So you are ready to replace your windows. Or maybe you are building something new and the architect called for windows to be installed. But she did not specify what type. Now what?
Well, in the world of windows, the market is dominated by two types: vinyl windows or wood windows. For the sake of time, and because I don’t feel like writing a 2000 word symposium tonight, I am going to leave out Fiberglass windows or composite windows or aluminum windows or concrete windows…Instead, this article will only focus on vinyl vs. wood and which may be best for you.
The oldest type of window is wood, and for good reason. Back in the “day” that is pretty much the only medium they had. So, they built frames out of wood, stuck a single pane of glass in them, and voila! A window. And if you were the fancy type, craftsman would add moldings to the frames and that single pane of glass would now be 2 or 6 or 9 panes of glass. But that was a long time ago. Thankfully, wood window manufacturers have added some modern technology to these ancient window designs.
For one thing, gone are the days of a single pane of glass. 99.9% of windows made today consist of at least two panes of glass coated with something called Low E. Then they add Argon gas in between the two glass layers, making these windows really energy efficient. But they didn’t stop with the glass.
The one major drawback to a wooden framed window is rot. You see, exposed wood on the exterior of a home is a recipe for disaster. Rain, sleet, snow, wind are all enemies of wood. So, if you didn’t paint or stain your windows every 3-5 years, well, you were probably going to be replacing them sooner than you would have liked.
To combat this problem, window makers starting “wrapping” the exterior in either aluminum or a proprietary product (i.e Fibrex from Andersen). Rot problem solved!
But what about options? The great thing about wood windows are the limitless options available. On the inside, you can paint or stain the wood any color you want. Or have the manufacturer do it and they’ll offer you an array of color options. You can add grills or simulated divided lites or maybe you want to be super Green and add a third layer of glass. There are so many options to pick from, you’ll be overwhelmed.
Don’t like the standard white exterior? No problem. Andersen alone offers over 50 different color options for their popular E Series Window.
So what’s the downside? In my opinion, there are two: 1) Cost. A typical wood window (and I HATE the word typical) will cost between $1000-$2000 installed, depending on what you are getting and the type of installation required. They cost more to make, cost more to buy, and generally take a little longer to install.
2) Maintenance. I don’t care what a wood window salesman will tell you , wood windows will require more maintenance over time than vinyl. Paints and stains don’t last forever nor do our tastes. So you’ll probably re-finish your wood windows at least once while you own them. And you still have to keep an eye on the exterior cladding. Any puncture or tear can result in hidden rot, an even worse problem than rot you can actually see.
Vinyl windows are made of a substance called polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and were first used in Germany in the 1950s. By the early 60s, BF Goodrich began making vinyl windows. And, in the beginning, sales were kind of slow. People just didn’t trust vinyl windows to be as good as classic wooden windows.
But by the 1980s and 1990s, vinyl window sales skyrocketed. By 2020, 175.2 million vinyl windows were sold around the world and that number is expected to grow to 211.5 million units by 2026. Clearly, vinyl windows are here to stay and make a great option for homeowners looking for new windows. So why are they so popular?
For one thing, vinyl has come a long way from it’s early beginnings. Today’s vinyl is stronger, more durable, and more customizable than ever before. Manufacturers are now offering different colors on the inside as well as wood grain options like oak or cherry. And because customers want options, they can also paint the outside of the window, too.
As far as the glass is concerned, there is very little difference in the potential for energy efficiency. The efficiency numbers on both wood and vinyl are similar and companies like ProVia can offer up to 9 different glass options for their vinyl windows. If you are basing your decision only on energy efficiency, then you have a really hard decision to make.
Finally, vinyl windows just cost less than wood windows. Again, a “typical” vinyl window will cost between $650 – $800 installed depending on options and the quality of the window. But not everything is sunshine and roses in the vinyl world.
Vinyl does have its limitations. If you live in Boston and have to meet stringent historical requirements, vinyl is probably not going to cut it. Yes, they can paint vinyl and the process is good but it is not great. Paint on vinyl chips easy and I, personally, have scratched the paint just installing them. Sure, touch up works great, but paint on wood is far superior.
Because vinyl is so popular, there are TONS of window companies out there. Some use cheaper material in the vinyl, in the glass, and in the hardware so when getting prices, it is always best to compare apples to apples.
Finally, vinyl windows are not maintenance free. They get dirty and when they get dirty, they don’t operate as well. So you will have to clean them and not just the glass.
I hope this helped a little in your decision making process. There are tons of options out there and it can be a bit overwhelming. So, which ever window type you choose, make sure to look at the warranties and see what is covered under those warranties. And pick a company you like and trust. Don’t just go for the guy with the slick sales pitch and the low financing rates.
Windows are an important investment in your home so do your homework.