Published: Jan. 14, 2021
Should you DIY or hire professionals?
Wondering how to replace single pane windows with double pane? Having a windows and doors company replace them for you, or managing your own DIY installation of windows purchased from a home improvement store are the two most common solutions. Here’s our insight on both.
We won’t be giving you step-by-step instructions on how to do the install, just tips and issues to be aware of before you decide which route to go.
If you still have single-pane windows in your home, chances are they’re original to an older home. And unless it’s an architecturally significant home that requires historically accurate windows, double-pane windows are the practical alternative. They’re today’s standard, in terms of energy efficiency, and widely available in a wide range of colors, features and styles, with materials ranging from vinyl (the most economical) to wood (the most expensive).
Triple-pane windows are also available, but in our opinion, any difference in the insulation factor is not worth the additional cost unless you live in extreme cold climates. It does not make a big difference in desert climates like Arizona.
So when you’re ready to replace those old single pane windows, where do you begin? We’d like to share our perspective. Then, you decide what’s most appropriate for your home and budget: doing it yourself or hiring professionals.
The easiest choice is to hire specialists with a good reputation
Naturally, as a window and door company, our first recommendation is for homeowners to consider using a window and door company. Assuming the homeowner has chosen one with a solid reputation and competitive pricing, then it’s the easiest option for getting those single pane windows replaced with double pane as efficiently as possible. It ensures the job is done right.
Of course, it’s also the most hands-free option for the homeowner. From placement of furniture and window coverings inside the home to landscaping outside the home, using professionals means that a homeowner can expect the home to look the same as it did before replacements began. No mess. They can also expect the window specialists to carefully inspect each windows before installation, replace any that have issues or scratches, provide some sort of guarantee on the installation work and seal of the windows, and to smoothly handle any warranty issues that may arise after installation is done.
It also ensures the least amount of damage possible, something that’s important in old homes with extremely brittle stucco, or when replacing improperly installed windows likely to have significant mold and rot inside of the wall.
If you are thinking to go this route, it’s good to have a basic understanding of how window and door companies work, too. This helps you end up with the product and style you want.
1. Use a company that is registered as a licensed contractor. This ensures you have options if something goes wrong, and that the company is licensed and bonded for your protection. It also gives you a simple way to verify if they have past disciplinary actions to be aware of.
2. Be aware of their business model. If you’re looking for a high-end brand like Andersen or Pella, be aware of differences in how that brand sells their windows. For example, both have a line of windows sold at home improvement stores that is not the same product sold by their dealers and/or distributors. There is a reason for the price difference. Some manufacturers also have franchises that set their own pricing, which tells you that quotes from several franchises may vary widely in price, which can be to your benefit. For example, Andersen windows sells through a network of dealers and authorized dealers, where the Renewal by Andersen brand is sold exclusively through their own network of franchises. Same manufacturer, big differences in pricing. (Click here for more information on that brand.)
If it’s a dealer, find out if they sell product from multiple manufacturers or just one – that can also shift the sales process. A salesman selling just one brand of product tries hard to sell you that product, even if it’s not really the best one for your home or individual needs. A company selling multiple products may be more flexible in finding exactly the right product for your needs. They have more options to work with. It’s not that one type of window company or another are bad, they just have differences and nuances that it can be helpful to be aware of.
3. Be leery of companies who pressure you with expensive upsells you don’t want or need. If the warranty is so limited and short that you feel it’s necessary to purchase additional coverage, it can indicate quality issues, a lack of faith in the longevity of their product, or a company that’s more interested in the bottom line than their customer. We like product that has a product so well made that their comfortable including a 10-year or even lifetime warranty at no extra charge. That’s confidence! (Wondering which upgrades are worth the cost? Click here for that article.)
4. Look at your neighbor’s houses before an appointment. Having a sense of the color and style of windows you like can help narrow down the best products for your budget. If you have no idea, it’s harder for the salesperson to help you, and it’s harder to get apples-to-apples quotes from several different companies.
5. Ask about the style of installation, as that impacts the product used. Will they be removing the entire window frame, or leaving it in place? This can impact the choices available, and the style of the window, as much thicker frames are needed to cover an old frame. Ideally, you want the entire window removed, allowing visibility into the opening so mold, water damage and rot can be repaired, then a new window installed that fits tightly into that opening.
