When it comes to buying replacement windows, vinyl windows remain the most popular choice, experts say. There are a lot of reasons why -- including the fact that vinyl windows have excellent energy efficiency -- but their biggest advantage might be value -- both initially and over the long term
Vinyl windows are the least expensive type you can buy. Prices start at less than $100 per replacement window, and vary depending on size, construction quality, frame style, glass (double- or triple-paned, for example) and other features, plus installation if you don't plan on tackling the project yourself. Most major window manufacturers sell vinyl windows, such as Pella, Andersen and Marvin. Low- to mid-priced windows are available from retailers such as Home Depot (American Craftsman by Andersen), Lowes (ReliaBilt), and others, as well as through independent building supply stores and lumber yards, and most contractors.
While cost is a major influencer on why so many homeowners opt for vinyl when buying replacement windows, there are other positives that are important as well. Vinyl windows are low maintenance, never need painting and are reasonably resistant to damage. Since the color extends through the material rather than just sitting on the surface, scratches won't be as obvious as with some other materials. In terms of energy efficiency, vinyl replacement windows hold their own with wood, clad-wood and fiberglass, and are clearly superior to aluminum replacement windows. Other factors, such as high-efficiency glass, will make the biggest contribution to your new windows' thermal performance, however.
But vinyl windows have some serious drawbacks as well. Because vinyl isn't as strong as other materials, the frames must be made thicker than other types of frames, which will cut down on the glass area. Vinyl is generally durable, but home renovation experts caution that vinyl replacement windows expand and contract more than other types. That could reduce the thermal efficiency of your windows if some basic maintenance is not done. Writing in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, contractor Ryan Carey advises checking caulk and insulation around the window at least periodically to make sure leaks and drafts don't develop. As long as that upkeep is taken care of, however, performance should be fine.
Carey also advises that those in harsher climates stick with a manufacturer's top-grade vinyl windows. "Almost every vinyl window manufacturer has a good, better, and best line," he says. "The 'best' is absolutely an option for our climate, 'better' is not so good for our climate, and 'good' is only good for our fish houses and deer stands."
Vinyl windows come in a wide range of interior and exterior colors, and can be ordered with an interior wood veneer that can be painted or stained. However, be aware that vinyl itself can't be painted very easily, and that colors, especially dark ones, can fade over the years.
There is some debate as to whether or not vinyl replacement windows will increase the value of your home. Some realtors and homeowners say it depends on the age and style of the house, while others, such as About.com's home renovation guide and the editors of DoItYourself.com say wood or clad-wood replacement windows increase the resale value of a house more than vinyl windows do. As About.com home renovation guide Lee Wallender writes, "Wood replacement windows appeal to home-buyers. There's nothing like the look of a nice clear-coated wood window."
However, the 2016 Cost vs Value survey by Remodeling magazine paints a somewhat different picture. It tracks the cost and expected payback when the house is sold for a variety of remodeling projects, including vinyl and clad-wood replacement windows. In the past, clad-wood held a small edge nationwide and in most regions. However, that's flipped around in the last two years, and the most recent finding gives vinyl the edge by a small margin nationwide in all but three of the various regions that it tracks.