Although they might not appeal to purists as much as traditional all-wood windows, clad-wood replacement windows offer the best of both worlds: the look of wood windows on the interior, but with less exterior maintenance required. That's why they currently well outpace all-wood windows in popularity.
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 clad-wood windows claim that their resistance to humidity makes these types of replacement windows the best choice in warm, sticky climates. Though the vinyl in these clad-wood windows 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, so if that's a concern, you might want to consider aluminum clad-wood windows.
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. Clad-wood (as well as all-wood) windows also retain their shape better than windows made of vinyl do when exposed to extremes in temperature, so they remain more airtight over time.
If aesthetics are not a concern, it's important to note that clad-wood is more expensive than vinyl, and the latest statistics say that if you sell your home, you might not recoup all of that cost difference. In the 2016 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. The payback for clad-wood is better in three regions -- the upper mid-west, the west south central, and the south east. But everywhere else, and nationally, vinyl holds a small edge. That's a change from just a few years ago, when the cost recouped favored wood clad in most regions.