Choosing Your Windows: Part 1

If you are doing a gut rehab, you are replacing your windows. You may not know this yet, just understand that you will. Why, you ask? – because if you don’t, you won’t be happy when the renovation is over. Choosing not to replace your windows when you’re already renovating does NOT save you the cost of the window installation. A frame still needs to be created for your old windows to make the drywall installation seamless. Let’s not forget that new HVAC system you just installed is less efficient because the windows aren’t perfect.

So, no real cost savings = unhappy homeowner.

Then, when the renovation is over, you either have freshly painted, smooth drywall next to slightly dirty window frames or you have freshly painted, smooth drywall next to freshly painted window frames that now don’t operate as well because they’ve been painted.

So, imperfect final product = unhappy homeowner.

Yes, this is a soapbox…and I’m standing on it with stiletto heels. Replace your windows.

Now that you’ve decided that you’re going to replace your windows, it’s time to explore your options. Windows are not an easy item to replace in a home and I’d guess that the average home probably sees only one to two full window replacements per century. This is because it’s an escalating scope item – to complete one item, three other items need to be executed. This includes removing the casings, then re-framing the windows, then re-installing the casings, then painting/staining the casings. So, it’s important to make an educated decision on window type based on your budget and preferences.

There are several options for window types and I will focus on the most resilient in the market today:

1. Aluminum: Aluminum windows are not that popular here in the Midwest due to our large climate changes throughout the year. Aluminum windows will “pit”, or corrode, over time. In the southern regions – particularly those susceptible to hurricanes – impact-resistant aluminum is a popular choice. Aluminum windows are lighter weight which is usually not that important for residential projects (more important for, say, a commercial high rise). Aluminum is the most easily recycled compared to other options; however, it is the least energy efficient because the aluminum conducts heat into the room from the outside. This effect can be mitigated by installing “thermal breaks” and will be an additional cost. Aluminum windows’ lack of energy efficiency increases its level of condensation which will likely create mold, mildew, and rot over the years. Aluminum windows have a metal finish which can be painted. Overtime, the paint will fade and need to be maintained. If the paint chips, the metal will be visible underneath. The windows also need to be lubricated since its parts are metal on metal. Aluminum windows are the second best fire-resistant option here. At its most basic level, the upfront costs for Aluminum windows are the least expensive option. Any of its improved levels, including impact-resistant Aluminum, will be as much or more expensive than Vinyl windows.

2. Vinyl: Vinyl windows are likely the most popular option for window replacement across the country. Essentially, they are windows made out of PVC. While not as strong as Aluminum, Vinyl windows are heavier. Vinyl is highly resistant to scratching and denting. They are highly energy efficient which reduces the amount of condensation. Regarding, aesthetics, it used to be that Vinyl windows could not be painted. Technology now allows painting of Vinyl windows with a limited warranty. This paint is baked into the window at the manufacturing facility. Over the years, the paint may fade. A nice feature about Vinyl windows is that they bake the paint into the entire window, including its core, so, if there are any scratches, they are not visible because the Vinyl windows are the same color throughout. Vinyl windows require little to no maintenance. If you have large picture windows, Vinyl windows will limit your design. You will likely have to re-frame the picture window to be smaller or use multiple Vinyl windows to fill the opening. Vinyl is highly fire resistant; however, it will eventually melt and emit toxic fumes under extreme flame. The upfront costs of Vinyl windows are more expensive than basic Aluminum and less expensive than other options. Their life-cycle cost is less expensive than Aluminum at any level.


3. Wood: As far as materials go, wood never ceases to amaze me. I have seen so many nightmare structural situations where a huge amount of weight is bearing only on wood…and it works against the odds. This concept is no different when it comes to windows. Wood windows are significantly heavier than Vinyl windows. They are not as scratch resistant as Vinyl and will expand and contract over time which will require maintenance to prevent warping and operational issues. They are one of the most energy efficient windows you can buy and will remain that way if maintained. If you are painting your windows, Wood windows will need to be sanded and re-painted every 3-5 years. Another option to consider would be to install exterior cladding on the windows made of composite or fiberglass materials to reduce the maintenance costs over the years. An important item to note is that Wood windows often include a large warranty that is transferable from owner-to-owner. Wood windows can also accommodate any design so if you have picture windows or accent windows, this is easily matched. In addition, many will argue that Wood windows are the most beautiful – Vinyl and Fiberglass windows can be painted with wood-grain, it’s not quite the same. Wood windows are Wood windows. Wood windows are not fire-resistant – in fact, they will burn fast in a fire. The upfront costs of Wood windows are one of the highest in the market. Their life-cycle costs is one of the best values based on energy efficiency and home equity value. If you have Wood windows, your house should be worth more.


4. Fiberglass: Technology is evolving and its heading towards Fiberglass. Fiberglass is another incredible material – it is smooth, durable, flexible, and it is load bearing. This is particularly important if you have large windows. Fiberglass windows are the most energy efficient windows that you can buy and their life-cycle is longer than Wood windows because the material does not expand and contract over time so they are not susceptible to warping. Similar to Vinyl windows, Fiberglass windows can be painted – the paint is baked into the window at the manufacturing facility. Fiberglass windows have a larger variety of colors than Vinyl windows. Similar to Wood windows, Fiberglass windows can accommodate any window design from large picture windows to accent windows. Fiberglass windows are the most fire-resistant window on the market and the material actually has self-extinguishing capabilities. In addition, the windows will not emit toxic fumes in a fire. The upfront costs of Fiberglass windows are one of the highest in the market. Their life-cycle costs is the best in the market based on its energy efficiency with little to no maintenance.

Now, when you choose to replace your windows, don’t forget to pick a 90-degree day to have four brothers, a father, an uncle, and two other workers on site for installation in the blazing sun like we did at the Oak Brook project:


Want to see more projects? Check us out at Integro Rehab!

1 Comment
  • Whitney Parchman
    Posted at 07:12h, 25 July Reply

    On our recent home renovation project we used fiberglass windows from Marvin. We went over budget on this item but it was well worth it. We used the energy efficient trifecta of a super efficient HVAC system, spray foam insulation and fiberglass windows. The result? Our energy bills are comparable to our last home but we now have twice the space.

    Great post Allison! I am looking forward to reading Part II RIGHT NOW! xo Whitney

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