Although they might not appeal to purists as much as traditional all-wood windows do, clad-wood replacement windows offer the best of both worlds: the look of wood windows on the interior, but with less exterior maintenance required.
Clad-wood windows are made of wood but have a layer of vinyl or aluminum bonded to the exterior, so they don't need to be painted or sealed. The interior, which is wood, can be painted or stained to match your décor. Clad-wood windows start out at as little as $200 per window, and maintenance costs (and time) will be significantly lower than with wood. Virtually all of the major window manufacturers offer clad-wood windows. Many contractors recommend them as a better alternative than all-wood.
The different types of clad-wood replacement windows have different advantages and disadvantages. DoItYourself.com notes that vinyl clad-wood replacement windows are available in a wide range of colors and styles. Their insulating properties are outstanding, on a par with wood, so they are a better choice in areas subject to very cold winters, very hot summers, or, especially, both. In an article in Architect magazine, Stephanie Herzfeld notes that proponents of vinyl claim that their resistance to humidity makes these types of clad-wood replacement windows the best choice in warn, sticky climates. Though vinyl is not immune from scratches, those are less likely to show as the color runs through the material. However, the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors says that vinyl has a tendency to discolor over time, and that it can't be easily repainted should that happen.
On the other side of the ledger, Kim Ray of DoItYourself.com notes that while aluminum isn't a great insulator, aluminum clad-wood windows are a good option for areas where temperatures are milder. In addition, aluminum clad-wood windows are much stronger than the vinyl variety. That's a major plus in areas subject to severe weather, such as hurricanes. "Proponents of aluminum-clad windows assert that aluminum is the best cladding for harsh environments because it can't be dinged or dented, is low-maintenance, and is good-looking," Herzfeld says. Also, while more susceptible to scratching, aluminum clad-wood windows can be painted if it becomes necessary, or if you want to change their look. The bottom line, experts say, is that depending on your priorities or location, either vinyl or aluminum clad-wood windows can make an excellent and durable choice.
Choosing the exterior cladding material isn't the only decision homeowners need to make when selecting clad-wood replacement windows. Like all-wood windows, these products are built using a variety of woods, from basic pine to exotic species. Your décor and your other interior wood trim can point you in the right direction. Other options include energy-efficient glass, a variety of pane styles and inserts, and even hardware finishes.
Energy efficiency is a strength of clad-wood replacement windows. In an older buying guide, ConsumerReports.org editors note that as a group, clad-wood and fiberglass windows were better at minimizing air leakage than all-vinyl ones. Clad-wood (as well as all-wood) windows also retain their shape better than vinyl does when exposed to extremes in temperature, so they remain more airtight over time.
Clad-wood is initially more expensive than vinyl, but that cost difference could pay off in the long run if you sell your home. In the 2014 Cost vs. Value survey by Remodeling magazine, the cost and payback for various home remodeling projects are analyzed for different regions in the country, as well as nationally. Those projects include window replacement using mid-grade clad-wood (either aluminum or vinyl) and all-vinyl products. Nationally, clad-wood holds a small edge in project costs recouped, 79.3 percent versus 78.7 percent, but the spread and the return are larger in some regions. For example, in the Pacific region, a clad-wood replacement window job is projected to return 102 percent of its cost, versus 100 percent for vinyl. Vinyl does prevail in some areas, however, notably in New England and the Mid-Atlantic states.