The First Big Update

Corey and I have lived in this house for a little over a year and a half now, and we’ve made a ton of little updates along the way. We’re constantly tweaking and switching up things in our house, but up until this point we haven’t really done anything major.

Well…it’s time to fix that. I’ve teased several times over the last few weeks that Corey and I are in the process of getting new windows for our house, and we’re so incredibly excited about it. Our house has a ton of very large windows, and every last one of them is aluminum, single pane, not tempered (and therefore not at all up to code) and failing.

People always think I’m exaggerating when I talk about how bad our windows are, but let me put it this way: when you’re sitting on the couch on a cold night, you can feel the breeze from outside on the back of your neck. 

Seriously.

They’re THAT bad.

So, yeah. We’ve been wanting to fix ‘em for a while now but windows are expensive, y’all. Like, jaw-dropping, gut-wrenching expensive.

But, as the weather has started to warm up and we began to think of facing another Texas summer in what is basically a greenhouse (the entire back wall of our house is pretty much floor to ceiling windows, and the afternoon sun hits them perfectly), we knew we were going to have to suck it up and get it done.

First off, I’ll clarify that we aren’t actually updating the windows for the entire house yet. We decided to save some money and only do half of them now, and we’ll go back and do the rest later. We waffled back and forth on if we would split it up, but in the end we realized that if we only do half now we can go ahead and tackle the garage renovation now rather than waiting (eek!!), which made the decision pretty easy. So, throughout the post I’ll sprinkle in some photos of the windows we are replacing, so you can get an idea of what our plans are.

This was our first go-round with hiring someone to do something like this for our house – as you’ve probably noticed, we like to do most things ourselves. But this is a big job, and one that we totally don’t feel comfortable trying to tackle without professional help. So, we called in the pros. The windows aren’t installed yet (though we got confirmation that they were ordered at the end of last week, so they should be here in about two weeks!), but I thought today would be a good opportunity to chat about what we’re having done, and go through the process of hiring someone to do work on your house. It’s hugely intimidating if you’ve never done it before, and we learned a lot from our experience!

When it was time to call someone, we were pretty overwhelmed with options – do we go with a big box store like Lowe’s or Home Depot, or do we call in a smaller local company? Do we have a ton of people out to give us quotes or do we just say screw it and book the first people we meet? How do we know which company to use?

I started off by doing some online research. We have had a couple of quotes in the past (one from Lowe’s when we first moved in, and one from a local company about 6 months ago), so we had a general idea of what to expect in terms of cost. We knew we didn’t want to use the big box store, partially because their windows aren’t that awesome, but mostly because we like to go local whenever we can. We liked the company we had out near the end of last year, but we wanted some more quotes before making a final decision.

So, I turned to Yelp.

I’m a big fan of doing research before using a new company, and the best kind of research is looking up reviews. People are usually pretty brutally honest about their experiences with companies, so I wanted to know who was the best of the best. For example, we found out about a company that was going door to door in our neighborhood right around the time we were looking into getting some quotes – we figured we would have them out, but after checking out their Yelp page for less than five minutes I knew they weren’t the company for us. The reviews were awful, their customer service was pathetic, and their windows weren’t even that great.

My research helped me narrow down the options vastly – I ended up with three companies that had solid reviews and that I thought might be a good fit for us. We set up appointments with all three, and the process was officially in motion.

There are a lot of things that I learned in the process of having all of these people come out for quotes, but here are the top 5 things I think you should keep in mind when hiring out a project (I’m obviously talking specifically about windows here, but I think this applies to anything!):

1. Know what you want. This one sounds like a no-brainer, but when the first company came out Corey and I had put little to no thought into what types of windows we wanted throughout the house. We have some huge openings, and that means there are about a million different configurations we could use. We felt like we were in over our heads and really had no clue what we wanted for these windows, and I wish we would have been more informed from the beginning.

2. Be open minded. Yeah, I know – I just said you should know what you want going into it. BUT, that doesn’t mean that you should be completely set on something and refuse to take suggestions. We took every suggestion from every company very seriously, and got a lot of great advice and ideas on what to do for our windows. It was also a really great way to get a feeling for if the company was a good match for us – if they kept pushing something we weren’t all that interested in, we knew they probably wouldn’t be awesome to work with.

