Finding The Best Window & Door Replacement Company
Your expectations are yours only, but for any business there are certain ethical and industrial standards and guidelines that you should consider prior to spending your money.
As part of home renovations, window replacement is a billion dollar a year industry in Canada. As such, the competition has always been, and will most likely remain, fierce. Companies literally come and go on a weekly basis, most of them not lasting more than a winter. I know winters in Canada can be long, but not long enough in terms of business survival.
Canadians’ love for renovations has amounted to an astounding $23 billion per annum across the 10 largest cities in the country. According to CMHC’s Renovation and Home Purchase survey, 1.9 million homes in the surveyed centers performed one or more renovations.
On the grand scale of renovation projects, window and door replacements ranks 6th behind remodeling of rooms, painting or wallpapering, plumbing fixtures and equipment, hard surface flowing and interior walls and ceilings. As such, they form around 28% or $6.4 billion of total expenditure on home renovations.
Homeowner households in Ontario spent an average of $14,801 on renovations last year. An average windows replacement job in Toronto, ON is around $6,000, depending on the size of the project and the desired quality of the windows. Survey shows that 81% of households were able to pay for the renovations from their pocket, while the rest preferred financing.
Why do you need to know this?
Windows are not forever. Homeowners are often afraid to make the first step towards any kind of home renovation, because they often think it is not necessary or because not too many people seem to do it. This is not the case with window and door replacements. Every house needs this to be done sooner or later, and this is precisely what CMHC’s survey demonstrates.
In order to approach such a project with a sense of confidence, any homeowner needs to do some research. Any search should start with the product, and later with the company that offers it. This guide assumes that the reader has decided on replacing old windows with new vinyl ones. As such, this guide does not intend to convince anyone about the difference in quality of vinyl windows, but to demonstrate a few necessary steps in choosing the right window and door replacement company.
The guide is not limited to Ontario. The criteria listed below can serve as general guidelines for any city in North America.
STARTING THE SEARCH
Part I discusses the various sources of information you can use in order to find the right company for you. Before you begin, it is important to be open minded and be willing to go beyond your “local guy”. It is my experience that a lot of home owners refuse to go beyond their local contractors because they choose to help their community. This is a noble cause, but it often turns around and bites the customer when they need service or product warranty. My advice is, unless your “local guy” is an established business with a showroom; don’t go straight to him out of solidarity.
The number one source for finding business (and just about anything else), not surprisingly, is the Internet. However, people often mistake the Internet with Google or the World Wide Web in general. So, let me be clear, the Internet contains all web pages ever developed (1 trillion.. if not more) and Google is merely a search engine that helps you find some of those pages.
Besides Google, there are other search engines such as Yahoo, Bing, Blekko and many others. But, in order to avoid turning this into a digital marketing lesson, I will focus on Google (since 70% of all search inquiries are made there).
Google can show you up to 4 different results in one search (for our purpose here). The idea here is to understand how much trust you can place on each result, and how relevant the result is to your inquiry.
When you Google (search) for something such as “best window replacement company”, you will get two out of the above mentioned 4 possible results. These are categorized as ads and organic (non-paid) results. So, let us look at those two first:
PAID RESULTS – GOOGLE ADS
First, the top 3 results and all the results on the right side are paid advertisement. Google’s advertisement program is called “Adwords” and practically any company can opt-in to use it. There are certain guidelines and regulations, but they are more specific to the legitimacy of the website, rather than the business itself. So, the companies that you see in the results below, are businesses that have paid Google for advertisement. Does this mean that they are the best window replacement companies out there? Of course, not.
As you can see, Google has been kind enough to distinguish the paid results with their little yellow “ad” symbol.
How are the paid results helpful if they do not help us qualify our search inquiries directly?
Well, they tell you who the big spenders are in the window and door replacement industry. If you are not into digital marketing, you will be surprise to know that an average click for window advertisement on Google costs anywhere from $7 to $22, depending on the city and the keyword. So, every time you decide to click on an advertised link in Google, the company gets charged, whether or not you end up making a purchase or submitting a form for a free window replacement estimate.
Make a list of the companies that show for a few keyword searches, such as:
“best window replacement company”
“highest rated window replacement company”
“best vinyl windows replacement”
You can diversify your search as much as you like. The companies that come out for the most terms are likely the companies that spend the most on Google ads. This should help you distinguish which company has some capital behind them and you should consider this criterion towards the overall business frame of the company.
What you shouldn’t do is call the first two companies and end your search right there.
ORGANIC RESULTS – GOOGLE
The other 10 results that you see in the left column are organic (non-paid) results.
The organic rankings are determined by complex algorithms and the top ones are the most trusted websites by Google. The organic results for best window replacement company vary from a Youtube video, to blog posts and free advice. The one thing you will not find within those results is the one thing you were looking for. The keyword we have used is too broad and as a result has only left us with the choice of paid ads.
This is when you have to narrow down your search, and give Google a little bit more information. So, let’s tell Google we are looking to replace our windows and that we live in Toronto, Ontario. Let’s try searching for window replacement Toronto.
