In the residential market, there are three common types of windows:
- Metal – usually aluminum, but can be steel
- Synthetic – include vinyl & PVC
- Wood – can be all wood, wood clad with vinyl, or aluminum on the exterior
Each type can accommodate double or triple insulated glass, so the main differences refer to the frame material.
Three Common Types of Windows
Aluminum windows were the first insulated glass window frames to become widely available, and have been around for decades. Early designs benefited from insulated glass, but the aluminum would conduct heat and cold directly through the frame. Later designs included materials to stop the heat transfer, and these designs are now the standard for metal windows in today’s market.
Metal windows are strong to allow for large windows with minimal frames that obstruct views. The aluminum frames can be factory painted, coated, or treated to achieve varied colors with durable finishes. Prices range from moderate to quite expensive.
Vinyl windows represent most windows in this category, with PVC claiming a smaller market share. Vinyl has the advantage of being almost maintenance free, since the material does not rust, rot, or change color. The colors are somewhat limited but are solid throughout, so scratches have little effect.
Vinyl is not as stiff as aluminum, so there are some size limitations. The manufacturing process lends to easy customization, so vinyl windows work extremely well for replacement projects. Prices are generally in the moderate range.
Wood is the original window frame material, and continues to be sought after for the classic look and character it provides. However, this material is vulnerable to deterioration and requires protection from moisture and insects. A protective finish – usually paint – is critical and must be periodically refreshed.
Wood is affected by temperature and can swell or shrink, which may affect the window performance. One approach to deal with the problems of protecting the wood is to cover the exterior of the window with aluminum or vinyl cladding. This can be extremely effective, if there is no failure in the cladding. Prices vary but generally range in the upper-moderate to expensive category.
Common terminology when discussing windows includes the following:
- Pane – the actual sheet of glass in the window
- Sash – the part of the window that moves up and down, and contains the pane or panes of glass
- Frame – generally speaking, the perimeter of the window unit that contacts the walls of a house
Other features associated with windows are:
- Single or double pane – one or two sheets of glass
- Single or double hung – meaning only one (single) sash moves up and down, or both (double) sashes move up and down
- Fixed guided sash or folding sash – meaning the sash remains fixed in the frame or may fold outward with the use of locks.
Lastly, windows should be selected to accommodate the aesthetic, application, and integration into the wall, effectively. Possibly the most important component to window installation is the waterproofing. A licensed, bonded, and experienced contractor should be consulted for proper installation, as window connections are often a cause of water intrusion.