Vinyl vs Wood Windows

Vinyl vs Wood Windows

Although vinyl and wood windows serve the same essential purpose, they have many differences. Wood windows are often found in more expensive homes and homes with more intricate architectural features. Vinyl windows were first made in the 1950s, they didn't become popular until the 1990s but they dominate the market today. If you're deciding between vinyl and wood windows, this post is for you. You'll learn the biggest differences and value-adds of vinyl vs wood windows. 

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Window Construction: How do vinyl and wood windows compare?

Vinyl window sashes and frames are made with polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a type of plastic that’s durable and flexible. These windows often have an internal metal structure for additional rigidity and strength. Vinyl windows made with cellular PVC sometimes have foam insulation for better energy efficiency and utility savings.

Most wood windows are made from pine but some wood window makers will source additional species. If you're looking for something specific just ask about your options and be prepared to pay a premium for anything other than pine.

Examples of wood species include:

  • Douglas fir
  • Cherry
  • Mahogany
  • Maple
  • Oak
  • Others

Two things to know about wood and vinyl windows:

  1. When you search for "wood windows" or "vinyl windows", understand that the windows also include parts made of other materials. 
  2. Modern wood windows are commonly available with exterior cladding. Make sure you note the difference when doing product research, are you looking at an "all" wood window or a "clad" wood window? 

Wood windows with vinyl exterior cladding are a good choice as well. With vinyl and wood windows, many styles, colors, and levels of insulation are available. Quality levels vary between different materials and designs.

Aesthetics or Curb Appeal: Do vinyl windows look better than wood windows?

Most people would agree that wood windows look better than vinyl windows but it may not be a fair comparison. Wood windows are much more customizable than vinyl windows in terms of size, shape, and profile.

Wood windows are easy to paint, so you can change the color easily if you decide to renovate or remodel your home. Painting vinyl windows is more difficult, so you may have to replace them if you want a new color. You can choose vinyl windows that look like wood, but most people think that the real thing looks more attractive. While you can get a custom wood window design, most vinyl windows are mass-produced and come in a limited number of designs and colors. Vinyl windows, however, have come a long way and like wood windows they are also available in thick and thin profiles as well as in dark interior and exterior colors.

Durability: Are wood windows more durable than vinyl windows?

Vinyl windows can sometimes warp from exposure to heat over time. They can also expand and contract when the temperature changes, making insulation less effective and causing drafts. Look for high-quality vinyl windows with multiple chambers and metal reinforcements rather than frames made with hollow vinyl extrusions. Wood windows are vulnerable to rot from excess moisture, and they can sometimes warp over time as well. Wood windows usually last for about 20 years, and vinyl windows last even longer. With proper maintenance and good construction, both types can work great for several decades.

The paint in wood can peel over time, and darker vinyl windows can fade. A darker window frame can also absorb more heat and make your home less efficient in summer. Wood and vinyl are vulnerable to scratches, but repairing or repainting a wood frame is easier than replacing a vinyl frame. If either type of window has metal parts, you could notice rust stains if moisture is leaking nearby. Unfortunately both windows can and will eventually experience fog between the glass. 

Maintenance: Which windows require more maintenance, wood or vinyl?

Vinyl windows are more durable and easy to maintain than wood options. They’re not vulnerable to rot or mold, and they’re much less appealing to termites and carpenter bees than wood windows. Vinyl windows don’t require any maintenance other than regular cleaning. It’s a good idea to clean the glass and dust the window frames regularly. If you have a screen, remove it every few months and rinse it off with a garden hose.

With wood windows, you should also look for cracked or peeling paint and repair it as soon as possible to prevent mold. If you notice mold, clean the area with bleach. If needed, you can choose paint for wood windows that contains a mold killer. Treat the wood or repaint it every few years to keep it looking new.

Energy Efficiency: Are vinyl windows more energy efficient than wood windows?

A typical wood window in good condition is slightly more energy-efficient than a vinyl window, but it may need replacing sooner. Today, both types of windows can be very efficient. Look for double- or triple-pane windows with low-emissivity or low-E glass. These special coatings can reflect light and heat. Spacer bars near the window frame separate each pane of glass, and warm edge spacers are designed to improve thermal performance.

Availability: Is it easier to buy wood or vinyl windows?

Vinyl windows are more widely available than wood windows. Just about everyone makes a vinyl window. If vinyl is your choice, you'll need to be careful to make sure you're buying windows from a quality brand. Vinyl windows from NT, Alside, and all the Brennan brand windows are made by Top 100 Manufacturers↗. For a vinyl clad wood window look to Andersen and for a solid wood window look to Sierra Pacific.

The Pros and Cons of Vinyl Windows

Vinyl windows are more durable than wood windows. However, they come in fewer shapes, colors, and designs.

Pros of Vinyl Windows
  • More affordable
  • Durable
  • Low-maintenance
  • Energy efficient
Cons of Vinyl Windows
  • Varying quality
  • Less customizable

The Pros and Cons of Wood Windows

It’s easy to have a custom wood window made to your specifications. However, you’ll need to pay more than you would for a vinyl window. Wood windows usually look better, but they’re more difficult to maintain.

Pros of Wood Windows
  • Distinct beauty
  • Unique grain patterns inside and out
  • Energy efficient
  • Customizable
Cons of Wood Windows
  • Expensive
  • Requires regular maintenance
  • Susceptible to rot and warping

Whether you’re building a new home or making an upgrade to your existing residence you'll find great options in vinyl and wood windows.

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