First, let's clarify one thing: you don't want to purchase new-construction windows:
New Construction vs. Replacement WindowsMake sure that the $200 window you found is not a new-construction window. I'll bet that's what you're seeing. New-construction windows fit into new openings and have integrated fins for nailing against a house.
A replacement window is a completely different product, and is harder for consumers to obtain on the open market. It has no fins. It fits directly into an existing opening from which the previous window has been removed.
Why Can't You Buy Replacement Windows--Only?Your $10,000 quote for 18 windows? That comes to around $555 per window. That sounds about par for the course.
I am convinced that the replacement window industry is like that scene in The Godfather when competing Mafia families get together and agree to cooperate--for the better good of all of them. It's like the replacement window industry is controlled by a handful of people greedily rubbing their hands together to see how much money they can squeeze from homeowners.
And one inspired way to maximize profit is to lock homeowners into an inescapable track where they harness purchase of the windows to purchase of installation. They're saying, "Want windows? Well, then you've got to buy our installation, too."
1. Purchase Replacement Windows OnlineWhen I first looked into this issue six years ago, there were no online options for purchasing DIY replacement windows. Recently I found a company in Austin, Texas, Window E-Store (link below), that is making inroads in getting replacements out to homeowners. I spoke to owner Derek Baker about his company.
Originally Baker began the site as an ordering tool for his contractor clients. Then he discovered homeowners coming onto the site and using the tool. Now, among other things, Window E-Store sells replacement windows to homeowners in 38 states. Their windows are all made in factories in California, West Virginia, and Illinois.
I compare the site to the fast-moving growth of the RTA (ready-to-assemble) cabinet industry. Not long ago, you could not order RTA cabinets online. Then RTA came online, but ordering was a pain. You can to fax in handwritten orders or call.
Window E-Store's ordering system rivals some of the better RTA sites. Check off your option (options are identified with both text and images) and the order form automatically opens to the next option. When you get down far enough, a running cost total appears on the right side. The only part to manually enter is the window dimensions.
I priced out 2-lite vinyl sliders in white, no grid, each 35 1/4" x 59 1/4". Cost per window came to $339.26. Total cost for ten windows came to $3,392.55.
Regarding that total, you might say: "Well, of course. Ten times $339 is..." I say: Not so fast. Shipping, tax, and other markups often result in totals that are wildly different from predicted costs (that's why I say to majorly factor that into your RTA cabinet estimates).
Baker tells us that sales tax is not charged to the consumer, because it is already paid. Shipping? No shipping costs as long as you pick up the windows at one of Window E-Store's distribution facilities. And, as the saying goes, therein lies the rub. My pickup location was 777 miles away, in Roseville, CA. Window E-Store's presence in West Coast states is thin right now (Washington, Idaho, Montana, and Oregon are not served, among others), but Baker hopes to expand there eventually.
Essentially, if you're in an area not served by their distributors, you're out of luck for the time being. Baker says that it's possible, in theory, to ship via UPS, but this just isn't cost-effective for the homeowner. A 4'x4' window can weigh as much as 200 pounds. And we've all seen those YouTube videos of UPS drivers throwing packages around to know that this isn't a great idea. Shipping in designated trucks is best because they are made for shipping windows safely.
Getting cold feet on DIY installation? Window E-Store provides a list of certified installers in your area. Labor costs run around $80 to $150 per window. The important thing is: You get to make the choice; you're not railroaded into buying labor from only one source.
2. Buy From a Home Improvement StoreGuess what: you can buy replacement windows from The Home Depot, Lowe's, and all those big box stores and install them yourself. Guess what else? They don't want you to.
Once again, by bundling windows with labor, these retailers squeeze out even more profit for themselves, while depleting your bank account.
Attempt to buy replacement windows from these types of retailers and you will encounter two things. First, the sales associates will claim--perhaps honestly--that they don't know how to sell you windows only. He/she has never made such an order for a homeowner. Second, you will likely get the wrong product for your home because no one in the store knows anything about windows.
3. Buy From a Local Commercial Building SupplierIf you hired a general contractor (not a specialized window company) to purchase and install replacements, where would he buy them? Likely from a local a commercial building supply company. At one local supply store here on the Seattle (WA) Eastside, I found replacement windows of the type you mention hovering around the $163 mark.
Will the building supply company even sell to you? Their business is selling to contractors, not the average homeowner. Establishing a builder's account involves showing your business license and your reseller's (or resale) certificate from the state. To get a resale certificate, you must establish your business with the state (LLC, sole proprietor, etc.) and get a sales tax license.
But the more pressing issue is that this is likely illegal. In my state, misuse of a reseller's certificate, if you are caught, brings a penalty of 50 percent of the tax due, in addition to tax, interest, and other penalties.
Another avenue is to enlist the aid of a friend or associate who is set up with a building supply company. Should you go this route, it would save bureaucratic red-tape. The same illegality applies, though this time for your friend, not for you.