What do you need to know before buying new windows? A Northern Michigan expert shares the keys to saving money and energy, and creating a look you love.

There’s a lot to consider when choosing new windows or replacement windows for your home. The process can be stressful and overwhelming. Your choices will play a big role in your home’s appearance, the amount of natural light that filters in—and your energy bill.

“There’s a lot to think about,” says Kent Strawderman, a sales specialist with Thomas & Milliken Millwork Inc., which is also a distributor for Marvin Windows and Doors. “It’s a multi-step process. When you walk into our showroom, we ask a lot of open-ended questions. We’re not looking for yes and no answers.”

At their Traverse City and Petoskey showrooms, Strawderman and his staff spend considerable time with customers, going over product options and asking a host of questions to get a feel for the scope of the project and what clients need:

  • If you’re replacing windows, what do you like about the ones you have?
  • What don’t you like about them?
  • Have you looked at the windows of different houses in your neighborhood for inspiration?
  • How do you like windows to operate?

Those answers are important in helping make selections, but Strawderman encourages customers to come into Thomas & Milliken showrooms with some knowledge of what they’re looking for (whether they’re buying new or replacing windows) so the staff can help them make informed buying decisions. Showroom consultations are followed up with home visits to take measurements and offer further consultation.

It may be days, weeks or months before the customer is ready to make a decision.

Photo by Marvin

Photo by Marvin

“It’s a big investment. We want to make sure the customer knows what they’re getting and what their expectations are,” says Strawderman, who has been selling Marvin Windows and Doors for 20 years, even before he joined Thomas & Milliken. To that end, he helps them with a customer checklist:

5 Things to Consider When Getting New Windows
  1. The number one item on the customer checklist, whether replacing or installing a new window, is the type of material they are looking for in a window frame. What kind of material is the frame composed of? Most frames are made of wood, vinyl, aluminum, fiberglass, wood-clad or composite. What type of frame best suits their house?
  2. Cladding is also important. Windows have different types of exterior cladding, a layer that protects windows against water damage and rot. There’s the traditional all-wood window (wood inside and out). Some customers want all-wood windows to maintain the aesthetics of an older or historic home or may have to adhere to the regulations of a neighborhood or historic district. A more common window cladding is aluminum, which offers high performance. Typically, the exterior is aluminum and the interior is wood. Other cladding types include fiberglass, vinyl and a composite (a mix of fiberglass and other materials, such as wood). A large percentage of the market is vinyl both inside and out, Strawderman says. “Not everyone wants a wood interior,” he adds. “Other options can give you a more streamlined, clean appearance and that’s important to some customers.”
  3. Customers should also research what kind of window style they’d like. A lot of choices, he says, are driven by the architecture of the home. The windows should complement the home exterior. There also are various interior elements to consider, including natural wood or pre-painted options, as well as grilles or muntins (the vertical bars between panes of glass).
  4. And then there’s the glass itself. What kind of view do you want? How much light do you want to let in? How important is energy efficiency? “There are all different types of glass and they afford different types of efficiency,” Strawderman says. “In terms of window performance, you need to know things like how much light do you want in or want to block? UV rays can cause fading of rugs and furniture. You could choose tinted glass that would offer protection against fading.”
  5. Another consideration is the cost. How much is your budget for replacing windows? Replacing windows can cost tens of thousands of dollars. “There are a lot of boxes for us to check to make sure the customer’s expectations are being met with the products we’re offering,” he says.

As a Marvin window and door distributor, Thomas & Milliken Millwork Inc. is a standout in the market because the company offers custom millwork and complementary products, including hardware and siding. The company’s milling shop is in Northport. About 60 percent of their work is door and window sales (both replacement and new construction).

No matter the type of customer, the company prides itself on an eye for detail—something you don’t see in larger mill operations—and also having the muscle for larger jobs.

“It’s about our personalized attention to detail, about our consulting and selling process,” Strawderman says. “When someone walks into our showroom, our job is to help them pick out trim, interior doors, windows and hardware … Many of them haven’t done their homework or they don’t know what they’re after. They can feel overwhelmed looking at all the choices in our showroom.

“Our approach is, ‘let’s eat this apple one bite at a time,’” Strawderman adds. “Maybe we start with the interior door or maybe the window trim. We take one thing at a time and the whole process becomes easier for the customer. We work from there, with an eye on detail to make sure the customers make good decisions and all the products are complementary.”

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Photo(s) by Thomas & Milliken Millwork