Retrofit WIndows

What is a retrofit window and why you need them?picture of windows installed in a california home

A retrofit window, also called a replacement window, is made to fit over the frame of an existing window in a home. The existing window typically has wood, aluminum, steel, or vinyl frames. The new window is “retrofit” over the existing frame. The existing window is what the original home builder installed in the home when it was originally built. Often the age of the home, energy efficiency of existing wall materials, and type (or configuration) of the existing window will dictate the type of retrofit windows. That’s why you really have to get a professional window estimator to your home, trying to get a bid online is very difficult and rife with the potential for problems. Besides, a professional will make recommendations and know all the options available and will give you the best results.

The retrofit procedure starts by removing the glass, and the “stay bar” (in the middle of the window). There is a lot to remove and clean up depending on the home’s situation and environment. Good contractors place drop cloths and protect carpet and furniture from the very messy and destructive process of removing old windows. The opening is then cleaned up and prepared to receive the new window, which is fit over the old. Usually, the interior has vinyl trim applied that hides the old window frame, while the exterior is caulked to the existing home exterior. This is really basic information, so always ask to see pictures or completed jobs nearby so you know what you will end up with.

Panoramic series graphic showing window cut awayPeople usually have different reasons for buying replacement windows. They range from saving energy (and money), beautifying the home, ease of operation, comfort, security, noise reduction, low-maintenance, and even increasing the home’s value. Seldom do people regret buying new windows, the initial reaction we get after the job is complete is “we should have done this years ago!”

The great thing about getting new windows is that the benefits are noticeable immediately after installation and most homeowners are delighted. Often they say how much quieter the home is, or how it now feels less drafty. Understand that original home builders get the cheapest products they can because they are selling the entire home, windows are often paid little attention. The difference is dramatic and is like going from a Model A to a Tesla!

Retrofit Warnings

Professional window installers know how to remove the old window without damaging the existing flashing or vapor barrier. Stay away from amateurs and do not attempt this yourself. The company has the least expensive bid will generally be cutting corners and is buying the lowest quality and is not recommended. You can pay too little and not get a good result, so don’t go cheap on this! There is more going on with a retrofit window job than meets the eye. Even choosing the right caulking is important, the better and higher priced contractors buy the good stuff that is more than $8 a tube.

picture of our installer Brian showing Caulking Materials
Our installer Brian showing premium caulking we use

The potential for leaks and improper operation is too great to risk with your home. Check your installing contractors’ references and make sure they are licensed, bonded, and insured.

Often there is window treatments (like drapes and plantation shutters) that need to be removed prior to the removal process, and some companies will refuse to touch shutters and blinds due to the potential for damage to them. It is a good idea to check before you sign a contract to see who will be removing window treatments. Sometimes heavy furniture can be in the way of the installation and will have to be moved to complete the window installation. A good estimator will point this out and let you know who is responsible for moving furniture out of the way.
It really is like painting or getting your carpets cleaned, some won’t move anything and it has to be done prior to the date of installation.

Keep in mind that the window has to be measured correctly and ordered from the window manufacturing facility. Always ask what the lead time is for the supplier, as well as what the lead time is for the installation. During the busy summer and fall season, lead times can be as much as three months! Not all window factories are the same, and some are really slow (and have a poor quality reputation) and may even be manufactured out of state. This may or may not be a bad thing depending on the company. You really should do research on the window manufacturer because some are clearly better at building windows and may or may not be the best product in your area. The same can be said about the installing contractor. More complaints are sent to the BBB about contractors than any other industry, so do your due diligence on them as well. Inexperienced companies make mistakes and will point fingers of blame at everyone but themselves. That is why asking about the installation process and expertise of the production manager and installers is very important. They can make or break the project.

The Gubmint Gets Their Greedy Paws On Your Project

Many local cities like the additional revenue so they may require permits in your area for your project. Check with your local building code office at city hall to see what that is, and find out if your contractor includes those permit fees and who has to go stand in line to pull the permit! Some homeowners associations may even have restrictions as to what color or brand of window is approved so you should find that out as well. Some areas are historic districts and are very restrictive as to what can be installed. God help you if you live in one of these areas as they tend to allow you only to buy very expensive wood or fiberglass windows.

California Homes Are UniqueRetrofit windows installed in a log cabin

One can break down the homes by the era in California. Early California homes were Victorian, like in San Francisco, later in the century we saw an expansion of styles from “Craftsman style” in the twenties to 40’s LA bungalows. Did you see LA Confidential? Typically these homes had single pane wood windows. Later, Early to mid-century homes became the classic ranch-style single story. They featured metal frames like steel casement windows and aluminum horizontal sliders. Almost everything from this era was single pane glass and little attention was paid to energy loss. Remember, we just cranked up the thermostat! Today’s crippling home energy bills have made that time seem like it never existed, but it did. The Eighties and Nineties christened the first generation dual pane windows, often with metal frames and spacers. Vinyl windows were also introduced, as well as new glass technology that made the windows more efficient than ever before. Window Manufacturers like Anlin make many different styles and configurations that will complement any California home style which is saying a lot…all with really great performance ratings. Look at our photos on our Facebook page for proof!

California Climate Is Unique Too

While we can generally say we are in a “Mediterranean climate” due to our latitude, California has 16 distinct climate zones. This is far more than the three that are shown on the Energy Star Map.Energy Star Map Graphic If you think about it, the climate in Tahoe is vastly different than it is in the Bay Area or the central valley. The northern coast is very different than the southern coast. Heck, even Napa valley boasts about its microclimates for growing grapes in its very small area.

Energy Saving Needs

Energy used to be cheap in California, so older homes tend to have large windows and doors. While a dramatic vista of the Bay is nice, through those inefficient single pane windows you will be paying for more than just the view. It is a best practice to find a window that EXCEEDS these requirements as they are just the bare minimum. The best high-performance windows exceed the minimal compliance of both Energy Star and Title 24.

The Energy Star program for windows was introduced around 1999, therefore if your home was built prior to this you probably need new windows. Our window supplier, Anlin, has more options today than ever before, with everything they make exceeding minimum energy requirements. This will be more important as utility rates are expected to climb faster than ever before due to a variety of factors too numerous to mention here.

You really should call us today to schedule a free estimate as energy prices are only going to go up, so waiting will make little sense as you are already paying for new windows!

Retrofit Window Buying Do’s and Dont’s

Stay away from amateurs and do not attempt this yourself
Who will be removing window treatments and furniture?
What the lead time is for the supplier, as well as what the lead time is for the installationHome Advisor Top Rated logo
Do research on the window manufacturer AND installation contractor references and licenses.logo for impressive exteriors better business bureau A+ rating
Check online reviews of both the manufacturer and contractor.
Any restrictions from the local permit office or your HOA?
Who pays for and who pulls the permit, if needed?
Get a professional window expert to your home for the best advice
Do not buy from the cheapest window contractor!

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