Choosing the Right Windows

Today's window frame materials offer a variety of benefits including style, energy efficiency, interior livability, low maintenance, and convenience. Here's what's out there now.

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    Windows 101: Wood

    Wood, the traditional window frame material, is admired for its natural beauty.

    What we love:

    -- Usually made in stock sizes

    -- Energy efficient, an excellent insulator

    -- Can last several decades if properly maintained

    Keep in mind:

    -- Will deteriorate if exposed to weather

    -- Periodic repainting or restaining required

    Price: Middle of the market; unusual shapes and sizes are often more expensive

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    Windows 101: Aluminum-Clad Wood

    The outside face of wood windows is sheathed in aluminum to protect the window from the elements.

    What we love:

    -- Offered in dozens of colors and clear anodized and copper finishes

    -- Generally low maintenance; does not need painting

    -- Factory-finish warranties extend to 20 years

    Keep in mind:

    -- Can corrode when exposed to salt air

    -- Wash glass and frame with standard cleaners

    Price: Usually costs more than conventional wood

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    Windows 101: Solid Vinyl

    Solid vinyl windows are the most popular form of replacement windows.

    What we love:

    -- Available in many sizes and shapes

    -- Limited number of colors

    -- Homogenous color hides scratches

    -- 20- to 30-year warranties

    Keep in mind:

    -- Vulnerable to temperature extremes

    -- Clean surfaces annually with soap and water

    -- Quality varies dramatically

    Price: Typically most affordable frame (less than half of a comparable wood-frame window)

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    Windows 101: Vinyl-Clad Wood

    Color-stabilized PVC wraps the exterior side of wood window frames to lower maintenance.

    What we love:

    -- Won't peel, warp, or rot

    -- Generally low-maintenance

    -- 10- to 20-year warranties

    Keep in mind:

    -- Brittle in cold weather, so susceptible to cracking and storm damage

    -- Wash glass and frame with standard cleaners

    Price: Costs more than all-wood windows

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    Windows 101: Fiberglass

    Fiberglass is a top choice in homes because it's long-lasting, strong, and stable.

    What we love:

    -- Made in a variety of colors; can be painted

    -- Can hold large expanses of glass

    -- Won't warp when exposed to extreme temperatures

    -- Self-extinguishing in fire

    -- Can last about 50 years

    Keep in mind:

    -- Not yet widely available

    -- Highest R-values; R-10 with optional foam insulation

    Price: 25-30 percent more expensive than premium solid vinyl

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    Windows 101: Composite

    Composite windows combine pine and wood fibers to create a material with the appeal of wood and the easy care of recycled plastic.

    What we love:

    -- Stable material that doesn't bow or crack

    -- Can be embossed to resemble natural wood

    -- Allows for thinner frames and grids

    -- Low-maintenance, clean only periodically

    -- 10-year warranties on frames; 20-year warranties on glass

    Price: Between solid vinyl and wood

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