Advantages Low maintenance, secure, energy efficient, adds value to your home
Disadvantages Serious trouble if you get it wrong
|After Sales Service|
|Price||you get what you pay for|
So you can’t put it off any more. The old windows really have to go. You’ve heard the horror stories of the unscrupulous sales reps, the cowboy fitters and the non-existent customer service. Your ability to choose one window from another is limited to what looks nice in the brochure. You are bombarded with cold phone calls, leaflets through the door, amusing commercials on the radio, and studying the Yellow Pages only adds to the confusion. Where do you start? How do you decide which companies to get quotes from? And worst of all, how do you survive the visit of the dreaded double glazing salesman? How much should I budget for, and should I consider finance. If you survive all this with your sanity intact, you then have to decide which windows to actually buy.There are two very simple steps to solving all these problems:
However, if step one proves to be elusive, my guide may help you through the minefield you are about to step into.WHO SHOULD I ASK FOR A QUOTE?
The only thing for it is to do your homework. Collect as many opinions as you can. Look around your neighbourhood, don’t be afraid to knock on a few doors and ask if the homeowner would recommend the company that installed their windows.Draw up a shortlist of four or five companies drawn from the three categories I mentioned above and then check if they are members of the Glass and Glazing Federation. You can phone them on 0207 403 7177 or visit their web site at www.ggf.org.uk.
This extract from their web site explains what they do and the free services they provide:-GGF members have been vetted to ensure quality of service: this vetting process includes making a site visit to the company's premises, checking three year's of their accounts and taking up references.
Do not necessarily accept the GGF logo on headed notepaper as proof that any DG company is currently a GGF member. Some companies, including a big well known one (BAC) are no longer members since they have ceased trading, started up again under a slightly changed name. The guarantees given by these companies are consequently not to be trusted. Incidentally, I know of a BAC salesman who keeps with him an advert from a local free newspaper that insinuates that Everest advertise for contractors to carry out installations. He shows it to prospective customers in order to undermine a rival company. I can only assume that the salesman placed the advert himself for that very purpose.Checking with the GGF should weed out the less reputable or unestablished companies and help you decide on your short list with some confidence. But they vet the companies, not their staff, so it may not be of much help when you step into the ring with the wily sales rep.
HOW DO I DEAL WITH THE SALESMAN?Dealing with a DG Salesman in your home can be a worrying prospect if you know nothing about the wide variation in the quality of the product and fitting techniques of the installers, not to mention the spiel of the salesman himself.
A golden rule is that you should have a pre-prepared list of questions. This op should help you write one. If he answers any them as part of his patter, note down what he says. At the end, if you have anything unanswered, ask him open questions (do not put words in his mouth) from your list and note down his answers. This will not only put you in control, but also give you a tool to help you make comparisons between the merits of the products of each company you obtain a quote from.The Appointment
The measurements a salesman takes are accurate enough only to be able to give you the correct price. If you decide to buy, It is essential that you then receive a visit from a qualified surveyor in order to take the exact dimensions and check for any structural considerations that the salesman may have missed. This is very important since your windows must fit as closely as possible to the surrounding brickwork.It is expensive to manufacture to a fine tolerance and the windows may take a little longer to fit, but the alternative is that your windows may be held in place with nothing more than some DIY ‘expanding foam’ covered by a strip of silicone. The whole unit can then be removed from the outside with a crow bar or a shovel. If loose fitting units are bolted in place, there is a risk that the bolts may be over-tightened, damaging the frame and compromising the effectiveness of the sealed unit.
Ask about the fitters
Always ask the salesman about the fitters and their methods:
They should never remove a window unless they have time the same day to replace it.
Any local damage sustained the brick and plaster should be made good.
Covers and dustsheets should be used throughout the property, not just where the work is being carried out.
All old material should be removed from site without a stopover on your lawn.
Fitters should have trade qualifications as well as being trained and employed by the company. This is important since contractors may not necessarily care about either the quality of their work or the state in which they leave your property.
They should clean and tidy up before they leave.
They should allow you to inspect the installation to your satisfaction before signing anything and paying any balance due.
The fitting should also be part of any guarantees.
As mentioned earlier, the surveyor plays an essential part in the process for the benefit of the customer.
However, the visit of the surveyor can sometimes carry a sting. A classic “con” regularly employed by one of the UK’s larger companies and copied throughout the industry…. (A close relative of mine had exactly this experience with Anglian recently) . . .
While on the subject of the small print, you are legally allowed to cancel within a statutory seven days if you buy anything ‘on the doorstep’. But if you invite a salesman into your house and sign an agreement, you are legally committed, unless there is something in the terms that gives you seven days grace anyway. Always ask for this.
This has lead to a polarisation of companies at one end of the market or the other. Without doubt, over the last decade since the great council house sell-off, the highest turnover has been at the cheaper end of the market where companies often compete on price alone.Recycled PVC-U
Depth of the Frame
Your old timber window frames are probably 3 inches deep (inside to outside). If you replace them with standard PVC-U units of 60mm depth you will be left with either a gap on the inside, or outside which could leave a white line around your brickwork where the old frames were painted. A full 70mm depth is recommended since this also allows for stronger steel reinforcement and more internal cross section compartments that will restrict heat loss through the frame. It also improves rigidity without deepening the width of the frames, which would reduce the amount of glass.
