Comparing Vinyl vs Wood vs Metal vs Composite Windows and Patio Doors

By Frank Giuseppini

As a replacement window shopper, you may know that there are four types of replacement window and patio door frame material types: vinyl,  wood, metal and composite.

Below is a detailed comparison of these four replacement window and patio door types, including the pros and cons of each. You can check out our article on comparing The Cost of Replacement Windows and Patio Doors with different frame materials.  

So here we go. First, let’s look at the following comparison chart that outlines specific pros and cons for each type of replacement window or patio door on a scale from one to five (green is good):

Let’s discuss this chart for a moment. As you can see, vinyl replacement windows and patio doors have some substantial advantages over wood, metal, and composite, but there are some disadvantages as well.

Vinyl Replacment Windows and Patio Doors Advantages

Energy and Comfort Performance

High performance vinyl replacement windows are considered to be the most energy efficient replacement windows available. That doesn’t mean that all vinyl windows are created equal.  High Performance vinyl windows are designed with the latest technologies, including in the vinyl components of the window assembly.  The vinyl master and sash frames are always fusion welded (more on this below) and the extrusions that make up these frames are always designed with interior webs that in addition to strengthening the frames, provided improved thermal performance (Energy Savings and Comfort) by dramatically slowing down heat transfer (convection) through the interior of the frame. The thermal performance of high performance vinyl replacement windows are significantly better than standard vinyl, wood and metal windows.

Low Initial Cost

Vinyl window and patio door manufacturers have a lower cost of materials and labor than do manufacturers of wood, metal and composite windows and patio doors. Right there, is the reason for what should be the significantly lower price to the consumer of vinyl replacement windows. If you want to know the exact who, what, where, and How Much, cost comparison of Vinyl, Wood, Metal and Composite windows and patio doors,  I recommend you read our article The Cost of Replacement Windows and Patio Doors.

Low Maintenance

Why are vinyl replacement windows and patio doors so easy to maintain? It all has to do with surface porosity. Vinyl (polyvinylchloride), is virtually non-porous. Therefore it cannot absorb moisture and breed the fungi that cause rot. Vinyl windows and patio doors do not require finish maintenance and painting.

In contrast, wood is extremely porous. These pores cause the wood to absorb moisture and that breeds the fungi that literally eat the wood… better known as “wood rot.”  Wood frame windows therefore ar suspectable to rot.  Composite “pultrusions” are a combination of wood sawdust, and non-porous materials such as fiberglass and vinyl packed very tightly in a glue-like polymer. The composite compound reduces the porosity of the frame material and therefore reducing, but not eliminating, the potential for moisture absorbtion.

Wood window companies teach their clients that proper maintenance of their windows is brushing off the windows and inspecting for mold, cracks or low spots, then treating the deteriorated areas by filling them in and refinishing the entire surface.

Fading of color is not an issue with vinyl windows as it is on wood, metal and some composite windows. With vinyl windows color is extruded directly into or chemically bonded onto the vinyl at the time of manufacture.  At Jantek Windows, we have our proprietary “AccuBond” colorization process that literally bonds virtually any color using a high UV resistant formula (we can even match a custom color) directly to the vinyl material

For these reasons, vinyl replacement windows and patio doors have about 80% less maintenance cost than wood windows. This means anyone who has vinyl windows won’t be spending much time maintaining them.  

Speed of Installation

Vinyl replacement windows can me manufactured to exacting tolerances. at Jantek Windows every one of our vinyl replacement windows is manufactured to within ¼ inch  of any specified size. So every window patio door is made custom, for every opening. A replacement vinyl window or patio door can be manufactured custom to the exact size of the opening. therefore installation of a replacement vinyl window, (assuming no remediation or modification of the existing opening is required), typically takes about 30 minutes including removal of the original window and cleanup.

Compare this with about 60 minutes for mechanical frame, ridged wood, metal and composite windows. That means more windows can be installed in a single day greatly shortening the overall duration of your project.   

