Cheap Replacement Windows
By cheap replacement windows, we are not necessarily referring to the quality - these are our five selections for budget replacement windows that will perform fine and won't break the bank. Cost conscious consumers should take extra caution to find a reputable window installer who doesn't take shortcuts and will properly square up, seal and caulk the windows for the best energy efficiency and long term value. Typically, I always recommend that consumers stretch into a mid range vinyl window option for better long term value. Of course, that's not always possible - so here are the my budget selections.
Reliabilt 3500 Series
The Reliabilt 3500 series is a vinyl double hung and is the rebranded Atrium 8700 window. This is Reliabilt's top of the line replacement window and comes standard with a lifetime warranty on parts, glass and the vinyl frame. The 3500 comes in white, almond or bronze, comes with an aluminum sash reinforcement, 3 grid options and has a DP35 rating. Expect slightly better (or lower) performance numbers than the 3301 model. Read more Reliabilt reviews.
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Sunrise Essentials Series
The Essentials series is Sunrise's budget window. It has a pretty good glass package, with an AI of 0.10 and U-Value of 0.30. Instead of the extrusions and sash design used in other Sunrise lines, it uses less durable versions to save costs. The colors are limited and it only comes in a double hung, slider, and picture style. It does okay in smaller opening or when you are on a strict budget, but most home owners would be happier with a Standard Sunrise for not much more.
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Simonton Reflections 5050 Series
The Prism Bronze and the Reflections 5050 are basically the same window, a good entry level model. A bulky profile allows for less glass viewing area. It isn't a bad quality for the price, but most contractors would recommend upgrading to one of the better lines. The 5050 was largely replaced by the Simonton Assure Series in 2012. See more on Simonton windows prices.
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Milgard StyleLine Series
Milgard's StyleLine is a thinner framed, more modern looking window with uneven sightlines and more glass than the Tuscany. It doesn't have a vent lock or weep hole covers, and features an elevated locking mechanism. It is less expensive than the Milgard Tuscany (about 10%), largely because the increased glass makes it less energy efficient. It's a great choice for smaller windows openings or if you just can't afford the Tuscany.
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Ply Gem Pro Series
Slightly better than the Contractor, the Ply Gem Pro is a mid grade window but is still designed for the bargain hunter. A painted cellular PVC, is used to be called the Grandview 4000 and was made by Great Lakes. With a stainless steel spacer, is has a 25 year transferable warranty, but that does not include coverage for glass breakage. Although it doesn't have a reinforced sash like the Premium Series, is has fairly respectable numbers with an R-Value of 3.45, AI of 0.19, U-factor of 0.29, SHGC of 0.27 and DP30.
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Homeowner's Take On Cheap Replacement Windows
I see a lot about expensive brands, but the bargain windows aren't talked about as much. The Amsco windows I found were poorly made, had lousy warranties, and were just horrible. I wouldn't recommend them to anyone, it's best to just stay away. Amsco's warranty doesn't cover labor and has so many exclusions it's a joke. Pella Thermastar and all of the Jeld Wen windows only have a one year warranty, which means it expires before you've really had a chance to see the window in all weathers. Value and Malibu are really poorly made, both materials and design are cheap.
Read additional Jeld Wen windows reviews.
An Installer's Take
While I never recommend buying cheap windows for a house, I certainly understand your situation. So of all the brands you mentioned, I'll say the Milgard and Ply Gem are better options than the Reliabilt and Jeld Wen. And if I had to rank them, I would do it in the same order they are mentioned, with the Milgard being the best and the Jeld Wen being at the bottom of the list. The biggest issue I see with lower end vinyl windows is that the homeowner also scrim on installation, which is almost more important with a low end product. If you get reliable installation, then you can probably put in a Reliabilt 3301 and not have any issues with it for many years, especially if it isn't being used super often. I have a Silverline 9500 window in my house that I installed 8 years ago and have never had any issues with and lets be honest it's not the best built product out there.