3. Know who is at your house. Two of the companies who we got a quote from were small enough that the owner of the company was the one to give us our quote. The third company was the only one who had an actual salesman out…and it showed. We connected with the owners so much better and got a definite “ick” feeling from the salesman. Knowing that the two companies were small enough and that the owner was dedicated enough that we got the head honcho himself was a great sign to us that they’d be the types of company we’d want to work with. It also helped us give the third guy a little bit of slack for being so slimy, because it’s hard for a salesman to compete with the owner of a company.

4. Ask about timelines. Going into this, we kind of just assumed that all companies would take around the same amount of time to complete the project. But in reality, we got wildly different quotes on how long it would probably take, ranging anywhere from two to eight weeks! Knowing how quick the turnaround would be made a huge impact on our decision.

5. Ask a ton of questions. This is another no-brainer tip, but I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to not be afraid to ask as many questions as you can possibly think of. At times, we felt like we were being a little annoying by asking so many questions and making sure to clarify their answers over and over, but in the end you are essentially interviewing these people – and the salary you are planning on paying them is very high. You want to make sure you’re going to be happy with their work and you know exactly what you’re getting yourself into. So, grill away!

Once we had finished up and received quotes from all three companies, Corey and I sat down and weighed out the pros and cons of each one.

Company 1 was probably our favorite. We really liked the owner and how straightforward and honest he was. The set-up that he suggested for our windows was our favorite of all the companies, the turnaround time was quick, and the windows were the most energy efficient of all the ones we’d seen. The quote, however, was significantly higher than the other companies, and the owner pretty much flat out told us there was no way he could get as low as the other two companies had.

Company 2 had almost the exact same windows as Company 1, only slightly less energy efficient. The owner was a great guy and was definitely the most efficient when giving us our quote (he was in and out of our house in less than an hour!). The turnaround was the same as Company 1, and the window set-up we had planned was significantly more unique than any of the other suggestions we’d received, though we were a little nervous about it. The quote was the lowest of the three.

Company 3 was the only company who made their own windows. Their factory is only about an hour from where we live, which was pretty big for us. We loved how everything was locally-sourced and how we could have gone out to see the windows being made if we wanted to. We were not fans of the salesman who came out – he was friendly enough, but very pushy. He also bragged about things their company did, leading us to believe they were the only company who could do it, only to later find out it was a very common thing to do (such as doing window sashes that are lower than usual to improve your view and make the part that opens smaller). We really wanted to like their windows, but he was a major turn-off for us. Their quote was only slightly higher than Company 2, and their turnaround was significantly longer (which was understandable since they make their own windows).

In the end, it was a pretty easy decision for us to eliminate Company 3 – we’re VERY big on first impressions, and the salesman just left us with a bad feeling. We really wanted to go with Company 1, but their quote was way above what we had planned on spending and, since Company 2 was so incredibly similar (but with a much better price tag), we decided to go with them. I honestly think we would have been happy with any of the companies that we had out, but when you’re dealing with three really great companies you have to be picky sometimes.

And that, my friends, is almost 2,000 words on how we chose our window company. I know it’s not the most exciting post in the world, but I did quite a few searches for something like this when we were first getting started and I found nothing, so I figured I’d provide this for anyone who may be looking.

It is so scary to trust something as huge as this with people you’ve never met, but I have high hopes that our new windows are going to be amazing. I’m just excited to be able to turn on my oven in July without feeling like I’m going to melt.

What are your tips for hiring out a big home improvement project?

4 comments

  1. Jen says:

    Just one more tip from me to you. The cost on your estimate should be binding unless you change something. But take that timeline for the work itself (not the lead time on the order) and double it in your mind. That way when they are at your house longer than you thought, you won’t be surprised and/or frustrated. I’ve had some fabulous contractors work on my house in the past, but rarely did they ever finish on time. It’s just one of those things.

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    Amanda Reply:

    Good tips!

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  2. Allie says:

    I don’t have any tips, but you are going to LOVE having energy efficient windows. We have some (poorly insulated) skylights in our house that tend to make the house really hot and then trap the heat in, and we had some energy-efficient French doors installed on our upstairs balcony to try and fix the problem, and just that one thing has made a world of difference!

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