Doors and Windows
How do I choose between wood, vinyl, or metal windows?
Windows are made from wood, vinyl, metal,
or a combination of all. There are all-wood windows, vinyl-clad wood windows, aluminum-clad
wood, all-aluminum, all-vinyl, fiberglass, and steel. Each has positive qualities and
The big advantage of vinyl windows is
that they are made specifically for your home, your window openings. This is generally not
true of wood windows. Instead, they are made in a variety of stock sizes. For new
construction, this is no problem; you choose the window style and size you want and the
builder frames the rough window opening appropriately. But for replacement wood windows,
you find the closest fit and then shim and trim to make them work.
- Wood: Widely considered the best
because of its strength, insulating qualities, and because it can be painted or stained.
However, it will expand or contract in wet and dry weather, sometimes causing a window to
stick. The wood must be regularly painted to preserve it.
- Vinyl-clad wood: Generally more
expensive than all wood, it combines wood with a vinyl exterior that is highly resistant to
weather damage. Inside, the wood is exposed for painting or staining. The exterior vinyl
usually comes only in white or brown. In extremely cold areas, the vinyl will be brittle.
- Aluminum-clad wood: Like vinyl-clad,
it offers an aluminum exterior for weather protection and exposed wood inside. Aluminum will
eventually corrode, and will do so quickly in a salt air environment.
- All-aluminum: Inexpensive windows,
generally. The exterior is often anodized to resist corrosion, but will corrode eventually.
Automobile wax helps prevent this. These windows have no thermal insulating qualities.
- Vinyl: Generally used as replacement
windows because they are made by local firms to fit your existing window opening. Quality
can vary dramatically. Vinyl is brittle in extremely cold climates.
- Fiberglass: Strong and efficient, it
readily withstands heat and cold, and can be painted.
- Steel: More commonly found in older
windows. No insulating values, and subject to rust. Must be painted regularly.
How can I tell which brand of windows is the best?
There is no central organization that
ranks window manufacturers or window construction quality. But here are some key items to
consider when buying:
There are also various agencies that keep
tabs on how the glass in the window performs. One is the Insulating Glass Certification
Council, which tests the durability of glass that manufacturers use. The IGCC rates
durability by designating one of four categories: "CBA," "CB," "C," or unrated. The "CBA"
rating is the highest. If a window dealer has unrated windows, you are not getting the best
grade of insulated glass.
- Appearance: style, size, shape, frame materials.
- Function: operating type, thermal qualities, sound resistance.
- Energy performance: basic energy properties, heating and cooling qualities.
- Price: cost of purchase and installation, annual maintenance.
- Durability: warranties.
Another organization is the National
Fenestration Council, which seeks to provide accurate information on measuring and comparing
window energy performances. If a window has been through NFC screening, it will bear a label
that rates the following:
- U-factor, or how well the window keeps heat inside the home.
- Solar heat gain, or the window's ability to resist warming from sunlight.
- Visible light transmittance, or how much light passes through the glass.
What about warranties on windows? Are they all the same?
No, they are not. Some window
manufacturers offer a 10- or 20-year "seal failure" warranty, which may cover only the
material costs. You would pay for labor. Look for warranties on both material and labor,
including coming to your house to make the repair, rather than you taking the window to
Whatever window you choose to install,
be sure the manufacturing company has been in business awhile. There have been many
companies over the years offering "lifetime" warranties that went out of business.
Consequently, the warranty was useless.
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