We hope these tips are helpful. For more detail, be sure to take a look at our blog. It’s a wealth of information!
Let’s move on to the other choice – doing the install yourself.
The most affordable choice (sometimes) can be DIY window replacement
Can you replace single-pane windows with double-pane yourself? This answer depends on your own skills as a handyman, your comfort level handling the project, and availability of the right product and tools to get the job done.
There are also a few other areas to think about, that the average homeowner might not be aware of.
1. Think through your actual level of experience very carefully before deciding. If you are confident enough to handle issues like crumbling stucco, mold or rot in the window opening once the old window is removed, and gaps or an overly snug fit from a window opening that isn’t perfectly square, then this might be a solution to consider.
If those are not situations you’d be comfortable resolving, this may not be the best DIY project to tackle.
Nobody wants to be the overly confident DIY’er that ends up with a nightmare (like the window image above), with no idea how to finish the job, or who pops out an old window to find massive damage they can’t fix underneath.
Plus, it’s not just the risk of finding (or creating) damage that you don’t have the skills to repair, it’s finding someone to do the repair if something goes wrong. Most window and door experts are not available to repair this type of situation, since they don’t repair existing installations. They also don’t replace just one or two windows, since it isn’t cost effective, and they don’t install windows that were not ordered and purchased through them. They only handle replacements for the entire home, and install product they’ve personally ordered and inspected. Glass repair companies are not the solution, either. While they might come in to replace an entire window, they don’t handle stucco repair and the kind of weather damage this situation would cause.
As one final idea to think about… if you start the project and find yourself over your head, window opening(s) are typically vulnerable to weather and additional damage while you’re locating the right repair partner. What if the repair person has a six- or eight-week backlog of customers before they’re available to start your repair? Good ones tend to be busy. During monsoon season, or if it rains, that delay can pile on even more damage to the exterior and interior wall.
We see homeowners in over their heads all the time, it’s common—so it’s important to be honest with yourself about your ability to handle replacing windows before you commit. DIY can be a very cost effective solution, if you have the right skills to handle potential stucco, drywall, plaster and/or framing repair, but it’s important to think this through before you’re elbow deep in damage.
2. Be aware that custom sizes can be hard to find for self-installed product, and off-the-shelf sizes may not fit. Do not compromise with standard sizes that are too small. You can find affordable product at local home improvement stores; however, unless you are purchasing custom windows bundled with their own installation services from your local store, home improvement stores typically sell pre-made windows in a limited range of standard sizes. These don’t always fit openings the homeowner intends to fill, leaving them to figure out how to make it work.
3. Don’t use standard windows that are too small. It’s very important to find windows that are the right size for your opening. If they aren’t available, a DIY homeowner should not purchase the wrong size, hoping to make it work. Instead, consider alternative options, such as continuing to shop for replacement windows, or hiring professionals.
If you’re planning to simply cover gaps with wood trim on the exterior of the home, consider this: gaps compromise energy efficiency, and often cause leaks between the trim and the opening. Over time, mold and rot develops.
Something else to consider: wood trim needs consistent ongoing maintenance, with annual scraping, caulking and painting required to avoid issues. Most homeowners aren’t able or willing to invest this level of ongoing maintenance, or struggle to find the time when they’re busy with other priorities. They fall behind, only to find out too late that their improper installation hiding behind wood trim and the lack of proper maintenance voided their product warranty.
4. Find out if the home improvement store is selling builder grade product. Builder grade windows are not the same quality as an aftermarket window replacement product intended for professionals, even when it’s from the same manufacturer that sells product to those professionals. Builder grade is typically a mass-produced product with average quality materials.
It also has a limited number of options. For example, you can’t add energy efficient upgrades to windows purchased at a home improvement store, or customize the hardware to match your door and cabinet handles, or even include one window that’s a custom shape. Choices are limited.
Off-the-shelf product also may have a limited warranty, compared to product from a professional replacement window company, too, so please be sure to carefully review the warranty documentation before making a purchase, and look closely at product before you start the installation process to ensure you are comfortable with what you have purchased. There’s nothing worse than removing old windows, then unwrapping the new ones only to find issues… leaving you with unsealed openings to deal with while you wait for a replacement. Or even worse, installing the new product, only to find a defect you missed.
5. If you’re purchasing a vinyl window product, be especially careful with the generic brands to ensure the frames are strong enough to withstand one or two decades of Arizona heat, with a strong warranty that covers fading, sagging and warping for a period of time you are comfortable with, or that matches how long you intend to remain in the home.
