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One of the most frequent questions I get regarding home improvements is, "What is the best window?" My answer over the past 31 years has been: The one that is installed correctly.

Because the quality and energy efficiency of windows from major manufacturers has improved, today's choices often come down to personal preference and budget when deciding between wood, fiberglass, vinyl, aluminum or composite replacement windows. Once the cold winds pick up this winter, you will quickly see why I say installation is the key to your comfort.

"Whether a customer buys a wood or vinyl window, it is vital to make sure the replacement is installed plumb, level and square," said David Stoutenger of Johns Lumber, (586) 791-1200, johnslumber.com. "It is important to make sure the windows are weather tight and installed to the manufacturers specifications to ensure better performance."

Gary Kearns of Kearns Brothers, (888) 355-6700, kearnsbrothers.com, said it was common in the past to do a pocket installation of replacement windows by taking the existing sash out and leaving the frame, and put the new window inside the frame. While the labor for this type of installation was less expensive, the downside was that often it didn't address the potential for rotted wood in the old frame and would often lead to more air infiltration after installation.

"Today we are moving away from the pocket method and taking out all of the old window right down to the rough opening and then doing a full frame replacement that takes care of any rotted wood issues and provides a tight seal," Kearns said.

When looking at replacement windows, you can check their ratings by going to the National Fenestration Rating Council website, nfrc.org, a nonprofit organization that rates the energy performance of windows, doors and skylights.

When buying windows, also consider ones made with low-E glass, which helps keep heat inside the home during cold weather and blocks the sun's rays in the summer. The U-factor ratings generally fall between .20 and 1.20, with the lower number being best and most expensive.

For many people, wood windows are still the most desirable. Improvements in their design have made them more durable than in the past.

"Vinyl windows are about a third the price of wood windows and have the advantage of being maintenance free, but wood windows don't move as much if installed properly. The Anderson 400 series we sell also have Perma-Shield exteriors that never need painting," Stoutenger said.

Today's vinyl windows also provide options that give you that wood window look. Kearns said the Restorations window, restorationswindows.com, they sell and install offer vinyl windows in variety of wood-grain finishes and also offer new interior trim options made from oak and maple to give you the best of wood and vinyl.

In addition to Restoration and Anderson, andersenwindows.com, other options for replacement windows include Marvin, marvin.com, Pella, pella.com, and Ply Gem, plygemwindows.com.

There are also Michigan-based window manufacturers such as Kelly Window/Door Manufacturing kellywindowsmfg.com, Sunrise, sunrisewindows.com, Wallside, wallsidewindows.com, and Weathergard, weathergardwindows.com.

Remember that once you choose the window brand and style that works for your situation, make sure the company has them installed by factory trained personnel. Anything less, and you won't have the best window.

If you would like to suggest a question for this column, email askglenn@masterhandyman.com. If you want to talk to Glenn Haege personally, call his "Handyman Show" on WJR-AM (760) at (866) ASK GLENN, (866) 275-4536 between noon and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The "Handyman Show" can be heard on more than 130 radio stations nationwide.

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