The Truth Behind the $199 Window Ads

We’ve all seen the ads: “Any Window, Any Size – $199 Installed”. Right. And if you believe that, I know of a bridge in Brooklyn for sale.

Here’s the reality behind those claims:

To start with, I can’t recall the last time our company purchased a window that cost less than $200 – never mind the installation labor or other materials necessary for a quality install. In fact, the typical window we install costs several times that.

Windows are made up of a myriad of components – upwards of several dozen or more in most cases. These components must be machined and fitted to very exacting tolerances in order for the unit to function & operate properly, as well as keep conditioned air in and exterior elements, including rain and snow, out.

Glazing, a critical element, is expensive, assuming the proper glazing for this region is used. Likewise, hardware must be durable and machined precisely for it to function properly for years to come. Cheap hardware is the bane of cheap windows, as the units often fail in a relatively short time, becoming impossible to secure properly to keep out the elements (not to mention uninvited guests).

Cheap windows  are usually installed cheaply.  Very often, installation is done by “subcontractors” who have no solid connection to the company selling the windows & may or may not be carrying the proper insurance, including General Liability & Workman’s Compensation.  Even worse, they’re often untrained and though they may be well intentioned, the quality of their work is frequently lacking. Here are just a few examples of a poor quality installation:

Stuffing fiberglass insulation around the perimeter of windows. Fiberglass is completely ineffective at stopping air movement. If you have a forced air furnace, consider what the filter, through which all the return air passes, is made of. That’s right: fiberglass. Most manufacturer spec’s. do not permit the use of fiberglass in this application, but instead call for the use of low expanding foam made specifically for window & door installations. That said, most companies producing cheap windows rarely have comprehensive installation instructions. But if AAMA & the reputable window manufactures clearly state low expanding foam must be used, I’m inclined to believe that they know what’s best.

The use of cheap caulk instead of more expensive and durable sealants on the exterior of the window. Whether I’m teaching a class on siding & exterior trim details or window & door installation, I always try to remember to have my class repeat the following: “Painters use caulk. Carpenters use sealant”. This saying sums up the point I’m always trying to drive home: that building components – particularly windows – are only as good as their weakest link & need premium supporting products to ensure premium performance. A 99 cent tube of Painters Caulk may perform just fine for its intended purpose of filling seams between interior elements, but rest assured it won’t stand up long when exposed to the weather in Chicago. Instead of a 99 cent tube of caulk, the premium sealants that should be used when installing a window or door often cost 6 to 10 times that. Think the installers slapping that $199 window in know or care?

Failure to insulate weight pockets.  Older double hung windows that rely on a counterbalance system of cast iron weights have weight pockets, or hollow channels on either side of the window itself. The weights, which are attached to the window sash via ropes or chains, ride up & down in these pockets as the window is raised & lowered. Modern double hung windows rely on spring loaded balances instead, making the weight pockets obsolete. Unfortunately, many installers simply abandon the old weights inside the weight pockets when installing new units. This results in a fairly large uninsulated cavity to the left & right of the window, permitting energy to escape as well as allowing for drafty conditions. Many a customer who has had windows replaced complains that the draftiness that existed prior to them being installed is still present. The reason can often be traced back to faulty or missing weight pocket insulation.

Covering up rotten components. Rot on a window frame or trim must be removed & not just covered up. If rot is not removed, it may continue to progress undetected, potentially compromising the structure.

Failure to comply with RRP guidelines. Was your building constructed prior to 1978? If so, the company working on your windows & at least one of their crew members must be certified by the EPA & must follow specific guidelines for dealing with any lead based paint that may be present. If a contractor can’t be trusted to ensure the safety of your family’s (& his own) health, how can he be trusted to properly install your windows?

All these shortcuts reduce the performance and durability of what is already a product that needs all the help it can get. The reality is that these shortcuts combined with a poor quality product can & often do produce very nasty results. If the window leaks, the damage can be significant. I’ve had to tear down entire portions of walls because of a window leak that went undiscovered for months or years. How can that be? Well, if a window leaks, it will most often do so in an area where two corners come together. And if it’s only leaking in one small spot, the water may migrate down into the wall below for quite a while before making its presence known. In the meantime, rot, mold, & fungus may be forming inside the wall, at which point all the damaged material must be removed or abated.

Simply put, poor quality materials and poor workmanship begets poor performance, – period.  You really do generally get what you pay for.

Remember this: Few people are more qualified to offer insight into a product’s value than those who sell it.

Before buying into the $199 myth, ask yourself what a cheap window really costs.


  1. Jasmine Liveonea says:

    Nice read. Posted this on LinkedIn for some friends to checkout.

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  3. I accidentally stumbled across this website doing some research of window products to use for a customer of mine. After 25+ years of being in this industry, servicing hundreds of customers in my area of New Jersey, I can honestly say that the words spoken on this website are, by far, the best representation of any contractor that I’ve ever come across, either on the net, or in my personal interactions. It’s a breath of fresh air to see other like minded contractors who’s reputation is based upon providing customers with quality work done correctly.

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