What’s better? Vinyl or wood?

We have just bought a charming old house in a nice Ottawa neighbourhood. We knew from the start that we’d have to replace the windows. We can’t decide whether they should be wood or vinyl. We think wood is more appropriate to the age and style of the house, but vinyl seems easier to maintain. Can you give us some pointers about the pros and cons of wood vs. vinyl? Do you have any advice for us?

Dave Sprung of Ottawa Windows and Doors (www.ottawawindows.com)­­­­­­­­­­­­­­

One of the first decisions you’ll need to make about replacement windows is to decide between wood frames and vinyl frames.  Both offer you many energy-efficient solutions as well as unique characteristics pertaining to aesthetics, function and reliability.

Wood frame windows have been a staple within the window industry for decades. These products can offer beautiful millwork and design, providing an elegant touch of class. The flexibility of painting or staining to taste allows greater options for interior design. They are now widely offered as exterior-maintenance-free, meaning they don’t have to be painted every year.

Wood frame products are also known for their high-thermal efficiency and strength. This is due in part to wood’s natural ability to maintain warmth as well as its inherent structural integrity.

If you’re considering wood frames, you should note that they are typically more expensive. Wood will certainly range in price, but in comparison to a vinyl frame, you can expect a wood-frame window to be notably higher. Then there will be the necessity for upkeep.

Although the exterior of the wood may be protected from the elements, your home’s natural interior humidity will still create the need for occasional maintenance. Areas in your home such as bathrooms or kitchen will speed up the need for maintenance because cooking and showering create greater moisture in the air. If too much humidity is in your house, the condensed moisture on the glass may in turn begin to damage the wood frame.

Finally, many wood frame suppliers will offer decent warranties. However, due to the nature of wood, they may not compete against their vinyl-frame counterpart.

If you choose a vinyl frame, you will enjoy the aspect widely promoted as the maintenance-free alternative. Vinyl, or Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) is widely used in the construction of windows because it is cheap, durable, and easy to assemble.

These products, when properly constructed, can equal their counterpart in wood for thermal efficiency but at a reduced cost, because the raw materials to construct them are not as great as that for wood.

Vinyl can be factory-painted many colours now, further competing against wood for aesthetic design. With the minimal maintenance requirement, home owners have pushed this industry into the popular replacement choice.

Vinyl, being a fabricated product, must be well-engineered to avoid issues of frame expansion and contraction. As much as wood frames absorb moisture in the air, the change in weather will cause stress on the vinyl and without adequate design, these products will fault, causing a number of issues.

Further to this, without adequate internal design, these frames may be colder and so many manufacturers now add steel reinforcement within the vinyl for strength and create a complex multi-air chamber extrusion to combat his effect.

In the end, both products can add efficiency, beauty, comfort and value to your home. Ensure you seek out a qualified installer and do your homework on the manufacturer. When making your decision about which supplier to use, ask questions.

Replacement of your windows may seem daunting at first, but your home and your utility bill will thank you in the end.