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?

best replacement windows of 2015

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.  

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62 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. Delores Lyon says:

    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. Nice comparison indeed. Deciding for the right choice is very hard to do, but with the help of the expert tips, it is easy to pick the best one.

  4. 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!

  5. 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!

  6. 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!

  7. 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.

  8. 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. Did you get an answer? I have the same question.

      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.

  9. Ralph swanson says:

    All of these comments are fake.

    1. thewindowdog says:

      Don’t be such a skeptic, none of these comments are fake.

  10. Chad Czerwinski says:

    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. thewindowdog says:

      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. Chad Czerwinski says:

        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. thewindowdog says:

          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.

  11. 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. thewindowdog says:

      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.

  12. 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. thewindowdog says:

      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.

  13. Hi,
    I’ve had 2 quotes for replacement of 28 Silverline windows using the modified pocket installation method. One was for Sunrise vinyl windows ($13,000) and the other Pella fiberglass replacement windows ($28,000).
    I had a third quote by a reputable lumber company for Marvin Integrity windows with full frame installation, similar to new construction. The representative suggested that the modified pocket installation method would be inferior to full frame installation as there is nothing solid to attach the windows to because you would still have the old vinyl frame as a foundation and we would lose glass surface area. Price is about $36,000.
    Can you comment on the different installation methods?

    1. thewindowdog says:

      It sounds to me like one guy is picking on the other without letting the facts get in the way. The old vinyl frame would likely be removed in either scenario. The fiberglass window is not worth the money in my opinion. The full frame is also probably not needed, but some people like that idea because they want all new trim etc.

      There would be plenty to attach the window to in either scenario. Did you pick a winner yet?

      1. Thanks for your reply. Full frame replacement vs modified pocket installation seem like completely different methods. Also, the loss of glass with the replacement windows is not desirable. Are you suggesting that modified pocket is just as good as full frame replacement? Am I just falling for a sales pitch? Will we not lose glass area? If fiberglass is not worth the money, than what material offers the best value/construction combination? Thanks again.

        1. thewindowdog says:

          Have the rep show you the differences and if they can’t clearly explain it then you probably shouldn’t buy from them. The fiberglass salesperson likes to talk about how strong the windows are but he typically forgets to mention the air infiltration rates. If a window lets in 5 times more air than a nice vinyl window is it really better?

          You can have them tell you what the exact glass area of a window will be before it’s manufactured. There’s no need to guess or have a hunch. If I know the exact size of a window I’m going to order I can tell you everything about it. In most cases you won’t lose much or any glass area with a slim frame vinyl window, but you might. It just depends on the dimensions of your old windows.

  14. Gary Grosso says:

    I am trying to replace existing 43.5 in. x 71.5 in wood windows . I want to use new construction as I have installed those in the past and the surrounding siding is easily removed. I am having a hard time finding them. Can anyone recommend a reasonably priced online supplier. I have only found at HomeD for 358 each. Thank you.

    1. thewindowdog says:

      I could help you with an order for vinyl windows but we only offer wood windows in select markets. I don’t know of a good online retailer. Let us know if you find anything.

  15. Gary Puntman says:

    I’ve been thinking about getting new windows in my house. It sounds like there are pros and cons for new construction and replacement windows. I like that you suggested contacting local experts to look at your home and help you make a decision. I’ll have to schedule someone to come over and help me figure out the best option for me.

    1. thewindowdog says:

      Hi Gary, that’s a great spam post. I think we all know your company doesn’t provide a very good value in the area. If a friend of mine in Indy was looking for windows your company would be about the last on my list.

  16. Bethany Birchridge says:

    I like that you mentioned that an expert can help you best decide if you want replacement or new construction windows. I live in an older home, so I’ve been looking to replace my current windows. Do you have any tips for choosing a contractor to help me?

  17. Jordan Miner says:

    I’ve been curious about commercial window replacement, and I think that being able to get some information would be nice. I like that you talked about how you want to look at how the replacement windows are often put inside the existing frames. I’m going to have to look for a window replacement contractor and see what we can find!

