by Jane Noble
Sep. 24, 2016
New windows can really smarten up the appearance of a house, and give a fresh, improved look to your heating and cooling bills as well. Advanced glazing and modern frames drastically reduce air infiltration and noise pollution.
Wood is an organic material and therefore has its own individuality and texture and adds natural beauty to any room. Timber frames are primarily made from spruce, pine and oak. Wood frames can be painted, offer good thermal performance and act as a sound barrier. They are however an investment not only of money, but also time.
The drawback of wood is that it demands to be well looked after. You can’t just put in wood framed windows and ignore them or you will have problems. They are vulnerable to sun and rain. They need to be sanded and stained or painted regularly to keep them looking sharp and protected from the elements. Wood expands and contracts in response to the weather making it very susceptible to buckling and warping. In very damp climates wood can easily rot and deteriorate.
Many manufacturers are now offering wood products that have either vinyl or aluminum cladding on the exterior. This cuts down on maintenance requirements and offers better weather resistance, while still allowing you to enjoy the elegant look of wood inside your home.
Vinyl frames are the most more popular choice and provide an affordable option. They work well at keeping the heat inside in winter, and the heat outside in summer. Vinyl frames are very resistant to extreme weather conditions and, unlike wood, they never need repairing or painting which is a huge plus. They are only offered in a limited number of colors, but in a large variety of shapes and sizes. The quality of the vinyl will differ from one manufacturer to another depending on the recipe used to make the compound.
When I replaced the rotting wooden windows in my Vancouver home, I vacillated backwards and forwards between traditional wood and vinyl. Since the house was timber clad, I wanted to make sure the new windows were still in keeping with the house’s character. In the end I chose vinyl, as I didn’t want to deal with maintenance and regular painting. I was delighted with the result. The windows looked crisp and clean and from the street, you barely even noticed the material they were made of. If you want to put vinyl into an older style house, choose a style of window that is in keeping with the era of the home.
Extensively used in commercial developments, aluminum frames are lightweight, durable and weather resistant. Because aluminum is so strong, the frames can be very thin yet support a large expanse of glass. A narrow frame is perfect if you want an unobstructed view.
Aluminum is a good thermal conductor, which is not actually something you want in windows. Good conductor equals bad insulator. This means the frames lose heat easily. In winter they can feel cold to the touch and are prone to condensation. Aluminum frames are better suited to warmer climates and are likely to be the cheapest option.
Fiberglass is the new wunderkind on the block. Fiberglass frames are impressively strong and maintenance free, and designed to last for decades. “Maintenance free” is always music to my ears! Fiberglass is more energy efficient than vinyl and doesn’t expand and contract like wood. The frames remain square and level without the need for metal reinforcement. However fiberglass cannot be bent, therefore cannot be used for specialty windows that have curves or arches.
Fiberglass frames are rot resistant even to salt water and won’t corrode over time. Fiberglass comes in a variety of finishes and can easily be painted so your color choices are unlimited. You can see why they are well worth considering.