wood windows
Photo: Trevor Johnston
New windows can make a dramatic difference in any home, whether you want to improve its appearance, open up a spectacular view or simply replace worn units that seem to let in more wind and rain than they keep out.

Modern window frames cut air infiltration down to almost zero and, when used with advanced glazings, can slash up to 40 percent off your heating and cooling bills. Some windows also free you from periodic painting. Still others rival fine cabinetry in eye appeal.

Manufacturers have expanded those choices with new frame materials, glazing and installation options. Indeed, "replacement windows" are no longer limited to the kind that involve ripping out the old window and installing a new prime window.

They now include money-saving versions that allow you to replace the glass and sash without replacing the frame. While the added options also expand your decisions list, new labeling programs make choosing well-built, energy-efficient windows easier than ever.

Material Choices
Windows frames come in a number of different materials, including wood, vinyl aluminum, fiberglass and composite plastic.

Vinyl-frame windows are the most affordable — as little as half the price of comparable wood-frame versions. They're also especially energy efficient, thanks to a honeycomb of chambers that boost insulating ability by trapping air, and can be built to fit any size opening. And unlike wood, they never need repainting, though colors are limited.

Vinyl-frame windows first appeared in the 1970s when small fabricators produced custom replacement options in sizes not offered by manufacturers of stock wood windows. Today, nationwide companies such as Owens Corning and CertainTeed offer a variety of units in stock and custom sizes. Even traditional wood-window companies now offer vinyl-frame replacement lines; Retrovision from Weather Shield and Monument from Hurd are two prominent examples.

When shopping, look for a uniform color throughout the frame. Also look for joints that are heat-welded rather than joined with screws or other fasteners. You can expect a two- to six-week wait if you order custom units.
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