In the residential market, there are three main types of home windows: vinyl, wood clad, and fiberglass. Aluminum windows are most often used for commercial applications, as they meet commercial building code requirements, but they tend to have moisture issues that don’t translate well for residential use.
Each type of window has its own advantages and features. It’s easy for the average person to get hung up on which one to choose. The focus of this article is to give you a few things to think about and make it easier for you to decide.
Vinyl home windows have perhaps the biggest variance in price, as quality ranges greatly from new construction vinyl windows to high-efficiency vinyl. On the plus side, they can be excellent value. You can get a lot for your money in terms of energy efficiency. On the downside, they expand and contract—more so than any other type of window material—and this may reduce its lifespan.
Best insulation ratings in higher end vinyl windows
Typically, you will find your best insulation (u-value) ratings from vinyl windows. Low-grade (labeled as “new construction”) windows can still meet Energy Star ratings, but their frame quality is low, and they are only meant to last 10-15 years.
• Low-grade vinyl home windows also generally have poor air infiltration ratings. Air infiltration ratings are different than the u-value or insulation value, meaning you can have a great insulation value but a terrible air infiltration value, meaning your windows will be drafty!
• Mid-grade vinyl will meet Energy Star standards and have satisfactory air-filtration ratings. They represent an upgrade from the new construction windows you might be switching out.
• High-end vinyl usually meets Energy Star standards by nature of their exceptional air infiltration ratings. They have only a 5% allowance when there is a direct 45 mph wind.
Space-age heat mirror technology
The best vinyl home windows will have great air ratings plus the best insulation ratings. This is achieved with a combination of low e-glass and heat mirror. Kensington HPP is the only window manufacturer producing heat mirror technology, an innovation that was originally designed by NASA for use in the space program.
To summarize, vinyl windows are cost-effective and will deliver the best energy ratings and value. However, their high rate of expansion and contraction can reduce their lifespan. That said, you should get 20-30 years of use from a high-quality vinyl window.
Fiberglass windows, also known as composite windows, is a relatively new technology. Windows made of fiberglass are stronger and more durable than both vinyl and wood clad. It’s the longest-lasting and by far the most impact-resistant window material money can buy.
Fiberglass windows will reach Energy Star rating, but typically, they don’t have the glass enhancements to get to the same energy ratings that vinyl achieves with triple-pane or heat-mirror glass.
Fiberglass is more expensive than vinyl but less so than wood clad, so they are a good mid-range choice if budget is an issue.
Another benefit that may appeal to homeowners is that fiberglass home windows can be painted. Because of this, you are not forever committed to the color you originally purchase. Fiberglass comes in a wide assortment of colors—much more than what you can expect from vinyl windows.
Fiberglass windows are the longest-lasting. You can expect to get 30 or more years out of them, but they do not reach nearly the energy performance as vinyl windows do.
Fiberglass is a “green” product because it’s not made from a petroleum-based material (such as vinyl).
Wood-clad home windows are the most expensive and highest quality type of window you can buy. There are several types of wood-clad windows, but basically, they all have a wood interior with either an aluminum, vinyl or fiberglass exterior.
Lends beauty and architectural appeal
Choosing wood-clad windows for your home will change the entire look of your interiors. They have greater architectural appeal and lend a “warm” feeling that compliments high-end interior design.
Mid-range durability and performance
Wood-clad meets Energy Star ratings but cannot achieve the same energy performance as vinyl. Their exteriors are more durable than vinyl but less so than fiberglass.
Wood-clad windows are high maintenance on the interior and will need to be regularly stained or painted, though the exteriors are low-maintenance, much like fiberglass or vinyl.
Exterior aluminum or fiberglass can be painted, but wood/vinyl products can’t
Out of the three types of exterior material on a wood-clad home window—aluminum, fiberglass, and vinyl—fiberglass is the most durable and longest-lasting. It has all the benefits of a full fiberglass window with that warm wood feel on the interior.
Wrapping up, your choice of home windows should reflect your aesthetic sense as well as what you can afford, but there should be considerations for upkeep and replacement over the long-term. If you are trying to save a little money, you might find yourself in a situation where you have spent thousands of dollars yet can’t really tell the difference between your new windows and the ones you replaced.
Windows are one of the biggest investments you will make into your home. Make sure you know what to expect and choose a level of quality and versatility that you will be happy with.
To learn more about choosing home windows, drop us a line today. We’d be happy to help.