Matt LeFaivre, of LeFaivre Construction, in Taneytown, Md., is "a vinyl guy." That means, he says, that "I specify vinyl exclusively unless something else is requested." And from the manufacturer whose products he uses, LeFaivre says he wants "things that we consider standard." For instance, argon gas between panes, low-e coating, and vinyl construction with multiple air chambers to reduce heat transfer.

Not everyone is that gung-ho about vinyl windows. Minneapolis remodeler Marty Schirber, owner of Castle Building & Remodeling, almost never specifies vinyl. The last time it happened, Schirber was remodeling a garage into living space and the client wanted a particular brand of triple-glazed, krypton-filled windows. "I had to call around and ask who sold them," he says.

Most of the windows Schirber installs are wood double-hungs on big, older homes. Because he aims to match existing, vinyl's not a consideration.

Ditto for Cindy Knutson-Lycholat, owner of Knutson Brothers II, in East Troy, Wis. "We're very wood-oriented," she says. Knutson-Lycholat restricts her use of vinyl windows to situations where, for instance, a client is converting a screened porch to windows or adding a room for a hot tub. "We do them where there's an unheated room that somebody wants no maintenance for," she says.

Weighing the Pros and the Cons

Philadelphia remodeler Ed Finkle takes a different tack. "All the replacement windows I use are vinyl, unless the client really wants wood." He, like other contractors, cites the pliability of vinyl and its imperviousness to moisture as major reasons. Unlike wood, vinyl doesn't shrink or swell with changes in humidity, so callback problems are minimized.

To fill both window and storm door needs, Finkle uses a local manufacturer called Northeast Building Products for three reasons: quality, availability, and breadth of selection. The windows are available in three distinct price/quality levels, and Northeast Building Products guarantees they'll be ready in 10 days, though Finkle says the company will "usually call within four or five days" to schedule a pickup.

Rapid turnaround is a must for manufacturers and suppliers of vinyl turers and suppliers of vinyl windows. "From our standpoint, service is the optimal thing," LeFaivre says. One big reason he picked his current product line over another three years ago was the manufacturer's ability to deliver in half the time. "If I order it on Wednesday afternoon, I have it one week later, or less."

That compares with three to four weeks for custom wood widows. If, for instance, wood windows are specified as part of the materials package for a kitchen job, "I order them when I order the cabinets," LeFaivre says.

No Ifs, Ands, or Buts

What general contractors find when competing against window replacement companies for vinyl window installation is that solid warranties — that is, the promise of worry-free windows — are a strong selling tool. For instance, another factor that sold LeFaivre on his current supplier was that company's "clear-cut, lifetime warranty — no ifs, ands, or buts replacement." He combines it with a warranty, offered by the product's distributor, on glass breakage. "So customers get two warranty papers," LeFaivre says. "One for the window, and one for lifetime glass breakage, through our suppliers."

LeFaivre says offering the two warranties gives him an advantage, "because sometimes we're going up against big window replacement guys, and we need anything we can to separate ourselves." In three years, he has yet to get a call on the glass breakage warranty.

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