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If you’ve been considering replacing windows in your home, chances are you have looked at some vinyl window options. Being the most popular replacement window material on the market, you can find vinyl windows just about anywhere - from your local hardware store to a whole slew of manufacturers and installers. So you know that vinyl windows are a widely available option, but it’s important to look at what you get with this material, and if there are any lesser-known alternatives as well.

What exactly is a vinyl window?Vinyl Window - cost, durability, longevity comparison

Vinyl refers to the material the window is made out of. It is almost always a white frame material, that is essentially, plastic. Because they are made of plastic, they are typically not a sturdy structure.  

Their popularity on the market has led to a few things that buyers should be aware of, mainly the wide variation in quality. While all vinyl windows are made of plastic, there are major differences in their construction. Some vinyl windows are reinforced with an internal metal frame to increase their stability. Others are not. Using a metal frame decreases the R-value (ability to insulate your home) drastically.

As we know, plastic is a material that is highly affected by temperature. Plastic expands in high heat conditions and contracts in the cold. Along with this expansion and contraction comes warping and even cracking. The temperatures can cause the material to become brittle and chip apart as well.

It’s important to note that the vinyl parts of a window expand and contract, but often the glass in the window, the seals, and the wood around the window frame do not. So when this size and shape change occurs, there are going to be places where the window no longer fits tightly in the surrounding wall and the glass is no longer sealed into place in the frame. In addition to the temperature susceptibility, vinyl also breaks down in sunlight to fade and even yellow.

You may think that the temperature changes you are used to won’t be extreme enough to affect your windows. But temperatures that build up in the window materials can often reach higher levels than what the air temperature is. For example, when you close your shades or curtains, heat gets trapped between the window and the curtain and can create a pocket of heat that reaches as high as 165 degrees. Not only can this warp your vinyl windows, it can even melt them.

How long do vinyl windows last?

Being made of plastic severely limits the longevity of vinyl windows. If your home was constructed with wood windows, they may have lasted forty years or more with proper care. Vinyl windows won’t be able to get anywhere close to that. Many vinyl windows may only last three years, while others may perform up to 10 or more years in the right conditions and with proper installation.

As vinyl windows grew in popularity in the nineties, many homes that were replacing their rotted wood windows had vinyl windows installed. Unfortunately, many of these windows were builder-grade windows, otherwise known as low quality. These windows specifically have been known to fail in just three years.
When looking at window options, it’s important to thoroughly research the window materials, the company manufacturing them, and the company installing them. Looking at only one of these can lead to miscommunication in the window you are actually purchasing and the warranty you receive with it. Check for companies that have been around a long time, are easy to contact, and have products with energy star ratings.

As vinyl windows are exposed to the elements, the constant contraction and expansion will cause them to warp, which in addition to causing inefficiency in your home, can also cause other problems in window operation. When the window changes size or shape, it can become difficult to open and even a home safety threat as locks may no longer latch properly.

The window may also become difficult to see through as seals around the glass are compromised and let moisture in between glass panes. This causes a clouding effect and may make your windows look foggy or even dirty, but no amount of cleaning will fix the issue. This moisture may not only affect your window, but also the wall cavity of your home. You can learn more about condensation in your windows in our blog: Foggy Windows and Condensation Problems - Is it Serious and What To Do

The warped window frame will also release the gases that are often sealed in between panes of glass to increase efficiency, making the window even less able to insulate your home.

How much do vinyl windows cost?

The cost for vinyl windows varies just as much as their quality does - and they don’t always match up. You may see many offers for vinyl windows and installation in coupon books, on flyers at home shows, or even in the local paper. Be sure to check into the background of the company and their products. Their advertising may be misleading and if they are only in your area a short time, will be impossible to contact in the future.
In most cases, vinyl windows will seem like a very affordable option when compared to others. But comparing the durability and longevity severely reduces any initial cost savings.

Are vinyl windows really maintenance-free?

Unlike wood windows, you will never have to paint a vinyl window. Even if you wanted to, the paint probably wouldn’t stick! Because of the high amount of contraction and expansion, you will end up doing maintenance - it will just be on the house itself, instead of the window.

Vinyl expands and contracts at more than twice the rate of wood, which considering your house is likely made of wood, presents a lot of problems. The larger your window is, the bigger problem this creates as there is more potential for the material to shrink and swell.

Window Options other than Vinyl

So if reading this makes you a little apprehensive about using vinyl windows, what other options are on the market?

Wood windows will always be a popular choice for their architectural beauty, ability to be customized, and longevity. While they require maintenance, they will always be a solid window option.

Another option - and the one we prefer- is fiberglass. Fiberglass combines the benefits that vinyl windows are sold for, being low maintenance, with the benefits of higher quality materials. Fiberglass is stronger than vinyl and less susceptible to temperature change, so you won’t have to worry about shrinking, swelling, sagging, or fading. 

Infinity from Marvin Fiberglass windows compared to vinyl windows

We go even a step further with the windows we recommend. Infinity from Marvin windows are made from a special type of patented fiberglass - Ultrex. Ultrex is eight times stronger than vinyl. This means the frame of the window can be smaller - allowing you a larger window viewing area. Ultrex also expands and contracts at about the same rate as the glass in your window (very minimal) which means you won’t have seal failures around the glass that lead to condensation and trapped moisture issues. Ultrex fiberglass also contracts at less than half the rate of other fiberglass window materials on the market. Add in the better insulation properties, and we think the higher quality of fiberglass windows will make a huge difference for your home. The added cost is really pretty minimal when you compare how long you can expect your windows to last and truly insulate your home, to what you can expect from even a top of the line vinyl window.

Because we carefully train our installers, we also know that your window won’t fail due to unthorough installation. How your window is installed is just as important as the window materials.

Interested in learning more about your window options? Check out these other blog topics:

Types of Window Coatings and What Works Best For Your Home
How Do I Know If My Home Needs New Windows
How to Know If Your Windows are Damaged
Scott and Leigh Ann Bowman Discuss their Home Renovation