Last summer, my wife and I moved into a new home. One of the first home renovation projects we tackled was replacing our windows. Not only were they letting in too much road noise, but some of the seals were also starting to fail, causing the glass to fog up.
We spent hours meeting with various window replacement companies, which all had lengthy presentations to show why they were the best option. To save you from that headache, I've compiled a quick summary of the different types of windows to help you choose the best one for your home.
Window manufacturers use five different materials to make replacement windows. Here are the pros and cons of each one.
Vinyl windows are the standard and most popular type of replacement window. They're easy to clean, resist humidity, and have good insulation properties. They're also the lowest-cost option. They do have some drawbacks, however. Vinyl windows aren't as durable as other windows and require two locking mechanisms for safety instead of just one. They're also not very paintable, as the paint tends to chip over time.
Wood windows offer a classy, architectural look and help improve a home's value. Many historical neighborhoods require wood windows. They're easily stainable or paintable. Unfortunately, wood windows are pricey, often costing double what you'd pay for a vinyl window, though they're more durable and won't need replacement as soon as other options. However, they're more sensitive to damage from water or insects.
Fiberglass windows are a bit more durable than vinyl ones and have similar insulation properties. However, they're more expensive. That added cost doesn't come with an associated increase in return on investment, which is why fiberglass windows aren't common.
Aluminum windows are highly resistant to dents, making them popular in storm-prone areas. However, they can rust, and the paint can chip or scratch off. They're also not as energy efficient as other windows and are more expensive.
Composite windows combine the PVC polymers used to make vinyl windows with wood fibers. That makes them more durable than either wood or vinyl windows. They look like wood windows, can be stained or painted, and require no maintenance. Unfortunately, they're very pricey.
In addition to selecting the best window material, homeowners also need to determine the number of window panes they'd like. Many older homes still have single-pane windows, which aren't very energy efficient. New replacement windows can come in double- or triple-pane options. Here's a quick primer on each one.
A standard double-pane window has two panes of glass sandwiched around a compressed layer of gas, like argon. This window will prevent about 90% of a home's energy loss to the outside world. That means only 10% of the heat from the sun or the cold winter air will pass through the window into your home.
A triple-pane window, on the other hand, is like a pancake. It's a layer of glass, then compressed gas, another layer of glass, more compressed gas, and then the third layer of glass. These layers prevent 97% of energy loss through the glass. They also provide a bit more sound insulation and more security, since it's harder to break a triple-pane window. Unfortunately, they cost 10% to 15% more than double-pane windows. Because of that, it can take a homeowner up to 30 years to recover the extra costs on energy savings alone.
The best window replacement options
For those who live in their dream home, and can justify the added investment, composite triple-pane windows are the best overall option. They're durable, look like wood, are very energy efficient, and require no maintenance.
However, for most homeowners, a standard vinyl double-pane window is the best replacement option for the money, or vinyl with triple-pane glass, if you want extra energy efficiency. While vinyl windows won't last as long as composite ones, or save as much on energy bills, they cost significantly less. When I priced out my windows, vinyl was so much cheaper compared to composite that I could replace them a few times over the next few decades and still spend less money. But take a look at your options before deciding which type of window is best for your home.