Updated: Sept. 19, 2023
Published: Sept. 7, 2022
The term “custom windows” is often misunderstood by homeowners. It can refer to a window that’s a one-of-a-kind design, made for a specific home. Perhaps it’s a unique material, includes stained glass by a local artist, or is handmade by a local craftsman instead of a window manufacturer… That’s a custom window in the truest sense of the word, right? But “custom window” can also refer to the most common type of window: one that’s made to fit specific measurements provided by the installer.
It’s manufactured to fit the dimensions of a specific house.
Most window and door companies operate this way, and it’s the only way they order product. Nothing is off-the-shelf. It’s a custom window, in that it’s made to certain size specifications—but it’s not a custom window that’s unique. You might even call it semi-custom. Anyway, the window and door company will come out to your home to carefully measure each window opening, talk about styles/hardware/glass options, and share expertise on pros and cons of different window frame materials, such as vinyl and fiberglass.
They’ll probably have something to say about upgrades and style recommendations, too.
Once you’ve selected a brand—say Andersen, Pella or Anlin—and any options or upgrades, they’ll provide a cost estimate. If it looks good, you’ll sign a contract and make a deposit, then they place the order with the manufacturer. The windows will be made to those specifications and shipped it to the installer, who handles labor.
This is the most common way to buy replacement windows, with the window and door company taking responsibility for the end-to-end process, from the initial quote through installation and warranty servicing.
Are these made-to-order custom windows more expensive? If you’re comparing it to an off-the-shelf product, it’s simply not the same thing, so it’s almost impossible to do an apples-to-apples comparison for the same make, model, features and upgrades… It’s going to cost more than DIY windows ordered from Home Depot or Lowe’s, of course, because it includes labor, and probably a higher quality product. It also typically includes features and upgrades that simply aren’t available from a home improvement store product.
But here’s what you can do, if you think pre-fabricated windows in standard sizes are something you want to look into, and DIY is appealing. Take time to measure your existing windows. Then, compare those measurements to what’s available from your local home improvement store. If they offer the right size, or you can get pricing on custom sizes, then you’ll have a good idea of the cost, should you choose to handle installation yourself.
Just be aware that you’ll bump into limitations on what you can order, and check the quality of samples in the store and the warranty, so you can judge the quality you’ll be getting. You don’t want anything builder grade.
Then, if you’re either not finding the style or options you want, or you’d like to compare installed pricing to your DIY pricing, you can obtain quotes from reputable windows and doors companies in your area. The price difference may be less than you think, and worth considering just to avoid the headache that can come once you start tearing out those older windows.
If you decide not to go the DIY route, and you want to compare pricing from multiple window and door companies, that’s easy enough. Just be sure you’re comparing exactly the same thing, so it’s an equal comparison.
Also be aware that if you start installing them and run into trouble, a window and doors company will not take over the job; they only install windows they’ve measured and ordered. You’ll have to hire a general contractor or handyman to help.
Did you know the size of windows in a home are determined by the builder or architect? They don’t follow a list of standard sizes, and there’s no enforcement agency that requires consistency. It’s the Wild West out there, when it comes to window opening sizes.
What goes into the cost of a custom window?
Most people tend to compare sticker prices, especially when the windows you’re looking at appear similar in design; but don’t stop there. What are you really getting for the price? And perhaps more importantly, what are you not getting?
To accurately compare your choices, these are some common factors that impact your final cost.
Window quality. You may have come across the terms “builder grade” and “commercial grade” while researching window replacement options. Builder grade windows are typically bought in bulk by a home builder, and because they’re inexpensive, may not last or have a warranty. Seal and hardware failure often happens within a few years, because of the low-quality components. They often have a lifespan that’s less than ten years (especially for vinyl), compared to the 30+ year lifespan of an aftermarket, higher quality window.
If it’s a builder grade window from a big box home improvement stores, they also may not fit as well as higher-end options, with gaps that lead to drafts and water or insect damage. If vinyl, be especially cautious; you need something of quality to last in Arizona heat.
Window and door companies can offer a spectrum of brands and quality, so be sure to ask if it’s builder grade or not, look at samples, and do a fair amount of due diligence on the installer and the specific product you’re considering.
Energy efficiency. Living in the Valley of the Sun, where the warm temperatures stick around far longer than they do in other parts of the country, make energy efficiency a top consideration. Most windows come standard with two or three coatings of low-e (low-emissivity) glass to reflect solar heat and UV rays, but it’s worth upgrading to low-E4. Also be sure to include an argon gas filler between the panes of glass for insulation.
Warranty. What kind of warranty does a pre-made window come with? How about the custom window? There’s a lot riding on those framed panes of glass. You want to have faith in their performance — and so should the manufacturer. The length of the warranty can be a sign of their confidence in the quality of their product over time. You’ll have greater odds of a better-made, longer-lasting window if it comes with a lifetime warranty.
What about the installation? This is one factor you don’t want to overlook. If you install the premade window on your own, there’s no warranty on the installation process itself. So any installation-related mistakes will be on your dime. But if you go with a window and door company, they typically have a warranty on their work in addition to the manufacturer’s window warranty.
Arizona requires at least two years, but we offer a lifetime installation warranty for as long as you own the home.
Installation. Unless you have quite a bit of construction experience, most DIYers with basic handyman skills find themselves over their head when it comes to window installation, opening up a Pandora’s box of damage and headaches. It’s a LOT more involved than just screws and caulking.
There’s the risk you’ll incorrectly measure the dimensions—being off by just a 1/4″ can create unwanted gaps where summer heat can make its way into your home. For example, a rookie mistake is to order exactly the same size window as the door opening, which doesn’t leave room for sealant and minor adjustments when a window isn’t square or true.
Or you might remove the old windows and discover water damage or rot deep within the walls. What then? You can’t call a window and door company to come fix it when it’s not their window.
Working with a window and door company from the outset means these problems are going to be handled correctly.. They’ll handle measuring, ordering and installing of the windows. They’re pros who know what they’re doing and have the experience to handle any issues they discover.
Gotta love that, right?
Custom windows may be more expensive, but worth it
If you want a perfect fit, and exactly the right colors, upgrades and options you prefer, then cut-to-fit windows are the best choice for most homeowners. You’re not just investing in a higher quality product, you’re getting exactly what you want—and what your home needs to operate most efficiently.
The standard premade windows homeowners anticipate buying at the home improvement store rarely compare to the quality and longevity of “custom” windows from a windows and doors company. Plus, they know exactly which brands deliver the best performance, which upgrades are worth it and what style works best with different architectural styles. They know which vinyl windows cost less but have really thick frames, which brands have quality control issues or are prone to manufacturing defects, and which upgrades are a waste of money.
After all, they’re the experts.
And if you want custom windows, in terms of turning a door into a window or vice versa, or designing something spectacular for a luxury home? They’ve got you covered there, too.
DunRite Windows & Doors services the Scottsdale and Phoenix area, with both cut-to-measure and custom window and door products. We even have a few of our own custom designs manufactured. If you’d like to chat or get an estimate, schedule an in-home estimate now.