The reinforcement of PVC-U windows is an unseen but vital component. Any major building work on your home will put a strain on the surrounding walls, effecting plaster and even internal door frames. It is essential that any window replacements are tightly fitting and sufficiently reinforced to keep movement to an absolute minimum.Glass
Toughened (safety) glass should be fitted as standard where the glazing panel is low enough to the floor to be a danger to toddlers. This glass will shatter harmlessly if broken. Not to be confused with laminated glass. This is a 2mm acrylic sheet built into a 4mm glazed pane making a 6mm thickness. This is always worth considering when security is an issue particularly on glazed back doors.Security
The Sealed Unit
The effectiveness of the sealed units also varies. Some cheaper units have to be ‘gas filled’ in order to reach the standard of the better quality windows. Regarding the distance between the panes, there is a trade-off between heat insulation and sound insulation. If you live under a flight path or on a busy road and noise pollution is you main concern, then consider secondary glazing. This gives a much deeper gap between the inside and outside glass surfaces. The optimum distance for a double glazed sealed unit is 20mm between the inside surfaces of two sheets of 4mm glass.
I think I’ll have those nice ones with the rose petals
Anyone who simply chooses their windows from a brochure because they look nice and are cheap will be totally unaware of any of the vital points that I have discussed above. What a window actually looks like with regard to the fancy appendages that are available is entirely down to personal taste (for which there is no accounting) and whether the style of the house is taken into consideration, (which in many cases it is not). Many options are available, rectangular, diamond, or many other fancy lead designs are available, often with coloured glass (Stick-on film is generally better than spray painted). Georgian bars, between the panes (tacky) or on both outside surfaces (authentic but more expensive) are also widely available. Arched corners and woodgrain effect are all cosmetic options, but one thing many people do not take into account is the different widths of adjacent opening and fixed frames. Sometimes referred to as ‘sight lines’.
Not to be confused with warrants. A warrant usually involves the homeowner being obliged to perform regular maintenance in order for the warrant to remain valid.
Some smaller companies or local builders who do not manufacture their own units, may get them from manufacturers who may only give a 5 year guarantee or maybe none at all. The units may then be given a standard 10-year guarantee by your DG company who will merely cross their fingers. Another thing to beware of are guarantees that do not include the fitting.Building Regulations
Here is an excerpt from the FENSA web site www.fensa.org.uk
FENSA stands for the Fenestration Self-Assessment Scheme. It has been set up by the Glass and Glazing Federation (GGF), with Government approval, in response to the new Building Regulations for England and Wales
From 1 April 2002, all replacement glazing in dwellings will come within the scope of the Building Regulations. From then on, anyone who installs replacement windows or doors will have to comply with improved thermal performance standards.
When having their windows and doors replaced from this date homeowners must ensure that they get a certificate form Local Authority Building Control or have the work completed by a FENSA Registered Company.
Secondly, from a safety point of view in case of fire, an escape hinge (sometimes known as an ‘egress’ hinge) must be fitted to all habitable upstairs rooms. A normal hinge on a double glazed unit will open up to a third of the way from the edge of the frame. This makes it easy to clean the outside of the window, but can restrict exit in case of an emergency. An egress hinge opens from the edge of the frame to allow wider access. Better quality ones will also allow for outside cleaning by use of a sliding mechanism..
Cash is NOT king. Discounts for cash may not be forthcoming unless a very heavy deposit is required, in which case, beware, the company may be existing on a hand-to-mouth basis. A company is more likely to offer discount or cashback incentives for a finance deal since they know they will get their money up front. Not all customers who order double-glazing have the readies to pay for it on installation.
You will most likely be offered a finance package. I am not a financial adviser, but these are the things to consider.
Any credit purchase has far more consumer protection than a simple cash transaction. Your deposit is protected, and with the more reputable companies, the bank may even back up their guarantees. This is not a benefit you will enjoy if you arrange your own finance. If you add the cost to your mortgage you will probably pay more in the long run. On the down side, the APR is likely to be uncompetetive. You must balance this against the discounts and incentives you may receive. The bottom line is what will the total cost be compared to paying the balance by cheque. Flexibility is also very important. Can you set your own level of payments and vary them? Can you pay lump sums and make an early redemption without penalty? Do spend some time on this.
A good salesman from a reputable company should always work from a price list. Of course, no one in their right mind ever pays the full list price, as there are always discounts available. Some of these discounts may be conditional. The salesman should explain all the discounts and the conditions attached in order to reach the final price.
Another point to consider is that if a company is capable of producing windows of varying quality, you will have been shown the top quality windows priced accordingly, but may end up with budget quality actually fitted.Of course you should not pay more than you can afford for your windows, but it is an even bigger mistake to pay too little. Your home is the biggest investment you are ever likely to make and the windows are an integral part of it. From the point of view of strength, security, insulation and maintenance, you should consider paying the most you can afford for the best quality. Unlike other purchases that you can exchange, sell or write off if you make a mistake, double glazing units should be regarded as a once-only purchase.
However, there is nothing wrong with doing a deal on the night provided that you are doing it for the right reasons. If these are the windows you actually want above all others, if this company is one you can trust, and if the price is right, then why not?
Steel yourself, here comes the close.
Hopefully, armed with this information you will feel better prepared to consider the relative merits or otherwise of the company and their products. You will then be more confident of your own opinion instead of being swayed by the irresistible deal-closing patter of the salesman who, unlike you, is a professional. Expect to be offered a special ‘tonight only’ price. Of course it makes much better business for the company if the salesman can wrap it up in one appointment, but you can rest assured that if you call back in a few days time and request that ‘tonight only’ offer, you will not be turned down.
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