    1. thewindowdog says:

      That’s a great idea. There are all sorts of replacement window options out there for both residential and commercial applications.

  18. Having Sunrise full frame replacement windows installed. Apparently a nail fin is available as an option on the windows, so getting the window I want, just a matter of nail fin/no nail fin install. Contractor #1 strongly suggests using the nail fin as it is fundamentally a better install and to do otherwise is to cut corners. Contractor #2 indicated that the nail fin is for efficieny of install in new construction and may even limit achieving a good fit. He went so far as to say that he wouldn’t use nail fins in new construction because of this. Seems like both are embellishing their preferred method. Thoughts?

  19. Amethyst Boheur says:

    I appreciate it when you said that deciding whether window construction or replacement is better is hard and that the person needs to consult a professional just to be sure. The family prefers the window replacement, of course, since my grandpa said that it is a lot more durable than the other option. Though, we will listen to what the professional has to say as they know better.

  20. Hey man,

    I have a question that I haven’t been able to find an answer to. I was hoping you might be able to help.

    I recently purchased a condo on the 5th and 6th floors. Its casement windows have been leaking for a long time and are in need of replacement. Since there is a possibility of water damage to the frame, we are looking for a full frame replacement only.

    We could only find one place willing to sell and install one of the brands of windows we like; the others all either only do inserts, say their windows aren’t “warrantied” for that height, or claim they can’t do that type of install without access to the exterior, which they’re not set up to do. When I asked the one place that will do it how they can work around those problems, they claim they will perform the full frame installation entirely from the interior. Is that even possible to do?

    These are two double casement windows and two triple casements. The exterior of the building is stucco.


    1. thewindowdog says:

      Hi Chris, it is possible to do a full frame installation from the interior as long as you’re talking about a window that opens. It would be easy enough to remove the sash from a casement window and do all of the work from the inside and then reinstall the sash. You’d just want to be extra careful putting that sash back in! it would be harder to do with a picture window, but you could still do it with some models if you removed the glass on a unit that was glazed from the interior.

      Many companies are confused about the rules when it comes to installing windows higher than a regular residential house. Sometimes they just don’t want to mess with it. For example, we’ll typically work up to the 6th or 7th floor depending on the project and we have competitors who think that just can’t be done. It’s strange to me that people turn down work like that, but they must have enough to eat.

      I don’t know where you are or anyone to recommend, but it can be done so I’d suggest you just keep looking for someone willing to tackle it.

      Good luck!

  21. Ellie Davis says:

    Thank you for pointing out that you need to understand how the windows will actually go in. My husband and I are needing to replace all of the windows in our house and need to find the right contractor to do it for us. I’ll have to do some research and find the best one possible.

  22. Katie Wilson says:

    Thanks for the tip about finding a new construction window in order to form a better seal. Finding something that will seal well would save you money on your energy bills. My husband and I need new windows, so we’ll have to make sure they seal well.

  23. Mike Turner says:

    We’re considering replacing 32 years old Pella casement windows (Today’s equivalent appears to be the Designer 750 Series.) with Platinum Conservation Series windows with Clima Tech 7 glass option. The latter do not offer interior window blinds as we have now which we like very much. Nonetheless my question is which is best, i.e., maintaining and/or replacing Pella or the newer design and engineering of the Platinum series? Thanks much for any insights.

    1. thewindowdog says:

      I believe the Platinum Conservation Series is a private label from Alside. CLimatech is an Alside name so that’s typically an easy giveaway. Did they tell you which model it was? If not you can ask them what the model number is and that would tell us. The Pella is a wood window which is a different animal. The vinyl windows are typically more efficient and have better warranties, but some people really love the look of a wood window and that’s a fine reason to pick one over the other.

      If you’re not in love with the idea of a wood window then the vinyl might be a good option.

