There are four primary factors you will need to consider:
- design and style
- the material used to make the windows
However you may find that the availability of a particular design and style will limit your materials choice. Quality may also be affected by the material used to make the windows.
Essentially there are three basic (generic) materials used for windows and window frames: wood, metal (including both mild steel and aluminum) and various synthetic materials including PVC, vinyl and fiberglass. When we look at wood versus vinyl windows, the major difference is look and cost. But vinyl adds another factor to the four already mentioned – performance. They don't warp like some wooden windows do when they get wet, and you don't have to paint or varnish them. This means they don't peel or flake and are therefore easier and more effortless to maintain.
However vinyl windows were originally made as "replacement windows", to fit over an existing frame, filling an important gap in the market. They are also generally considered inferior to wood, and it is true that they don’t generally last as long, particularly in areas that experience major temperature swings. For this reason it is rare to find an architect-designed home that features vinyl windows. Styles are relatively limited and vinyl somehow looks a less sturdy than wood (when viewed up close). However if cost is a primary factor, then these windows are certainly worth looking at.
If you are actively involved in the specification of materials for your new house, then it is a good idea to familiarize yourself with all the possible window options in your region.
Wooden windows come in all sorts of sizes and guises, and they open and shut in different ways. Some examples include:
- casement windows that are hinged on one side,
- awning windows that are hinged at the top and open outwards,
- double-hung or sash windows that have two section that both slide vertically,
- gliding windows that slide horizontally,
- picture and transom windows that don't open but are included to match double-hung and casement windows,
- bow and bay windows that are designed so that they project outwards from the wall, increasing space in the room.
There are, of course, many companies that manufacture wooden windows, and you will find variations within all the product ranges. A well known North American window manufacturer, Marvin (www.marvin.com andmarvincanada.com), has outlets throughout the USA and Canada. The company prides itself on producing energy-efficient products and their windows meet or beat the tax-credit ENERGY STAR guidelines. These features relate largely to glazing and include the:
- U-factor which measures insulation and the rate of heat loss. The lower the number the better the U-factor.
- Solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC) which measures how efficiently the glass in windows block heat from the sun. The lower the number the better the block factor – although in cold climates you might not want to keep the sun out.
- R-value which measures resistance to heat loss and is therefore also important in terms of insulation.
The other factor is the design pressure (DP) rating which measures the pressure the window will withstand when it is closed and locked tight. This is important in terms of air entering and leaving the house as well as structural pressure. It also has an important bearing when it comes to forced entry. The higher the DP numbers, the better the performance you can expect from the windows. Generally you will find that wooden windows have a higher rating than those made from vinyl.
Independent consumer comments about the quality of this company's windows are generally good. But there are many companies around that do not produce high quality designs. Joints should all be tight and well finished. The finish of the wood should also be well done. It should feel smooth and look good. At the end of the day, discerning customers believe that quality vinyl windows are a preferable option to cheap, badly made wooden windows.
While vinyl windows were originally hatched as replacement windows, they are now widely manufactured as "new construction" windows. They are also manufactured in some superior designs and styles. For example, at Window City (www.windowcity.net), which is one of Canada's largest vinyl window manufacturers, you will find a range – albeit small – of styles that suit houses of all sizes fitting the typical Canadian heritage look.
Then there's Vinyl Window Designs (www. vinylwindowdesigns.com) founded in Ontario 25 years ago. The company, which now also manufactures aluminum windows, prides itself on producing top quality vinyl windows. Evidence of this is in the form of the Canadian ENERGY STAR Manufacturer of the Year award they received in 2006.
Like wooden windows, vinyl windows are made in a range of sizes and guises, including casement, awning, double hung and various sliders.
Type and style of windows
The type and style of your windows should match the type and style of your house. For instance if yours is to be a cottage-style dwelling, you will probably want windows with small cottage panes. But if the design of the house calls for large sliding windows that open up to the garden, cottage-paned windows will not be at all appropriate. This is another good reason to explore the product ranges of all your local manufacturers.
If you are using the services of a professional designer or architect, that person ought to be in a position to make some suitable suggestions. Nevertheless, it's a really good idea to do some research of your own. Look at current magazines and search the Internet using key words that are likely to take you to useful sites. For instance if you want to know more about wood versus vinyl windows, type this phrase into Google and see what pops up. If you are simply getting ideas, you don't even have to assess quality. Just concentrate on type and style.
If you are still in the design phase, take a look at the Andersen Windows (www.andersenwindows.com) web site. They have a natty design guide that you can use to see what different types of windows look like on a wall. It is an illustrative program that will help you make an educated choice which you can then discuss with your architect or designer.