Maintenance is minimal with vinyl windows. They don't require painting, generally are unaffected by moisture and, if they have an insulated core, offer good thermal and sound resistance. A vinyl window needs only an occasional cleaning. The hinges also may need periodic lubrication. Vinyl window colors are generally limited to white, tan and bronze. Vinyl is also the most popular replacement window. According to an October 2007 story by ConsumersReports.org, however, vinyl replacement windows tend to leak air a bit more in cold climates. Also, because they can't be painted or stained, they might be inappropriate as replacement windows in an older home.
Traditionally, windows were always made of wood, and the look is incomparable. A wood window requires ongoing maintenance, such as painting or staining, but the plus side is that it can be painted or stained to match other parts of your house. Wood also offers very good insulating value and condensation is minimal. Many wood windows today are available with complete weather stripping that serves as an excellent seal against exterior elements. They also act as a great sound barrier. The downside: If you neglect standard maintenance, it can lead to rot and weathering.
You can find a good selection of wood frames with vinyl-cladding that offer the best of both types of windows. You can have the beauty of wood on the inside, and the low maintenance of vinyl on the exterior. They also offer great insulation and "excel at keeping out cold and rain," according to the Consumers Reports article mentioned earlier.
Wood is a renewable resource, with billions of trees replanted yearly. On the other hand, vinyl production uses petroleum, a non-renewable natural resource. According to the Window and Door Manufacturers Association: "Unlike wood, which can be manufactured into a window with relatively low impact, vinyl poses a serious potential threat to the environment, with the possibility of the leeching of chemicals into water and soil." The WDMA also mentions the inability of vinyl to decompose properly--a real environmental concern.
Window Certification and Standards
The American Architectural Manufacturers Association (AAMA) and the American National Standards Institute, Inc. (ANSI) jointly offer a certification label for residential vinyl windows. The Window and Door Manufacturers Association (WDMA) and the ANSI have established standards for stock wood windows. A certified window must pass rigorous testing by an independent accredited lab to make sure it conforms to applicable performance standards, e.g., resistance to air leaks, water penetration and wind pressure. The manufacturer must also certify that production windows have the same specifications as the sample tested. Look for a sticker on the window frame to verify that the windows are approved.