Bob McKay, owner of McKay Building Co., Birmingham, Ala., sometimes gives his window customers options. But not always. On a recent kitchen remodel, McKay specified three replacement windows -- running between $600 and $700, installed -- and clients went along without objection. On larger projects -- an addition, for example -- he educates them on the options and helps them pick a window that fits their budget: "Insulated. Clad vs. not clad. Grills. Options on grills."

The average consumer doesn't know much about windows. "They know it's got two panes of glass and muntins,'" says California contractor Jason Larson. Nor, say other remodelers, are consumers all that curious about the windows. Salespeople, says Bruce Butterfield, president of Ambassador, a window and siding replacement firm in Harrisburg, Pa., can blow a presentation by focusing on technical specifics instead of how the window is going to make a difference in the way clients live. "They don't want to know about the thickness of the glass, or how many molecules are in krypton," he says.

Power of suggestion

Most customers looking to replace windows rely on their contractor's suggestion. McKay says he steers them toward vinyl- or aluminum-clad from a well-known manufacturer. This is for two reasons: Clad windows last longer, and the local supplier he uses delivers the product on the day promised.

Gary Crowley, owner of Crowley Construction in Burlington, Vt., points out that clients replacing windows for the first time are open to suggestions for higher quality products. When Crowley comes to replace builder-grade windows in a 25- or 30-year-old home, its owners are "not chintzing. They've been down that road." Crowley says that when replacing windows in the original house, he tends to specify upgrade windows the same size as existing. Enlarging the opening is expensive and can quickly eat up a budget. It's on additions, he says, that clients want to splurge. "The bigger, the better," Crowley says. "Half-rounds, transoms, a lot of fancy stuff."

George Brown

Larson, of San Diego-based Lars Construction, a company that includes a $1 million window division called Jacor Door and Window, lets clients select their configuration and material and then makes his case for upgrades at the glass package stage. A Jacor sales presentation offers in-depth discussion of glazing, soundproofing, and coating options. A low-E coating, for instance, makes for a $20 to $30 upcharge per window, but because the local utility offers a rebate on window purchases with low-E glass, Jacor always recommends it and will process the rebate paperwork.

Sprucing the whole place up

When Crowley goes to replace windows in a house, he usually looks to siding for cross-selling opportunities, because windows and siding were likely installed at the same time. "The other thing we find is that when we're replacing windows, sometimes the frame is so far gone -- the sills are rotten and the trim's beat up -- that we have to replace the trim and the frame." That boosts the job from $250 a window to $700.

"What we sell them on is the idea that you don't want to put a brand new sash in an old frame, because it's going to leak. Changing everything will cause the value of the house to appreciate," Crowley says.

McKay says that when replacing windows for past clients, he asks questions about how the house is functioning and doesn't hesitate to offer suggestions for improvements. "If we see something like the gutter starting to deteriorate, we mention it," McKay says. "And give them a solution."