Durability

Vinyl, also known as polyvinylchlorides (PVC) is a very versatile material with excellent insulating value, high impact resistance, and excellent resistance to abrasion, corrosion, air pollutants, and termites. Recent advancement in formulation and extrusion technology have provided outstanding  dimensional stability and resistance to degradation and fading from sunlight and temperature extremes.  Unlike wood, metal and composite frames, Vinyl profiles can be fusion welded to eliminate excessive movement caused by heating and cooling in the master frame and sash frames of the window. Not all vinyl window manufactures go the extra mile and design fusion welded frames. Some manufacturers do mechanically fasten the master and sash frames of their windows and patio doors.  All of Jantek’s Windows and Patio doors are designed with fusion welded master and sash frames so that they do not have gaps at the corners that can separate and cause expensive to repair leaks. Fusion welded vinyl frames are seamless and stronger than the screwed, stapled or glued together frames of non-welded vinyl frames. The seal in mechanically fastened frames can compromised by settling, climate stresses etc. and this may cause leaks down the road.  That gives fusion welded vinyl windows a big advantage with excellent resistance to leaks due to temperature and handling stresses both at the jobsite and in shipping as well as to ongoing settling stresses once installed in the opening. 

Attractive Look

Over the past 40 years, replacement vinyl windows have transformed from the typical white, beige or bronze battleship looking frames that you would find at a rental beach house, to the elegant sculpted “millwork” appearance and huge range of color options aesthetic features that are now as much a work of art as the landscaping and trims on the home or building.

This is due to advancements in the industry such resin formula improvements, sophisticated extrusion and die technology and the development of beautiful high tech color process finishes, etc.

This is one of the many reasons why high performance vinyl replacement windows have gained exponential market share over the last 25 years .

Resale Value

When purchasing a home, the type and condition of the windows in the home do matter to the home buyers. Home buyers want windows that look good, aren’t energy hogs, keep them comfortable, need little maintenance, and will last a long time.

Wood windows need frequent maintenance and often buyer’s inspection report will call out maintenance conditions (see b a buyer will require the current owners to remediate themselves. Metal windows do not insulate well and make staying comfortable very expensive. 

Wood windows if deteriorated and metal windows don’t look great either, and can detract value.

By contrast, vinyl replacement windows and patio doors provide superior energy performance when compared to wood, metal and composite windows. Along with low-maintenance, beauty and durability, they are a win-win for both parties in a real-estate transaction.

Low Lifetime Cost of Ownership

Check out the following chart to compare what the average pool owner would spend over a 10-year period with each type of replacement window or patio door:

Vinyl Replacement Window and Patio Door  Disadvantages

Opening Size Limitations

The one major disadvantage of vinyl replacement windows is that the size of the openings in the home or building could exceed the manufacturer’s design specifications for the maximum size for a specific style or window. This is not typically an issue that comes up in single family homes, but is sometimes found in commercial applications. The reason is that vinyl is a flexible material. The same flexibility that is an advantage in vinyl windows energy performance, cost, durability, speed of installation, customization and ongoing maintenance cost, does pose limitations on the size of a window.

So the question then becomes, do any of the openings in your home or building exceed the manufacturer’s maximum size limitations?

We’ve found that about 90% of people do find vinyl replacement windows that perfectly meets their needs.

However, if you need a replacement window double hung window that is 80 inches wide  vinyl probably isn’t the best fit for you.

Wood Window Advantages

Attractive Look

As you noticed in the first chart above, wood windows give you an excellent appearance.  They are a millwork product so they can have an attractive sculpted surface, the color of which can be painted or stained to any custom desire.  This is by far the greatest virtue of wood windows.  Of course, if the wood windows are clad with vinyl or aluminum exteriors then that pretty much defeats the appearance virtue, at least on the outside of the window.

Wood is perfect for those wanting to customize or match colors (this is also available in vinyl as well) to compliment the other colors on the inside or outside of their home or building.

Energy and Comfort Performance

Wood is a good insulator. As such, wood windows, with high performance glass packages, can approach vinyl in energy and comfort performance and are certainly superior to metal windows in that department.   

However, wood window frames, although good insulators, degrade with time causing gaps and wear and can lose their energy and comfort performance much quicker than vinyl. 

 

Wood Window Disadvantages

Unfortunately, the appearance advantages that wood replacement windows allow from a design perspective comes with a price.

Highest Cost

A Wood windows tend to be thought of as “high end” windows because vinyl windows are significantly less expensive.  If you are are shopping for “high end” based on high price and not “high performance” based on…well, performance, then you need to go with wood windows. True, if you just need to have the look and feel of wood and that is more important than energy, comfort, price, durability and maintenance, then it is worth the money to pay the extra money for wood windows.

