You likely won't have a problem finding an energy-efficient window, no matter what type of window frame you choose. The biggest differences among wood, vinyl and fiberglass frames lie in their cost and maintenance requirements. Windows can cost several hundred dollars apiece, so it's important to consider any additional costs associated with maintaining a frame before you choose windows for your home.
Wood window frames generally are strong and heavy and provide good insulation, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. However, wood frames are usually thick, which can reduce the amount of sunlight that enters your home. Homeowners must repaint the frames periodically, and they’re prone to insect damage. Some manufacturers cover the exterior side of wood frames with vinyl so that they don’t need repainting, but the wood remains visible on the side of the frame facing a home's interior. Wood frames are pricey, with standard varieties starting at $400. Higher quality brands range from $600 to $1,200, according to Cost Owl.
It’s unnecessary to repaint vinyl window frames, and they’re not vulnerable to insect damage. The DOE indicates that insulated vinyl frames are more energy-efficient than standard vinyl and wood frames. That’s because the insulating properties of vinyl frames increase significantly when their hollow interior cavities are filled with insulation. The This Old House home improvement website notes that vinyl windows come in a limited number of colors, but they cost about half the price of many wood-frame windows. Cost Owl indicates prices of vinyl windows start as low as $135, and higher quality varieties range from $500 to $800 per window.
Fiberglass window frames are similar to vinyl frames, because they’re generally maintenance-free and have hollow interior cavities that can be filled with insulation to increase their energy efficiency. The efficiency of insulated fiberglass frames is superior to non-insulated vinyl and wood frames, according to the DOE. The This Old House website highlights the strength of fiberglass, noting that it consists of materials similar to those used to make car bumpers. This Old House estimates the average price of fiberglass windows to be between the cost of vinyl and wood windows.
Don't let the material that makes up a window frame be your only guide when shopping for windows. Look for store labels that show energy-efficiency ratings, such as those offered by the federal government's Energy Star program. Some windows that carry the Energy Star label are as much as 40 percent more efficient than other windows. The Energy Star website helps homeowners choose windows that are most suitable for the climate where they live.
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