If you’re thinking of replacing your windows or door, make sure you take a good look at the warranty before you sign anything. Your warranty should simply and clearly state that should anything go wrong with your purchase, the problem will be fixed at no cost to you.

But the truth is that all warranties are not created equal. Some are almost incomprehensible due to complicated exemptions and fine print.

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1. “Lifetime Warranty” is a marketing term.

Whose lifetime do they mean? Your lifetime? The life of your home? Or perhaps the “reasonable lifetime of your window or door”? In some areas a ‘lifetime warranty’ is legally required to cover at least a seven-year period. That’s not a very long lifetime.

“Lifetime” is used as a marketing label. It has no meaning in a warranty—in fact if some jurisdictions you are legally obliged to append the word “limited” to it because of the all exceptions, exclusions and misrepresentations that come with the term.

Imagine how you’d feel if you were offered a “Lifetime Warranty” on your new automobile only to discover the ‘Lifetime’ is actually only 5 years and that you have to pay for all service charges after 2 years… and that the warranty is void if you use the car too much.

2. Don’t get stuck between two companies blaming each other for your problem.

Most replacement window and door warranties typically just cover the product itself but not the installation or service for the same time period.

That’s because the majority of North American window and doors manufacturers don’t install their own products – they sell their windows through a network of dealers. So the manufacturer has their own product warranty and the window retailer who sells you your windows may, or may not even have a separate warranty for the installation and ongoing service.

That means if something goes wrong, it could be difficult to determine who is at fault and who should resolve your issue. You could end up stuck in the middle with no way of getting your windows or door fixed.

3. Most warranties for windows and doors are filled with fine print designed to limit their value.

A simple warranty should fit on one page, and summarize everything you need to know. But be careful—the devil is in the details.

For example, a manufacturer’s warranty may not cover the entire window, only certain parts such as the PVC (Frame of the window). PVC is rarely the problem with windows. It’s usually the seals and the mechanics that fail over time. Some manufacturers offer warranties on the glass. Glass doesn’t wear out.

The manufacturer's warranty may state that they aren’t responsible for their windows if the installation wasn’t done correctly—but how do you prove it was. Some warranties are pro-rated and lose value over time and others aren’t transferable if you sell your home.

Then there are the labour charges that some warranties force you to pay regardless of where the fault lies. So you end up paying $100 per hour for labour, while a $10 part is ‘fully covered’ by the warranty.

Some warranties even include ‘wear and tear’ as an excuse to nullify the warranty. Which means if they determine that you open your window too much, the warranty is void.

Some warranties are written with such complicated legal language that only a lawyer could possibly interpret it. If it’s that difficult to understand, think of how tough it’s going to be to make a claim.

4. What is the financial health of the company underwriting your warranty?

Not all companies are in it for the long run. A warranty has no value if the company that wrote it won’t be in business 20 or 30 years into the future. Look at the track records of both the manufacturer of your windows and doors, and the company selling and installing them. How long have they been around? If they’ve only been in business for a few years, how can they credibly offer a long-term warranty?

5. Do you understand the warranty registration and warranty claim process?

It can get complex. Some manufacturing companies make you register your windows and doors in order to make a claim in the future. Why would they do this - they already have that information from the sale? A lot of people don’t take the time to complete the registration process—or simply forget—so they’re ineligible to make claims in the future.

Even if you have successfully completed all registration forms, making a claim can be complicated. Who do you call—the installation company or the manufacturer? How does your problem get resolved and how much time will it take?

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