read most of your website and other websites, but there just isn’t much information or reviews on models designed for new construction (i.e. Revere’s Blue Print series).

    I live out in the sticks in VA so I don’t have any Window Universe or anything like that nearby to help me out.

      1. No, I didn’t. I did decide to go with Plygem though. I was able to find a Sunrise guy nearby (1.5 hours away) and they can do new construction, but they were triple the price of the Plygems and that’s just not in the budget for me unfortunately.

  8. In a replacement window process and the existing builder grade vinyl window is coming completely out there is no existing frame to to form a seal behind the siding. If the the wall is a typical 2×4 with 1/2″ drywall, 1/2″ sheathing and J channel for the vinyl siding there would be a 5 1/4″ wall pocket. Where do you suggest a window without a nail flange be placed in that opening to achieve the best way to flash? I am thinking it is best to place it at the exterior face of the 2×4 thereby leaving it 1 1/4″ in from the J channel and giving room to place a small wood stop and then wrapping it with a small piece of aluminum and caulking that. Unfortunately with a standard 3 1/4″ replacement window frame that would only leave me with 3/4″ to build out my own extension jambs. I was hoping to have more of a return. However the flashing of the window is my biggest concern.

    1. Hi Chad, that’s a typical way to do it. Customers are sometimes more concerned about having a larger return so their blinds will fit back up, but more than anything else you want to make sure you can get a good seal.

      1. Scenario #2
        I believe I am going to remove the existing J channel from around the window completely and leave the siding flap while the window opening is flashed. I believe building a sill pan from self stick membrane is the way to go. I am going to use a DuPont 9″ flex wrap for the bottom piece. I think wrapping the sides of Tyvek into the opening and tacking the head piece of tyvek temporarily out of the way while I install the window. Now the window can be installed 1/2″ out past the exterior sheathing of the house. I still wish I had integral nailing fins but I am sold on the Okna 800’s. Now I intend to use DuPont 4″ flashing tape up both sides lapping over the bottom and running 5″ above the top of the window. I guess I will just wrap it over the side of the window and adhere it there. Now I can install my last piece of 4″ flashing tape at the top of the window and run it past both sides of the window and over the top of the side flashing pieces. This piece would also have to wrap on the top of the window as there are no flanges. I believe I can fold the piece of tyvek at the top of the window back down and secure it over my flashing tape. I have been told it is a bad idea to flash the bottom of the window just in case (or when) water gets in there, it will be a place for it to escape. Now I can wrap my entire window window with 1×4 cedar and still have the cedar 1/4″ past the window to get a nice edge to caulk. Now I just need some new longer J channel and cut my siding lengths shorter. This whole scenario allows me to get what I think is a good weather seal and still allow me to get about a 2″ return to build my extension jambs and allow blinds to be inset in the window opening. Just curious your thoughts. Been consumed with wanting to get this right and water tight.

        1. Looks like I was a little slow on the response on this one. Did you get them installed and is this the method you used? It’s certainly not the most common way to install a replacement window, but sounds like it would probably work out. I’d be curious to hear how it went.

  9. I had a room addition done a couple of years ago and bought the windows myself. Almost all windows I looked at had a new construction version and a replacement version. The windows were identical except for the nail flange. I don’t think new is any better or worse than replacement. i think builders are just cheap and want to spend as little as possible.

    I also learned that a good installation is more important than the window you choose. You’re much more likely to lose heat or AC around the edge of the window than through the window. All new windows have very good insulation properties.

    1. Most replacement windows aren’t available as new construction models, but you’re right that some are. Installation is definitely important.

    2. I agree. This entire article emphasizes the window itself, while failing to address the most common point of air and water intrusion- the flashing (or lack of flashing) AROUND the window. If the nailing flange is the only difference, either type will work, considering you have the same pane and strength rating. The windows in my house are 30 years old, single pane in a brick veneer wall, and have virtually no flashing. I’m most likely going down to the studs, so new construction makes sense.

  10. When I had two original “new construction” wood windows replaced with “replacement” vinyl windows, I lost 8-10% glass size (and visibility). It was immediately noticeable, upon installation. Knowing that will likely hapen, at a minimum, I would recommend checking into the price and effort involved in replacing with new construction windows.
    By the way, I would, in no way, believe that all new construction windows have lesser quality than replacement windows.

    1. The difference in glass area will depend on the style of window you had before and the style of window you picked. Some people gain glass area with replacement windows. There is no single answer to that question, but the company supplying the windows should be able to show you how it works. What model window did you get? There are some vinyl windows out there with VERY thick frames. We don’t typically recommend models like that, but there are companies out there installing them every day.

      It is true that most new construction vinyl windows are of lower quality than replacement windows. It has nothing to do with the nail fin on the window and everything to do with the typical buyer of new construction windows. Builders are SUPER cheap and they buy cheap new construction windows by the thousands. Since they’re the buyers the manufacturers produce cheap windows.

      There are exceptions, but in general new construction vinyl windows are not nice at all.

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best replacement windows of 2015