Now we have 3 types of results:
- Paid ads
- Organic results
- Local searches
The organic results that you get for this keyword will be completely different then the results you got for the previous keyword. However, if you live in Toronto, and you are looking at changing some windows, these results should be far more relevant to your query.
Look at the organic results, but not the local results – for now.
There are usually anywhere between 1 to 3 organic results before the local results and then there are 7-9 results below the local results, for a total of 10.
For the purpose of this guide, let us not go past page 1 of Google’s results.
QUALIFYING A COMPANY BY ITS WEBSITE
What should you be looking for within the organically ranked websites once you visit them:
Company Logo. Look for a company logo, such as “Canadian Choice Windows” and not “Hamilton Windows”. It is very unlikely that a legitimate company will name itself “Hamilton Windows”.
Exact match domain name. Unless it is a brand name, avoid contacting “companies” whose name matches the domain name of their website. For example, windowsreplacementtoronto.com leads to a company whose name is Windows Replacement Toronto. Highly unlikely for a business name. Therefore, this is likely a website made to generate leads for window and door companies. So, submitting your information to this website is not encouraged because it might end up in the databases of a few companies, as well as on their telemarketing campaigns. Good lucking getting off of that!
Contact us page. In order to establish the legitimacy of the website and the company, visit their “Contact Us” page. They should have a contact form, as well as address and phone numbers listed. Lead generation websites do not provide addresses, because they sell your information to a few companies.
Additionally, you can verify the address information by going on Google maps and searching for the address. In some cases you can even use the “street view” option and see the store front of the business.
If the business is listed in Hamilton, but their phone number is with a (416) area code, could also be a red light for you.
Information. Any authoritative company should have certain information on their websites, in regards to their products. However, do not expect to find pricing. Instead, look for the following information:
Windows and doors (types and styles)
Warranty (lifetime, transferrable, etc…) – the more info the better
Gallery – before and after. Anyone can download images from Google and upload them in their gallery.
Blog – this is always a bonus. It demonstrates that the company has a higher level of authority.
Social media – Look for social media signals on the website (Facebook likes, Tweets, Google pluses). This demonstrates that the company has a social presence; and therefore, happy customers.
Videos – another bonus. Look for instructional videos, or installation videos that the company has made as a promotional material.
ORGANIC RESULTS – LOCAL LISTINGS
Local results show in your Google search whenever you look for “industry + city” or “city + industry”. For example, if you Google “windows Toronto” or “window replacement Toronto” you will get Google local results.
The companies that show up in Google maps results are companies that have verified their addresses with Google. Once a business registers with the search giants in order to show on their map, Google sends a post card to the claimed address. The post card contains a PIN code that the business needs to enter on their Google account, in order to verify its address.
In other words, the majority of websites/companies found on Google local results are legitimate. In addition you can visit their Google plus page and see how active they are and how many people they have in their circles. Majority of window and door replacement companies are not very active, but the good ones, the ones that want to stand out, should have a few Google reviews and a following on their Google plus page.
PRODUCT/COMPANY REVIEW WEBSITES
Review websites are great and useful tools for researching any company. Previous customers’ opinions can play a great role in any future transaction. Unlike testimonials found on a business’ website, review websites are supposed to be objective and independently managed. Having said that, you should be careful which websites you get your review information from. So, here is a list of a few websites that have proven their legitimacy in terms of company reviews through their process of assessing and approving reviews.
Homestars.com – Most definitely the leading website for home improvement company reviews.
BBB.org – unlike popular believe, BBB is not a government associated organization. It is a review website that has managed to survive for a very long time and earn people’s trust. This website is best used to see how many complaints a company has had, and in what manner has the company dealt with the complaints.
N49.ca – relatively new review websites, but gaining speed fast thanks to their objective assessment of reviewers.
Yelp.ca – not so relevant for window and door replacement companies, but any reviews that you find there will be genuine.
There are many other websites, such as yellowpages.ca, 411.ca etc… These are directory websites that also allow the option of leaving a review, however, their assessment methods are not as sophisticated. Also, their management systems are not attractive enough to draw consumers to register and review companies.
Try to cross reference reviews from all websites listed above. Look up the same company on each website and see if their score is somewhat similar. If, for example, a company scores 9.5/10 on Homestars (based on 100 reviews), but scores 2/5 on N49 (based on 2 reviews), it is likely that this is still a trustworthy business. It is important to read the reviews and judge for yourself.
There are a few industry recognized websites that offer membership to window replacement companies, should they qualify for it. These websites have up-to-date directories and are of great help when you try to determine if the business is certified, energy efficient, and up to your own standards.
WWW.SAWDAC.COM – SAWDAC gives homeowner assurance and credibility regarding the window replacement company they have chosen to deal with. According to SAWDAC, around 50% of the companies who apply for their membership annually are not approved. Besides good reputation, a business must have been in business for at least 3 years, have a minimum of 5 year warranty on their labour (craftsmanship), carry liability insurance and have a good credit rating. These are just some of the qualification requirement that any company should meet. I highly recommend any window and door replacement company that you choose to deal with to be a member of SAWDAC.
