Window shopping 101: pros and cons of 3 frame materials

November 18, 2011

If you're upgrading your home, making an addition or remodeling, you'll want to find materials that fit your budget without sacrificing performance. Windows and doors prices vary based on brand, customization, materials, workmanship and warranty.

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Windows, in particular, are initially offered at a base price and then marked up depending on insulation, durability and style. It's unlikely you'll find a single product that meets all of your needs without some compromise. Knowing the pros and cons of each window frame material can help you close in on the best solution for your money.

Pros and cons of 3 popular replacement windows

  1. Wood. Pros: Wood frames are the top choice for homeowners who want to match traditional house design. The Efficient Windows Collaborative (EWC) reports that well-installed wood frames offer good performance and thermal protection for a high energy, co-efficient. Wood is also easy to customize for fit and can be painted more than once in a variety of shades.

    Cons. The EWC reports that wood is highly susceptible to rot. It's also vulnerable to insect infestation, and sunlight damage. More costly than other materials, wood requires high maintenance, repainting and repair.

  2. Aluminum. Pros: Milgard Windows cites aluminum's plusses to be a high resistance to cracking, peeling, warping and bending. Such properties plague wood frames. Aluminum can also be painted to complement your home's exterior. Aluminum frames are extremely resistant to moisture and require little maintenance.

    Cons: Aluminum is a poor insulator. Even thermally improved aluminum frames that are reinforced with vinyl and foam rank consistently behind wood and vinyl, when it comes to energy efficiency.

  3. Vinyl. Pros: Vinyl frames come with highly competitive window prices, when compared with the cost of wood or aluminum. This makes them an attractive option and they're now considered a leader on the market. They won't crack, peel, bend or stick when expanding and contracting due to weather, and they come with high energy-efficiency options. The polyvinyl chloride (PVC) frames clean up with soap and water, but do not require the routine painting common to wood products.

    Cons: Unlike wood, PVC is non-renewable and has a relatively short history on the market. The International Association of Certified Home Inspectors claims that PVC windows can sag or bow under extreme heat and may discolor over time, when exposed to direct sunlight.

Shop around and compare windows and doors prices, materials and warranty--before you buy. As in life, you'll find plusses and minuses for each decision and style of replacement window. Still, the savvy consumer always does his or her homework before making a large purchase. That's window shopping 101.

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