  24. My husband and I are needing to get the windows on the top floor of our house replaced and need to find the right company to do it. Thank you for suggesting that we should make sure and do our research before we pick a window or company. I’ll have to do some research and find the best company in our area.

  25. Ridley Fitzgerald says:

    It’s great to know more about getting new windows. I like how you said that new construction windows doesn’t mean you’ll get flimsy ones. We’re looking at getting new windows for our home, so I’ll remember what you said about being careful as we choose.

  26. Aspired Aluminium & Glass says:

    Brief and Direct to the point.

  27. Florida man here. I have a wood frame with stucco house. Based on some youtube video I thought I could remove some of the flanges on my existing aluminum windows, then slide in a replacement window. But the man at Lowes, who claims years of construction experience, says I need to
    – chip off enough stucco,
    – remove the old window and window frame,
    – and install a flanged new construction window directly to the studs.
    – then refinish the stucco

    He said that replacement windows are ok for brick and block but doing so on wood frame was bad mojo.


    1. thewindowdog says:

      I don’t think that makes sense. There are windows out there that are designed to be used when replacing old windows in a stucco house. Maybe they don’t carry any so he’s not familiar with the options. You certainly could do it the way he’s suggesting. The more common way would be to use a new window with a stucco flange and there would not be any repair work needed at the end.

  28. Kate Welling says:

    You mentioned that new construction windows are builder grade. This gives me more motivation to replace my current windows. I’ll look for a company to help me with this.

  29. Daphne Gilpin says:

    Thanks for explaining that the best strategy is to have a local window expert look at our home and give recommendations. My husband and I have an older home, and we think getting new windows would help lower energy costs. I’m glad I read your article because the info you shared helped me feel prepared to talk with a window professional.

  30. Sarah Packer says:

    I didn’t know getting new construction windows can ensure the sealing is better on the window. My brother who’s remodeling his house right now complained about how difficult it was to replace his window and how the sealing didn’t come out as well as he hoped. I’ll have to tell him that getting completely new windows will give him better light in his house and ensure there’s no leaks.

  31. Callum Palmer says:

    I’m looking to do some new windows for my shop space. Now as you said here, there are the two distinct types that you should know, replacement and new construction. Considering that my shop isn’t new, I’ll probably go with the replacement type windows.

  32. Daphne Gilpin says:

    Thanks for explaining that replacement windows are often installed with pocket installation because they’re placed in a pocket in the old frame. My husband and I bought an older home that we think would benefit from having new windows installed, so I’ve been doing some research on the different methods of replacement. I’m glad I read your article because now I’m more informed and prepared to discuss our options with a window replacement company.

  33. Ashley Johnson says:

    I liked that you said that installing glass in your home properly is challenging if you don’t know what you are doing. I would imagine that a professional would be able to install the glass properly and quickly. I would be sure to hire a professional to install glass in my home so that I can have is done correctly the first time.

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    1. thewindowdog says:

      These spam posts always make me chuckle. I wonder how many calls they’ll get from this post?

  35. I love your commercial window tips. My window is broken. I’ll have to get a window replacement.

  36. Ron Booker says:

    I like that you said that sometimes window technicians can install your new windows with the same wood frame just by making some adjustments. My wife and I are thinking about changing our windows for the summer. I’m going to check with a technician to see if we can have the installation with the same frames.

  37. andrewma988 says:

    When I read your blog, I can’t stop myself to commenting on your blog. I am really inspired by your post. Thanks for such a great post.

    1. thewindowdog says:

      Glad you find the site to be so interesting!

  38. Hi, I have all casement windows and have been told that they should be new windows not replacements. Any thoughts. Gotten a price for replacements at $33k vs new at$44 (I have 32 windows). Need to sort this soon. Marvin new at $44k.

    1. thewindowdog says:

      People get this topic confused all the time. There’s generally not a whole lot of difference in the end result, depending on how your old windows were built. The idea of new construction or full frame replacement windows is often used by salespeople to confuse the issue. If you can’t clearly understand what the extra $11k will get you then I probably wouldn’t spend it.

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