More Hands-on Maintenance

As I mentioned above, by its very nature, wood is extremely porous. Wood absorbs moisture like a sponge and this causes not only operational issues, like difficult to open sashes, but also fungi that eat wood resulting in what we all know as wood rot.

Wood window manufacturers recommend routine maintenance including inspection and remediation and refinishing of degraded surfaces.

Mechanically Fastened Frames

Wood windows cannot be fusion welded. Therefore the wood frame parts must be stapled, screwed or glued together creating a gap at the corners of the master and sash frame. Even though these seams may be sealed at the factory, they can be damaged during transit or installation, or, overtime with the expansion and contraction of the window and the structure.  This could lead to leaks at these vulnerable corner locations allowing moisture into the walls and/or absorption of moisture in the window frame itself causing swelling and operational issues.

Durability

The issues that require vigilant maintenance of wood windows are the the same issues that could shorten the useful life of the wood window itself. Wood rot if not corrected early, compromises the structural integrity of the window and even the surrounding structural opening.  This can be as expensive to remediate as it sounds.

Metal Window Advantages

Size Capability

Metals such as aluminum and steel have more strength per linear inch of span than do Wood, Vinyl and Composite frame members. Therefore, metal windows can be manufactured to fit much larger openings and perform very well in high wind-load applications such as in building zones with hurricane rating requirements, or high-rise buildings or commercial store fronts where plate glass is required.

Low Maintenance

Just like vinyl replacement windows and patio doors, metal windows and patio doors are non-porus and so require little maintenance. By not absorbing moisture as do wood and wood composites, metal frames  Vinyl (polyvinylcloride), cannot absorb moisture and breed the fungi that cause rot.  Also, metal windows and patio doors do not require finish maintenance and painting, although factory applied colors on the metal will chalk and fade in sunlight over time.

Visible Glass Area

As I said above metal extrusions have greater strength per linear inch, and therefore in addition to the ability to spec them into very large in openings, the extrusions themselves can be much thinner (or lower profile) per linear inch than windows made of other materials. If the frame is lower profile or thinner, then the glass area inside the frame is larger than it would be in a wood, vinyl or composite window designed for the same opening.  So, you get a bit more view from a metal window than you will from others.    

Metal Window Disadvantages

Energy and Comfort Performance

The biggest disadvantage of metal windows is their high thermal conductance and the resulting high cost of energy to keep the interior space warm in the winter and cool in the summer.

Some of todays Metal Windows have what are called “Thermal Breaks” designed into them. These are pieces of less conductive material such as plastic or butyl inserted between the exterior and interior of the frame, which may help to slow the thermal transmittance somewhat, however even this feature cannot put metal windows in the same ballpark as vinyl.  

Unattractive

As I mentioned above, Metal window frames are non-complex extrusions that are “utilitarian” in appearance… like battleships. This is why they are rarely used in single family residential applications. They are unattractive in that type of architecture.  However… they look pretty good in a storefront or a skyscraper where they dominate the market.

Mechanically Fastened Frames

Metal frame material cannot be fusion welded. Therefore the metal frame parts must be stapled, screwed or glued together creating a gap at the corners of the master and sash frame. Even though these seams may be sealed at the factory, they can be damaged during transit or installation, or, overtime with the expansion and contraction of the window and the structure.  This could lead to leaks at these vulnerable corner locations allowing moisture into the walls causing structural damage.

Poor Resale Value

Metal windows may not actually hurt resale value, but they certainly won’t help it. And in a situation where buyers may be choosing between your home and a very similar one down the block that has high performance vinyl windows, that may be the tie breaker. Buyers are not only looking at the price of the house.  They are also looking at what additional money they may have to put into it.  Given the disadvantages we already stated for metal windows, they certainly are not going to love your windows, but maybe there’s some other feature that will make them choose your home.  

Composite Windows

With vinyl, wood and metal windows the replacement window shopper knows what material the frames of the windows are made out of. Vinyl, wood and aluminum, are specific materials.  “Composite,” on the other hand, is NOT a material. The word composite simply means “Made up of various parts or elements (materials).” There is no standard material makeup for composite windows. In fact, because of all the different materials that different manufacturers use, there is no standard manufacturing method for composite windows as in vinyl, wood and aluminum windows. Some composite windows are made from sawdust and glue, some from sawdust, glue and fiberglass, some contain no sawdust and utilize vinyl and fiberglass and glue, still others use none of the aforementioned materials and are made from 100% synthetic polymers. Because of these facts, it is hard to say specifically what the advantages and disadvantages of composite windows are. It really depends on the specific type of composite window you are considering. Here is what we can say in generality….