WWW.WINDOWWISE.COM – This is another quality assurance program that focuses more on the quality of the program. In order to qualify for a WindowWise stamp, the window product must meet extensive criteria.
WWW.IGMAONLINE.ORG – Insulating Glass Manufacturers’ Alliance. Visit this website to find out what the highest quality insulating glass available on the market is. The majority of their members are the actual manufacturers of the glass, so it is likely that you won’t find the window company you are dealing with there. However, you should know the type of insulated glass they sell (Cardinal, for example) and the manufacturer of the glass. Use this information to research them on IGMA.
Most people do not bother going beyond their online research. Due to the highly digitalized age that we live in, people have learned to trust the Internet, but mainly have become lazy.
The majority of Canadian Choice Windows’ customers have never set foot in one of our showrooms. When I say majority, I mean 80%+. For any window and door company, this is not an issue. However, as a consumer, you want to visit the showroom.
Any window replacement company should have a showroom. Not just an address on a website, but a physical location where a potential consumer can come in any weekday, speak to a rep and see the actual product.
Windows showrooms can be large or small, creatively designed or plain rubbish, but they should be existent. If a company does not have the capital to afford to build a showroom, they most likely will not have the funds to offer quality post-installation service. Usually when it comes to building showrooms, the manufacturers gladly give out free window samples to be used. So, the up-front cost is not so high.
When visiting a showroom, ask to see brochures and catalogues. Any self-respecting company keeps information about their products around their office. A lot of companies say they do not, so they can have a sales rep come to your house.
Make a note of how windows in the showroom are actually installed. Judge for yourself if you like how the work has been done. See if the alignment of the windows and the caulking is properly done. There is a very high chance that the person who did the work in the showroom will be doing the work on your home.
Last but not least, pay attention on how you are being greeted. Try to be as objective as possible, see if you can speak to more than one person in the company. Usually good and reliable companies keep their employees happy and so you should not be greeted with negative attitude.
FLYERS AND BROCHURES
Have you been receiving home improvement magazines, flyers, door hangers or brochures? If so, it is not a bad idea to keep a few of them around, especially if you are considering home renovations. You can always recycle them later.
Being in a flyer or a magazine does not mean much, besides that the company can afford it. However, often times companies include coupons and additional discounts within those flyers. Canadian Choice, for instance, ran an ad in one such brochure for a month offering single steel entrance doors for $499, tax and installation included. The ad was targeted to a specific area and it turned out to be very successful for both parties (company and consumer).
If the company’s ad is located on the first or last page of a home improvement magazine or a flyer, this means that they have paid top dollar to be there. This is not to say that you should not look at the other pages. Rather just make a note of the companies that have bigger marketing budget, and those that have a smaller marketing budget.
FREE IN-HOME CONSULTATIONS
Any window replacement company should offer free in-home estimates. No matter how small or big, this service should always be free and done at a convenient for you day and time.
This is by far the most powerful offline research method. In order to keep things simple, I will make a bullet point list of the things you should do before, during and after the presentation.
Before the Presentation
- Know what type of windows you want (vinyl, wood…).
- Have some idea if you want single, double or triple pane windows.
- Speak to at least 5 different companies.
- Have some general knowledge about what energy efficient windows are.
- Make sure you do not just need to replace the glass units.
- Read forums and find out what pricing you should expect.
During the Presentation
- Ask questions!
- Find out about the warranty. What is included? What is not included? How long is it for? Is it transferable?
- Find out about installation types, brick-to-brick vs. retrofit. Which one is better for you? Ask the company’s rep to explain why.
- Find out about how their product differs from others, especially if they claim it is of higher quality.
- Get as much background info about the company, see if it corresponds to the info you already have. For example, when was the company established? How many offices/showrooms do they have?
- Ask for references. Do not just read the testimonials on the websites.
- Ask for physical addresses where you can drive by and look at the windows.
- Ask for financing, if this is something that interests you. Make sure you understand the interest rates and monthly payments.
- Find out how soon the installation can be done. Do not sign a contract just to find out that your windows will not be installed for another 3-4 months.
- Find out how and when the contract can be void and how many days you have to cancel, in case you change your mind.
- Find out about different upgrades and downgrades that the windows come with. Secure locking mechanisms, for example.
- Ask to see an actual sample of the window, not just a pretty picture in a photo album or on an iPad.
After the Presentation
- If you have not gone to the showroom, now is a good time.
- Visit installation sites or reference homes.
- Get estimates from other companies, but make sure you are comparing the same product.
- Do additional research to make sense of the presentation. Make sure that what you have been told is accurate (U Factors, Low E glass, etc…).
Every reputable, modern day window replacement company should be able to fit the following profile:
- Has been in business for a minimum of 3 years.
- Adheres to the SAWDAC code of ethics (and is a registered contractor).
- Has a good reputation on all review websites.
- Offers a minimum of $2 million in liability insurance.
- Offers a minimum 5 year workmanship (labour/installation) guarantee.
- Carries high quality and tested Energy Star approved windows.
- Third party intervention, should the company or their manufacturer do not fulfill their obligations to your satisfaction.
- Random job inspections during the installation process (ask before you sign a contract).
- Trained and certified installers.
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