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Wood windows require more maintenance than other types

Experts say wood replacement windows are an appropriate choice for older homes and for homeowners who prefer a traditional appearance. Wood is versatile and can be milled or shaped to fit awkwardly-sized openings. Wood windows generally come unfinished, and can be painted or stained any color. You can also order windows that are primed and ready for painting, or already painted (though typically only in a limited array of colors).

In general, expect to pay more than you would for a vinyl replacement window. If you're ordering a standard size, a regular double-hung pine replacement window will cost in the neighborhood of $250 to $280, plus the cost of installation if you don't want to handle the project yourself (see our What to Look For discussion for more on that). Prices can vary widely by brand and quality. Additional options such as high-performance glass, decorative inserts or exotic woods bump up the price, sometimes dramatically: "The same window made to order with high-performance glazing will be about $825. In mahogany the cost jumps to $2,100" say editors at This Old House.

Wood and vinyl both have terrific insulating properties. However, vinyl replacement windows do not stand up as well as wood ones to temperature extremes, especially heat, which can cause them to develop leaks, become difficult to open and close or to have other structural issues develop over time.

But while wood replacement windows are relatively resistant to the effects of temperature, they are highly susceptible to other environmental factors. Moisture is a particular problem, and homeowners must keep wood replacement windows sealed by painting or staining them regularly. Because of that, ongoing maintenance costs are higher for wood windows than for vinyl ones.

Maintenance could be a particular headache in areas with harsh winters. Writing in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, local contractor Ryan Carey specifically recommends against all wood windows. Instead, he says opt for clad-wood, which gives you the look of natural wood on the inside, but a lower-maintenance material on the exterior. "You can still find an all-wood window, but I don't recommend it unless you're going for that weathered, 'Little House on the Prairie' feel on the outside," he writes. Other contractors often agree, and that might be one reason why all-wood windows have become a little harder to find in recent years.

Others have a different take, however. The Efficient Windows Collaborative writes: "Wood is not intrinsically the most durable window frame material, because of its susceptibility to rot, but well-built and well-maintained wood windows can have a very long life. Paint protects the exterior surface and allows an easy change in color schemes."

While the initial cost and ongoing maintenance are higher for wood windows than for vinyl ones, over the long term, that cost difference could even out. Editors of DoItYourself.com say "wooden casement windows typically enjoy a much longer functional lifespan than vinyl ones and can dramatically increase a home's resale value."

Wood and clad-wood replacement windows are the most eco-friendly choices of window materials, provided the wood is from a sustainable source, GreenHomeGuide.com editors say. Major window manufacturers like Andersen, Marvin and Jeld-Wen have information on their websites about the sources of their wood products. The Forest Stewardship Council has a database of FSC-certified retailers, manufacturers and distributors on its website.

Wood replacement windows could add significantly to the value of your home, according to most home renovation experts. However, in one discussion thread on GardenWeb.com, homeowners and real estate agents say this is not a given. A lot depends on the type of home and the condition of the existing windows. For example, vinyl, fiberglass, clad-wood or even aluminum windows could look out of place on a historic Victorian home, but just fine and even completely appropriate on a more modern dwelling. Rotting, drafty windows are never a plus in any home sale.

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