With oil prices gushing past the $50 per barrel mark and gasoline retailing for more than $2 per gallon, you might imagine consumers would be fearful that home energy costs would go through the roof, or at least out the windows. Not always, say window dealers in different parts of the country. Homeowners have many priorities when shopping for windows, energy savings being among the most important but not always topping the list.

“The No. 1 item has nothing to do with product quality, aesthetics, energy, or warranties,” says Jerry Kerby, president of California Replacement Windows, in Anaheim. “The hot button is they want a quality installation done by professionals.” To ensure that they get that, California Replacement has a GC on every crew.

Patrick Lanaghan, owner of The Window Replacement Co., in Winchester, Va., agrees. “The vinyl window products in this industry are very close in their tolerances,” he says. Therefore installation is the critical factor when delivering customer satisfaction. Still, the first thing prospects ask about, Lanaghan says, is energy efficiency. Many are already familiar with low-E, gas insulators, and double- vs. triple-paned glass. Knowledgeable homeowners, Lanaghan points out, “will approach us with specifics. Once we can satisfy those requirements, and convince them of the quality of the window, the buying decision is made on the quality of the installation and of our operation,” he says.

John Schmotzer, owner of Metropolitan Window Co., in Pittsburgh, says his customers' No. 1 concern is maintenance. The homes in his market are “older, and the people are getting older.“ Maintenance is also a key issue for Hometown Windows, in Portsmouth, N.H., where owner Ted Castonguay lays a window flat, performs a heat transfer demonstration with a Bic lighter, then takes the opportunity to demonstrate how his windows can be cleaned in 30 seconds by removing the residual carbon with a damp towel. “They can then see how easy it is to open and close the window to clean it,” he says.

In Florida, local market conditions similarly shape demand. Mike Graham, general manager of Stanek Windows, in Clearwater, says when people come into the company's showroom, the first thing they ask about is impact-resistant glass. Not surprising, after four hurricanes roared through in the fall of last year.