Composite Window Advantages

Durability and Maintenance: Composite windows are ridged and therefore can be fabricated into larger window openings than vinyl which is a more flexible material.  So if your windows are beyond a size specification for vinyl which is not very common in residential applications, composite may be the way to go. Composite windows do not require a lot of maintenance. As far as susceptablility to rot, composites, even if they do contain wood by-products, are much less susceptable to rot than wood. Those that do not contain organic materials have the same immunity to rot as vinyl or metal.

Energy and Comfort Performance: Most composites use low thermal conductance materials in their makeup and therefore have similar Energy and Comfort performance as Vinyl. In these cases it would mean the the particular glass package that is in the window would most likely make the difference as to which type of window had the better Energy and Comfort performance and not the frame material.

Resale Value: Composite windows are comparable to vinyl in that they can appeal to the homebuyer’s interest in the type and condition of the windows in the home. Home buyers want windows that look good, aren’t energy hogs, keep them comfortable, need little maintenance, and will last a long time. Composite windows fit this criteria and should, like vinyl windows, improve the resale value of a home or building.

Composite Window Disadvantages

Price: Composite windows are priced significantly higher than vinyl windows. This is mostly due to the fact that the manufacturing of composite windows is more labor and materials intensive than vinyl and the retailers of composite windows market them as the “latest technology” therefore assuming a higher profit margin than wood, vinyl or metal and that translates to a high price to the consumer. At Jantek Windows we compete all the time against window guys selling composite windows for over twice the price of our vinyl replacement windows.  

Mechanically Fastened Frames: Composite material cannot be fusion welded. Therefore the composite frame parts must be stapled, screwed or glue/bonded together. Depending on the materials used in the composite and the care that the manufacturer takes in joining and sealing this seam, there could be a leak problem, or none at all.  

Bulky Look and Less Visible Glass Area  : Composite window frames are usually thicker  and wider than vinyl and alumimum frames.  This leads to a bulkier look in that the ratio of frame to visible glass area is high. This means if you were to replace a window in your house with a composite window, you would have less glass to look through than if you replace it with a vinyl window or an aluminum window.

 

Quick Assessment

When it comes to which type of replacement windows and patio doors that might be a good fit for you, here’s what we’ve found in a nutshell:

Wood Windows are usually a good fit for those who:

  • Want that old world appearance
  • Are not concerned about price
  • Need to match a certain custom color design that they can’t get in a Vinyl window
  • Have an interior decorum where windows must match other wood surfaces
  • Don’t mind spending time and money maintaining the windows
  • Are Ok with spending additional money on energy and comfort

Metal Windows are typically a good fit for those who:

  • Have a commercial building or high-rise
  • Have very large openings
  • Want the maximum visible glass area
  • Do not mind spending time and money on maintenance
  • Do not mind spending additional money for energy and comfort
  • Are not concerned about the windows affecting the home’s resale value

Composite Windows are usually for those who:

  • Want good energy and comfort performance
  • Are not concerned with price
  • Want low maintenance
  • Have window openings sizes that are outside of vinyl window specifications limits
  • Are looking to improve the resale value of their home
  • Do not mind having a bulkier frame with less glass viewing area

Vinyl Windows are usually for those who:

  • Are price concious
  • Have window openings sizes that are within the size specifications limits
  • Want an attractive look with more glass viewing area than composite or wood
  • Want the best energy and comfort performance
  • Want low maintenance
  • Want to improve the resale value of their home or building
  • Want a quick and relatively pain-free installation

    With that in mind, if you’re interested, you can check out Jantek’s Vinyl Window and patio door designs

    You can also get a free TeleEstimate for Jantek’s high performance vinyl windows and patio doors.  

    Be sure to check out these helpful articles 

    The Cost of Replacement Windows and Patio Doors

    How To Compare The Insulation Values Of Vinyl, Wood, Metal And Composite Windows

    Using the NFRC Factors to Compare the Energy And Comfort Performance of Window Brands