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.

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

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

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)

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

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

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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