Home improvement materials have evolved over the years. The last 50 years have seen the greatest level of improvement. The materials are stronger, more efficient, come in more styles and require less maintenance. Walk down any aisle in your hardware store, and you will see the improvements in almost every aspect of home building and remodeling materials. From doors to windows, flooring, counter tops, insulation, heating systems, water supply lines, the list goes on.
Everything is manufactured to different specifications and ratings today. The difference between today and yesterday can be explained in one word; Technology. The use of composite materials allows for more styles that are stronger and require less maintenance. Windows are a good example of how vastly superior the materials of today are over those of twenty or thirty years ago. I think it is safe to say that the windows of ten years ago would pale to today's windows. When you are looking for windows, for your new home addition or remodel, you have five categories to choose from; vinyl, fiberglass, aluminum, wood and wood clad. Within each category, there are options that effect, cost, durability, efficiency and maintenance.
Vinyl windows may catch your eye first, as they are the least expensive of the five. Vinyl windows have chambers in the frame, which adds stiffness and strength to their construction. Some manufacturers will fill these chambers with foam insulation, this greatly adds to the insulation value. Make sure to research the manufacturer and the insulation value of the windows you choose. [Side note; be sure to check the U-factor of a window when determining its insulating ratings. The U-factor takes into account the glass pane and the frame and comes up with a combined rating for the entire window.] Vinyl windows come in very limited colors, white, almond and maybe one or two more similar light colors. They require very little maintenance.
Fiberglass windows, with the exception of wood clad windows, are the most expensive. They characteristically provide a strong reliable frame, with the added benefit of low maintenance. Fiberglass frames are an excellent product when looking for insulation factors. For added efficiency, the frames can be insulated with foam. Unlike other materials, fiberglass also expands and contracts according to the temperature. The benefit is that frame and glass expand and contract together preventing the seals along the window and frame from breaking. They come in a variety of colors and can be painted.
Aluminum windows afford the following benefits; inexpensive, strong, durable and low maintenance. The main disadvantage to aluminum windows is they typically have a high rate of heat loss, making them the least efficient of the five categories. They are better suited to a mild climate as opposed to a colder northern climate.
Wood windows are in the middle of the pack in regard to expense; they cost more than aluminum or vinyl yet offer more options. They can be painted or stained different colors to match the color scheme of your house. Over time, as you change the color of your house, you can also change the color of wood windows. They are less expensive than fiberglass and wood clad, however, they are high maintenance, requiring repainting as weather takes its toll. This maintenance adds to the cost on the back end of your purchase, so keep that in mind when comparing overall cost. They provide a strong frame and have a good insulating value.
Wood clad, or clad windows, are the Grand Daddy of windows. They have a core of wood, which is "wrapped" in vinyl, aluminum or fiberglass. They are the most expensive and come with the benefits of all the other windows combined. Like fiberglass, aluminum and vinyl, they are low maintenance, stand up well to the elements and can be matched to the color of your house. On the inside, they have the look and feel of wood with the insulating value of wood as well.
It is not the intention of this article to promote one window over the other. It simply attempts to provide you with information that you may not have been aware of. Windows are a very important and costly part of any home addition or remodel. They keep us both cool and warm, depending on the season. Sometimes cost is the sole determining factor, if that is the case, be sure to try and get the best manufactured window in the price range you choose. Investigate the manufacturer and see if they insulate the frame with foam. If they do not, you will end up paying greater heating and cooling bills for the duration of the time you live in your home.