Lowe's windows vs. window company?

quietlife3October 3, 2006

I'm wondering if anyone can compare for me these two options: 1)buying windows from somewhere like Lowe's and hiring someone to install or 2)buying windows & installation from a window/siding company. What're the quality and cost comparisons? Although we have wood windows now, we'd most likely do vinyl for their efficiency. We need a brand that has brown or green exteriors as an option. Thanks!

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This is just our experience with our local Lowe's and Home Depot (South Bay area of SF Bay Region, Northern CA). It may be different where you are.

In summary, from personal experience, I would recommend finding a Windows shop that is willing to educate you, answer all your questions, let you take the time to consider and decide what you want, unafraid to provide quotes on anything and everything of interest and is never in a hurry to run away from you as you browse their product. They do exist :-).

The gory details:

Our experience with big-box is that they sell at lower price but their staff are not dedicated Windows and Doors professionals despite glossy Ads. They seem to know a lot if you are ill-informed but if you are prepared, you will notice they know no more than you and often less. Their goal seems to be going along with what you want and give as many YES answers as possible. When they must say NO, they will say the product line simply does not offer that which we want. Not all staff behave this way but most do. Their options and selections and what they have on the floor are also limited. Even if you decide to buy from one of them, it pays to first check out all the options available by visiting WIndows shops. Nothing compares to actually seeing and touching the product before you make a choice.

Windows shops are definitely more knowlegeable about their own product and installation procedures but some are not helpful. We encounted a few that used amateurish techniques to discern if we were serious buyers or just out for a walk. Case in point was a shop that kept steering us to cheaper windows and when pressed, instead of quoting for the product of interest to us, he sent an outragouesly high quote on mid-grade product. This shop went belly-up just last year after 10 years in the business. I wonder why.

The shop that earned our business is a 60-yr old business specializing in Windows, doors and screens. They answered all our questions, took time to explain all the options, had a small but very complete showroom showing almost all the options available for all the brands they carry. We could see, touch, measure and understand all the options and differences. They were willing to provide written quote on anything and everything, and they did not bad mouth competitors.

They also had two long time contractors who were both General Contractor and registered with BBB. I could check their licenses and BBB status to make sure there were no complaints. The shop warned that their contractors would charge more and they did but we were happy with their very careful work.

For that kind of service, we were willing to pay a bit more knowing that we could get exactly what we wanted.

    Bookmark   October 3, 2006 at 6:27PM
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Thanks for the advice. We've already had one negative experience with an unrelated Lowe's install, so we would definitely NOT consider hiring their installers again..but we were considering buying our windows there. You brought up a lot of great points for us to consider.

    Bookmark   October 3, 2006 at 6:38PM
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If you buy your own materials the installer is not at all resopnsible if something goes wrong, like a balance breaks or the window gets a stress crack in a month, you'd have to take it up with lowes and then hire the installer back. Where if you have a guy that is confident in the windows he's selling, if something happens he should have no problem taking care of it.

    Bookmark   October 4, 2006 at 7:07PM
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Buying windows from the big box stores is a real gamble. Most of these stores have a tough time getting good installers to work for them. Some locations have burned so many bridges in their states that the word is out to steer clear of working for them. What happens most of the time is exactly what's been stated above. They lack the staff that has any real knowledge of what their selling. In most cases they have no clue what they're doing at all. The other downfall to us installers working for the big box stores is their "The Customer Is Always Right" attitude. Most of the upper end installers take great pride in their Professionalism & Craftsmanship. They would go out and do a job for a customer that would be acceptable by all standards any where in the Nation. But these customers have heard through the grapevine that if you complain enough you can get your money back. So even if it's the greatest job in the world, these people will find something wrong. They then complain until management gets so tired of hearing from them everyday, they get their money back. Now the credibility of the installer is in question for no reason. The installer is then offended by these accusations and jumps ship because his integrity in the business gets jeopardized. It's mainly all about the relationship the installer has with their stores and their management. Because believe it or not, those idiots that can't answer your questions about windows work their way up into running the whole program! This is failure at it's greatest!

Now in defense of Lowes I have to say personally here in the newly established market in MN, they are running a good program. Being in the door & window business since 1974 I have worked for all the big names as an installer. My business at one time was running 22 crews just installing doors & windows. My integrity was challenged so many times I couldn't handle it anymore. So we stepped back and just did our own thing. But when Lowes came to town around two years ago I thought I'd give it another shot. They had knowledgeable people setting things up that were fair and understanding. They let us professionals work with the newly hired staff and help train them in. I've spent many hours teaching their staff how to sell and treat the customers. They also let us really sell the job when we show up to measure the windows for each customer. This really helps in making the customer more confident they are getting the right people to do the job. I also have an open door policy with all the staff at each store to contact me anytime if they have a question they can't answer. They can call me on my cell phone at any time or day. Sometimes it's frustrating but it really helps them in a pinch. I know that there aren't many other installers who do what I do for the stores here. But we do have good installers here that are treated and payed fairly. So in the long run we have great success here in MN. There are only three stores here in the Twin Cities as of today. They have three more opening at the end of this month and three more by the end of the year. So we'll see how things keep moving.

As for their products, they aren't the best on the market. They have good middle of the line products that sell very well. I have set Lowes up with my local window manufacturer to sell their product line. This has really been a great help for them. Remember one thing about your windows, it's all about the installation that makes it shine. If they're installed right they'll work great for many years to come. If they're not put in right, you've just wasted a lot of money. Hope this makes some kind of sense from our side of the river.

