The first way is commonly called the “bait and switch”: he will show you a “replacement” window, but once you make the order and put down a deposit he will do a switch and order the less expensive “new construction” window in a similar model and in the closest size he could get for your openings, just to increase his profit margins. In order to keep you from noticing the switch, when the windows are delivered to the installers they will cut off the fins and sand down as much of the scar as they can before the windows are delivered to your house. Then they will rush to tear out your old windows so they can install the “new construction” windows quickly before you have a chance to get a look at them. Since they will not be a precise fit and there is almost always one or more gaps around the outside of the frame, the installer will try to fill them in with foam and caulk. The problem with that method is that (even though there is a special caulk that is made specifically for tiny gaps that is pliable enough to give leeway to the window if the house continues to shift) if the window is not a precise fit and the gap is too large, the caulk cannot keep it sealed. So, even though you paid for, and thought you were getting, a custom window, now you have a window that is not an exact fit and will begin to leak around it, no matter how much foam and caulk he uses.
In the picture below, we replaced the siding, windows, and eight huge sliding patio doors. The windows and doors were manufactured by Simonton, which means they are heavy and must fit securely. The fact that this house is built on stilts on the edge of Lake Livingston also means that the windows had to be made in exact dimensions, because the house will always continue to move around. If we don’t put a precisely-measured and manufactured window and door in each and every opening, then as the house moves and shifts those windows and doors will become stuck and/or damaged. In other words, only true “replacement” windows would work… “new construction” windows would have failed long ago.
The second way you can be ripped off is not attempted very often, but it has been attempted a few times over the past ten years. Any time companies like AHE order a large number of custom windows for a home, there is the potential for a window or two to be made in the wrong dimensions, and it could be our mistake or a mistake by the manufacturer. When that happens, we have to return the window to get credit for a new one. Even though they don’t fit your specific needs, they are still perfectly good windows, so often the manufacturer will sell them (usually at a loss) to builders and contractors for the purpose of installing them in new homes. However, sometimes they end up in the hands of less-than-honest window dealers, who then use them in the “bait and switch” I described above. Plus, there have been rare instances where these dealers take these recycled windows (as well as “new construction” windows) and re-fabricate them to look like new custom replacement windows. I’ve even seen someone take a low end model of window and change the labels so it looks like a higher-end model. Here’s an example: several excellent window manufacturers use the exact same frame in several different models of windows, with each model offering more features and better energy efficiency than the one before it… yet they all look almost exactly alike. Unethical dealers will take the cheaper low-end window, change the tags and labels, represent it as a higher-end window, and sell it to you at a higher price.
You can protect yourself from both of these scams by taking the following steps:
(1) Always check the documentation, starting with the contract you sign when you make your order from the dealer. Make sure that the contract clearly specifies the manufacturer and the model of the window you are buying, and that they are clearly and specifically described by the term “replacement window” written on your contract.
(2) Do NOT pay for the windows in full up front; manufacturers of custom windows require the company to put a deposit on the windows they order, so your retailer has the right to ask for a reasonable deposit to protect themselves. However, it is almost never necessary to give them more than 30% of the contract price up front, with the remaining 70% to be paid only when the job is completed and all job-related debris is cleaned up.
(3) When the windows are delivered to your house, do NOT let them start tearing out your existing windows until you have a chance to inspect the new windows. Demand that the installer unwrap each window enough so you can personally examine them. Even though you are supposed to get one when the job is done, ask to see the manufacturer’s invoices beforehand and verify the serial numbers and approximate measurements of each one to the labels that are on the glass, as well as one that is usually located on the side of one of the sliding sashes… that one usually has the serial number. Then look at the outside of each frame… if there is a nailing fin, or if there is a scar running the length of two or more sides where a nailing fin used to be but has been cut off, then they are most likely “new construction” windows and you need to reject them immediately. (Note: there is one rare exception: if a window opening measures precisely the same as a new construction window and it will fit just as well as a replacement window, and the retailer recommends this option to you up front, this is a way you can save a few dollars; just make sure that is spelled out on your contract ahead of time and that it applies only to that window.)