Windows Buying Guide

Learn the pros and cons of different types of windows, the various styles and latest trends.

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Exterior View of Pella Windows and Doors Courtesy of Pella Windows and Doors

The very good news about windows is that there are an incredible number of styles, options and prices to consider. The bad news? With all those possibilities, you may feel like you're adrift on an ocean of options. Take heart, fellow shopper: Here's what you need to know to navigate the world of windows.

Make Mine Energy Efficient

"These days, when it comes to windows, it's all about energy efficiency," says Lance Premeau, product and market analyst for Kolbe Windows and Doors. Capitalizing on keen public awareness, most manufactures have amped up the energy efficiency component of their marketing games, and consumers are benefitting. Features such as argon-filled glazing and low-E coatings have become commonplace, and the recent federal tax credit available for qualified window products has made upgrading windows one of the most popular of all home improvement projects.

Nevertheless, some types of windows claiming energy efficiency may not be all they're cracked up to be. A good guideline is to check if windows meet the performance levels created by the federal government's Energy Star program. If so, they'll carry the Energy Star label.

However, that label doesn't mean the windows automatically qualify for the federal tax credit. To be eligible, the window's U-factor and solar heat gain coefficient must both less than or equal to 0.30. The U-factor gauges the window's insulation value, and the solar heat gain coefficient measures how well a product blocks heat transfer from sunlight. These measurements are standardized by the National Fenestration Rating Council and appear on the product's NFRC performance label.

The federal tax credit is equal to 30 percent of the product cost or a maximum of $1,500. Installation is not covered by the credit. Note that qualifying windows must be purchased by Dec. 31, 2010. Currently, Congress is examining the possibility of extending the tax credits.

What Do They Cost?

You'll pay about $150 for a 3x4-foot double-hung, white vinyl window with insulating glass and low-E coating at a home improvement center. Upgrade to argon gas-filled triple glazing and fiberglass frame, and your price gets north of $400 for the same size window. Specialty coatings, custom grills and other options from a top manufacturer can nudge the price to $800.

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