Every now and then, when he's pricing out a window job, John Herman, owner of Thermal Sash Window and Door Systems, Chester Springs, Pa., finds rot. Good thing for Herman, with 20-plus years experience both selling and installing windows, that he knows what to look for and where to look for it. A common problem, for instance, is storm windows. Weep holes at the bottom get plugged with debris or, in some cases, are caulked shut by homeowners, who probably think they're keeping heat in the house. That's one of the reasons for rotting sills and frames. Herman's policy? “We include replacing casual rotten wood as part of our standard procedure. We explain that if we find rotten wood, we'll cut it out, patch a new piece in, and cap it with aluminum.”

Stop Work, Consult Herman, who pays from $65 to $100 per installation, avoids estimating problems because he sells and estimates his own jobs. Larger companies rely on salespeople to spot potential problems before a contract is signed.

“If the salesperson didn't recognize that the window is going to need a new sill or that the frame is so rotted we can't install a replacement, we normally stop the job and have the salesman contact the homeowner to say there's added work to be done,” says Scott Pitcher, owner of Pitcher Perfect Siding & Window Co., East Peoria, Ill.

All but a few homeowners agree to pay more when the problem is shown and explained, he adds. If not, and the damage is “real bad,” but limited, Pitcher fixes it anyway because, “it's going to come back and haunt us if we don't.” Exception? If the damage is extensive — say, for instance, that all the windows need new sills — then “we aren't nearly as generous,” he points out.

Herman says that he, too, will absorb costs involved in rot as part of the installation, unless the damage is extensive enough to be described as “unforeseen conditions,” something that, in his memory, has only happened once, with a wall so termite-infested as to make window installation impossible. That became a change order.

Catch the Problem Early Ted Roland, president of K&H Windows & Exteriors in Arvada, Colo., which pays installers between $65 and $70 per window, says that how he handles unexpected installation problems depends on the extent of the damage. “If it is something we feel should have been diagnosed by the sales rep,” he says, “we might charge the added work back to him.” For problems that couldn't possibly be foreseen, Roland asks the homeowner for more money, “because if they are reasonable people, they will pay something extra.”

Catching the problem early puts the company in a much better position, of course. “If you're in the middle of a job and you've already invested in the windows, you don't have a lot of leverage with the customer,” Roland says.

And there is always the long view to consider. “You have to weigh happy customers versus the added money,” Roland adds. “It is something of a negotiated situation.”