If you are thinking about the DIY route for replacement double-pane windows, we encourage you to get a few quotes from a professional windows and doors company before you decide. The cost difference may be less than you think, there may be custom sizes or upgrades in energy efficiency that you want, and avoiding the hassle of doing it yourself may be worth the extra bucks.
Financing is available for new windows, if that is of interest.
And if you are considering the custom window option from a home improvement store that bundles installation with their custom-ordered product? We would encourage you shop that partner like you would any home improvement company you’re thinking to hire. Don’t rely on store promises. Get two or three comparison quotes, then when you’ve narrowed down your choice, verify their reputation through reviews, the Better Business Bureau and the Arizona Registrar of Contractors.
If you’ve decided against DIY as an option to replace single pane windows with double pane, and you don’t quite have the funds to hire a window and door company, is there anything else you can do? Occasionally, we have homeowners ask about other options. We tend to suggest financing as an option before other solutions, but our best advice? Continue saving until you can afford a solution that works for you.
Can I use a handyman to install windows I purchase from a home improvement store?
Why will window and door companies not install windows that were not purchased from them? They can only guarantee results if it’s handled start to finish from them, which is important for liability and customer service reasons. It also ensures a certain level of quality and allows them to be responsible for how well the windows fit, since they measured and ordered the sizes. Plus, since they measure then order product, the windows are custom and non-standard sizes are not a problem. One last benefit? Custom shapes are no big deal. Since they aren’t working with pre-made product and everything is made to order, all things are possible.
Handyman can’t do that with home improvement store product.
So what happens if you can’t quite swing the budget a windows professional has quoted, and you don’t have the skills to install windows yourself? Is there anything else you can do?
Some homeowners hire a handyman to install windows they’ve already purchased, or product that the handyman orders, but we don’t recommend it. Installing windows is not something they specialize in, so they probably don’t have the right experience to handle any of the same problems we mention above that can occur. They also typically are not licensed, bonded and insured, so if there is a problem, there is little recourse for the homeowner’s resolution. And, that’s assuming that if you have installation-related issues years down the road, that you can find that same handyman and hold him accountable, and that he has the resources to make good on the issue if there are out-of-pocket costs involved.
One other thing to consider? In Arizona, handymen are only exempt from licensing for jobs under $1,000 for both labor and materials, and if a permit is not required. So if you’re quoted over that amount for labor, or labor plus materials, they’d need to have a general contractor’s license for the homeowner to be protected. And a fact most people don’t know – most homeowner’s insurance policies specifically exclude coverage related to the work of unlicensed contractors. You are personally liable.
Given these risks, is the minor savings worth it? Windows and doors are so important to the overall seal of a home, and a cascading pile of issues can be triggered by damaged openings if water and insects get inside the walls and wood framing.
Can I replace the glass or alter the window in another way without replacing the frame?
For some homeowners, cost is a barrier. They simply can’t afford even a minimum budget for new windows, yet they want to do something to help their energy efficiency. We’ve seen everything from sheets of acrylic mounted inside window openings to create a double pane effect to after-market reflective films.
We can’t speak to the effectiveness of these options, although caulking a sheet of acrylic or glass over the entire inside opening of a window would make it impossible to open or clean that window, so it seems pretty impractical – and it is unlikely an aftermarket film would have the same adhesion and reflective properties as a liquid film applied by a glass maker, or a compound blended right into the glass molecules as it’s being melted.
However, we can say this: sometimes small changes can have an impact. If you have a window with broken glass or a broken seal, or you have one or two rooms in your home that always seem hotter than the rest of the home, replacing those windows may help while keeping the budget minimal.
It’s not a long-term solution, however, and it doesn’t address the entire home. Plus, when you eventually do have budget for swapping out those single pane windows, odds are good that these windows won’t match what is being installed, so you’ll end up replacing them along with all of the others. That money was wasted.
It’s something to think about.
If you do want to investigate this option, though, we can refer you to a trusted glass repair company. Give us a call and we’ll share their contact information.
We hope this information is valuable as you navigate making a decision.
Have questions about how to replace single pane with double pane windows? We’re happy to help. Just fill out our form here or give us a call at (602) 456-2227 during normal business hours. We’ll answer any question you toss our way.