What are your options for replacement windows?

Experts say each type of replacement window has pros and cons, so choosing the best type for your home means juggling a number of considerations. For example, one of the cheapest types, vinyl replacement windows, provides good insulation and requires no maintenance. However, they can't be painted, so you're stuck with the original color, and they may become less airtight over time as the material weathers.

Wood replacement windows have the most aesthetic appeal, but they also require the most maintenance and are the most expensive. Clad-wood windows have a layer of vinyl or aluminum on the exterior, so they don't need to be painted or stained like wood-framed windows do. Fiberglass windows provide great insulation and need no maintenance, but they are only available in a limited number of sizes and styles. Aluminum replacement windows are inexpensive, lightweight and strong, but aluminum is not a good insulator and is not suited to all climates.

In the end, choosing the best replacement window depends on how much you want to spend, what type of look you want, how much maintenance you're willing to do -- or pay for -- and where you live. We cover the pros and cons of each type of replacement window in this ConsumerSearch buyer's guide.

Types of Replacement Windows

Wood $270 to $1,000-plus per window
Advantages
  • Aesthetic appeal
  • Can be painted or stained any color
Disadvantages
  • Requires ongoing maintenance
  • Expensive
  • Vulnerable to moisture
Wood is the most versatile material for replacement windows: it can be milled or shaped to fit odd spaces and can be stained or painted to match your home's exterior and interior. Wood is a good insulator and is durable if properly maintained. However, because wood is vulnerable to moisture, wood replacement windows require more maintenance than other types of windows; they must be painted or stained regularly. Wood replacement windows are more expensive than vinyl windows; the cost depends to some extent on the type of wood.
Clad-Wood $250 to $1,000 per window
Advantages
  • Exterior cladding protects frame, needs no maintenance
  • Interior retains aesthetic appeal of wood
  • Retains insulating quality of wood
Disadvantages
  • Color choices for exterior may be limited
  • Exterior vinyl can't be painted
Clad-wood replacement windows have a thin layer of vinyl or aluminum -- called cladding -- on the exterior, protecting the frame from the elements and minimizing maintenance. The interior can be painted or stained any color. Clad-wood replacement windows are comparable in price to all-wood windows; the drawback is that you lose the aesthetic qualities of wood replacement windows on the exterior of your house.
Vinyl $175 to $700 per window
Advantages
  • Relatively inexpensive
  • Requires no maintenance
Disadvantages
  • Can't be painted
  • Not as strong as wood, so frames must be thicker
  • Sensitive to temperature extremes
Vinyl replacement windows are perhaps the most popular type of window; they cost less than wood or fiberglass windows and require no maintenance. One downside is that they can't be painted, so you're stuck with whatever color you purchased. In addition, editors at ConsumerReports.org say vinyl windows are not quite as airtight as other replacement window types and they are vulnerable to damage from extreme temperatures.
Fiberglass $250 to $1,000
Advantages
  • Not affected by temperature extremes
  • Impervious to moisture
  • Can be painted
Disadvantages
  • Limited number of sizes available
  • Can be expensive
Fiberglass replacement windows are comparable to wood windows, but there are fewer off-the-shelf styles available. Fiberglass is a strong, durable material, making it a good choice for larger windows, and it resists weather extremes. Like vinyl, fiberglass replacement windows require little maintenance, but unlike vinyl, they can be painted to match your home's exterior and interior.
Aluminum $160 to $700 per window
Advantages
  • Very strong
  • Lightweight
  • Durable
  • Inexpensive
Disadvantages
  • Not a good insulator
  • Not suitable for coastal climates
  • Susceptible to condensation
Aluminum replacement windows are strong, lightweight and durable, and they require no regular maintenance, though they can be painted if desired. They're especially suitable for large spaces. However, aluminum is not a good insulator, and in cold climates condensation is prone to forming on the interior. Aluminum replacement windows with thermal breaks (insulation between exterior and interior layers of aluminum) have a better insulation value, but cost more.
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