Window Replacement

Dear NH,
I am looking for any information, whether good or bad, about vinyl windows versus wood frame windows. I will be replacing all the windows in my home and vinyl seems to be the top choice at this point.

Great question, especially since I am considering the very same project on my home! My old wood windows need miles of window glazing and the sun has destroyed the stain/polyurethane on the inner surfaces. (And, frankly, I will do whatever I can to escape from doing the repairs!) Fortunately, the window glass is not falling out yet.

Not too many years ago, I would have been a little hesitant about recommending 100 percent vinyl windows. However, recent chemical advances and design improvements have brought vinyl up to the same quality as wood, aluminum or vinyl-clad wood windows.

There are three primary concerns to be dealt with. The first is aesthetic. The second is quality of the window. The third is the contractor's expertise and reliability.

Windows can come in a number of configurations: 100 percent wood, wood inside and vinyl-clad wood outside, 100 percent vinyl inside and outside, and of course anodized coated aluminum. If the interior trim in your home is stained, not painted, you may want to consider wood inside / vinyl outside to maintain the appearance of your woodwork. If your interior trim is painted, vinyl or aluminum would be the top choices for minimal maintenance. However, be aware that you should not paint vinyl windows!

Aluminum is perhaps the toughest of all the available options and modern aluminum windows do not have the heat-transfer problems that plagued older windows such as excessive condensation and even freezing in the winter! They may over time need repainting if the finish deteriorates. This is a strictly aesthetic issue... aluminum does not rot or rust. Vinyl or vinyl-clad are the most maintenance free, never needing anything other than occasional cleaning. Wood, on the other hand, is a maintenance hog needing regular repainting to prevent deterioration and rot!

Comparing quality among manufacturers is almost impossible. Over the years, even the major manufacturers have produced some "dogs". The only rule of thumb I can give is to never purchase a window that you can't first look at, touch and operate. Have a salesman show you how they work and then try to work them yourself. If they have special features such as "tilt-in" or easy removal, be sure to test this feature, too. Some folks find these mechanisms very difficult to operate.

You should inquire about the warranty, the availability of replacement parts, how long the manufacturer has been in business, and (if you are really motivated) do some Web searching to find out what other people say about their products! With major manufacturers such as Andersen and Pella, parts are available for 20 years or longer.

Concerning the contractor, it is important to do a little investigation unless you have found them from a very strong referral. We have an article on our site about how to choose a contractor. This should get you started and help you miss the big traps! (Visit our "Articles" area and look in the drop-down menu for "Contractors, hiring tips")

Ideally, the installer should have some experience with replacement windows. If not, you should expect a much lower labor quote than the more experienced competition. Otherwise, I wouldn't take the chance. You can save some money working with a newer installer, but you must be willing to accept the added risk! Installing replacement windows is not brain surgery, and any experienced carpenter can do a fine job if he (or she) takes the time to do it right.

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