    Bookmark   October 5, 2006 at 8:02AM
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Thank you for the information. It has given us quite a bit to think about. The windows are a big deal to us, and not just because the dinosaurs we have now are so not efficient. We have a 25+ yr old log home, probably the original windows, but they do nothing for the house nor the view outside.

We had a toilet install done by Lowe's. While I'm sure the installers were competent (and they were super friendly), I wasn't happy with Lowe's policy. Long story short, a piece needed to really complete the install was missing from where it should have been. Not the installers fault at all, but there wasn't anything they could do about it because they were not equipped nor was it there job, they said, to fix it. I believe had we hired a plumber, he would have had what was needed and the job would have been completed. So my husband was to purchase the piece, take the toilet up, replace the piece, replace the toilet, and only then could the bolts be cut and the toilet properly secured. Lowe's maintained that they had, in fact, installed our toilet, though we were going to have to take it up and pretty much reinstall it to get it done right. I had no beef with the installers, but with what Lowe's considered an installation. I was also ready to take responsibility for being ignorant about what was going to be covered, but I still felt like I should have gotten more than I did for my money. (That wasn't very short, was it?)

In any case, just like with anything, there are the good and the bad. It sounds like you, guy, are one of the good. I just don't know that I'd take that chance with a project as big as the windows. Never say never though, we'll keep our options open.

    Bookmark   October 5, 2006 at 11:20PM
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To judge the contractors, we used several simple techniques or tricks. We first did a lot of self-education to understand what it took to install a window properly. We also downloaded Marvin's installation instructions to learn their process. Why the wraps all around? Why cut the wrap this way? Where is the insulation? etc.

Then we went around inspecting our old windows armed with the new knowledge. We measured, checked level, and looked closely at potential problem spots. WE listed what we would have done if we were to do this ourselves. What we would have to do in each case and what must we do to deal with the problems we have identified? For example, having to replace trims around an opening, having to replace frames around an opening and needing a solid header in a new opening and so on.

The whole process identified several bad openings that would require extra work. Then wife and I sat down and formulated a way of talking that would pass on our concerns (without our own solution) about certain areas but without emphasis. This was to test if the contractors listened and was knowledgeable enough to notice and identify the same problem spots. If we could see it, they had better be able to see it. They could certainly disagree with our concern but they had better have a darn good reason.

Then we would innocently ask them how would they fix these problem spots. We expected them to answer with details patiently and to be willing to educate us. We would be matching what they say with what we had learnt. We are both engineers so it was not easy to throw some illogical vague mumbo jumbo at us. We would just ask more and deeper questions. Those that gave us vague answers or brushed us off or could not identify the problem spots did not get the job.

We then check up on the answers from the others who did give us good or semi-decent solutions. Again, search the web, check out construction books and so on. That let us narrow down to the one who provided the best solution.

We also judge body language and comfort level. If they seemed in a hurry to leave, constantly being interrupted by cell calls and would not tell the callers to wait, too eager to please just to get the job or just generally did not feel focus and confident in the job, we would not take them.

The one that we finally hired gave all the good answers and more. He also made himself comfortable looking all over, measured, checked, talked, gave ideas and turned off his cell to focus on our conversation. His GC experience really showed through in his no nonsense take-charge attitude and his confident, straightforward logical answers.

It was a lot of work before, during and after this whole process. To make sure everything was done right, we had to learn a lot but we do not regret all the effort. Contractors come and go but we have to live in our house for the next 20 years so best to do it right from the get-go.

    Bookmark   October 6, 2006 at 3:42PM
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Your last statement hit it on the head Calbay. I always tell my customers that what I tell them or even think is really is just an option (unless it's structural). I tell them they must live with it the rest of the time their living there. I go home to my own windows. So it must be what they're happy with, not me. I just throw out options to choose from. I also spend a large amount of time educating my customer. I base all of that on the conversation I have with them. Some customers find information as Calbay did, and others don't really concern themselves with any knowledge. They are just shopping for the lowest bid. I enjoy the education part because I've been doing it since 1974 and have a wealth of information to pass on. So if they have the time to listen, I'll unload the data base always. I also leave my Cell Phone in the truck during all meetings with the home owner. It's very rude and annoying to have it interfere with their time. I always love a customer who's done their homework!

    Bookmark   October 8, 2006 at 8:06AM
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guy exterior man,

after being in the business for so many years do you have any installer friends you would recommend in the denver area??? figure it is worth asking...


    Bookmark   October 15, 2006 at 7:33PM
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None that I can think of. If I do recall anyone I'll be more than happy to let you know.

    Bookmark   October 16, 2006 at 9:10AM
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guy exterior man--Which swinging patio door would you recomend at Lowes? Don't need wood, steel is ok as it in a basement. Which mid price casements would you suggest we look at (whole house)? I'm in the Twin Cities area.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2006 at 3:47PM
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I was in the market for sliding glass patio doors and Home Depot and Lowes had some of the highest installation prices of the dozen or so vendors I checked. Plus Lowes charges to measure your windows, and both big boxes have higher than average delivery prices if you are going to install them yourself. The best prices I found were at a hardware store that specialized in door and window sales and was all full of contractors buying doors and windows. The small hardware store also had a more complete showroom display and the salesmen were much more knowledgeable about the products. But for in stock sizes the big box stores are cheaper, but for special order sizes Home Depot was more expensive than most independents.

    Bookmark   December 3, 2006 at 3:05PM
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Run, run as fast as you can, away, away from the HD or Lowe's window man.

    Bookmark   December 8, 2006 at 2:46PM
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