A lot depends on what kind of house you own, where it is situated, and what your budget is. On the other hand, over the past several decades, there has been a significant migration towards vinyl framed windows, and for good reason.
Why is vinyl becoming so popular in window frames today?
Cost and functionality are the big drivers today of why so many home owners (and business owners) are opting for vinyl framed windows. The cost of producing vinyl products is low. Compared to, for example aluminum, vinyl window frames are a fraction of the cost, all else being equal. And because the actual material cost of production is so low, more can be used in order to make a stronger product.
Some decades ago, window manufacturers embarked on an ambitious path to making window frames from vinyl. The first wave of products were, to say the least, problematic. In their rush to market, testing would seem to have been rushed through. The first products were flimsy, and did not respond well to hot weather, or even very cold weather, for that matter. A window frame is supposed to support the panes of glass, not the other way round, which was the problem with this new generation of window frames. What happened? Lots of angry customers demanded compensation, and manufacturers were forced to revisit their labs and come up with a solution. Some players in this market went under from the strain, while others withstood the storm and cam up with a far better solution. The ‘second wave’ proved to all that vinyl was, indeed, a superb raw material for window frames, and the market responded well to developments.
There is no one type of vinyl. There is the vinyl that made up audio recordings in the middle of the 20th century, there is vinyl that is used as ‘faux leather’ in furniture, and there is another one that will likely surprise you: Do you know that ‘new car smell’? That is actually vinyl. Vinyl is of course just another form of plastic, made from petroleum products, and what you are smelling is .. well … rotten dinosaurs and vegetation from millions of years ago. That’s what a new car smell is.
Vinyl has become such a versatile product, it’s used in many, many other object, from building materials to car parts, from space station components to computer equipment. It’s everywhere, and it’s all because of (probably) billions of dollars in research and development by many, many companies and governments around the world. When we do run out of oil – and we must some day – what will replace the versatile substance of oil? Who knows, but perhaps there are opportunities to use plain beach sand as a material to make objects from glass. It all won’t happen overnight, but we humans find solutions when our backs are to the wall.
Vinyl makes a window into a moving, functioning part of a home on many levels
If you ever visit a window installer’s showroom, you might see a cutaway of an actual vinyl window frame. It’s not actually solid plastic. It’s got cavities in it to help the functioning of the window in many ways. Because vinyl is strong, even when it’s hollow it is strong. This allows us to make the window a lot lighter in weight, but also, fill those cavities with whatever will help insulate the home from the outside temperatures, moisture, noise and insects. Because air is less heat conductive than solid vinyl, a hollow-frame window gives superior heat insulation than it would otherwise. And it is significantly better insulation that a metal frame such as aluminum. If you’ve ever stuck your tongue on an aluminum bus stop in freezing weather, you’ll see how quickly aluminum sucks the heats out of your tongue!
Because flexible buildings are effectively stronger than rigid ones, buildings are designed to sway – or move – a bit during storms and also during earthquakes. There’s probably an earthquake big coming at some time in the future to knock down almost any building, but these ‘flexibly built skyscrapers’ of today will withstand quite a lot of earthquake activity. Window frames made of vinyl can take a lot of punishment because they are flexible. Hard enough to stay firm enough, yet soft enough to ‘go with the flow’ when the entire window frame comes under pressure in a storm that puts pressure on both the house and its windows. And as any parent with teenage children around will tell you, there is no end to the door and window slamming that can be expected. As my mother once said to me, don’t forget that childproof is not the same thing as unbreakable. I remember the punishment my own three teenagers put on the new vinyl windows we had installed. Long after they had gone off to college, their windows were still in perfect working order.
Vinyl window frames seal well
Think of the standards the precision join of a sliding window in its frame must come under! Open, close, open, close, perhaps several times a day. To that, add heating, freezing, damp, moisture and baking in the midday sun to the mix, and it is amazing after years, the window can still close and produce a perfect seal.
A good seal for many years means your utility bills can be kept under control, as well as noise being kept out.
Heat is not the only thing that conducts through metal well. Sound travels through aluminum far better than it does through a cavity-built window frame made of vinyl.
Wood is a decent insulation against heat loss, but it deteriorates over time, and no two pieces of wood will behave in a 100% predictable way. Yes, many of todays hardwoods are so tough, they’re like metal in some regards, but being produced my Mother Nature no two pieces of lumber on the earth are perfectly identical. This means that window frame manufacturers using wood, and not vinyl, must take into consideration that its ability to produce a perfect seal is not going to be at the same level.
The best of both worlds: Vinyl-wood window frame hybrids
People want the beauty of wood in their windows, but the functionality of vinyl underneath. Today’s window manufacturers offer the perfect solution: a window frame that’s essentially vinyl, but that offers a wood veneer to the outside viewer. Now that’s having your cake and eating it.
More next week.