Types Of Windows - Window Frame Materials and Hardware

Types of Windows - Window Frame Materials and Hardware

Your home's windows are a crucial element of its energy efficiency, security and curb appeal. Replacing your windows comes down to making the right choice regarding styles and materials. It's one area of your home where you shouldn't look to cut costs. The overall price of replacement windows directly depends on the style, quality of materials, the glass used, energy efficiency and warranties offered.

There are many different types of windows available. They feature wood, aluminum, vinyl or composite construction. As a general rule, when it comes to windows, you typically get what you pay for. While you may pay more upfront for quality replacement windows, over time they can pay for themselves by offering you better weather protection, lower maintenance, and even reduced energy costs.

While to a certain extent, you do get what you pay for when purchasing replacement windows, energy efficient windows are available at all price points to meet any budget. Here's a quick primer on the types of window frame materials and hardware available to help you begin your research process.

Types of Windows: Frame Materials

Replacement windows are made in a number of materials from natural wood to composite. The construction of your windows has much to do with their energy efficiency. Factors include the glazing (double pane, triple pane) the gas used as filler between the panes, and the material the frame is constructed from. Here are the most common frame materials for replacement windows.

Low Maintenance Clad Wood Windows 

Sometimes only the warmth of a stained wood window will suit the design. Clad wood windows provide the benefit of a low-maintenance exterior and the ability to stain the interior.

Wood Windows

Wood is premium choice among homeowners. It is extremely efficient, doesn't conduct cold or allow condensation like other materials. However, wood can shrink and swell depending on the humidity so they may eventually warp or rot unless properly protected and maintained. If properly treated, wood windows can last trouble free for decades. Wood windows are typically unfinished, and there may be an extra expense to paint them. However, pre-painted windows are available from some manufacturers in a wide range of colors.

Clad Wood Windows

Many of today's windows are made with wood construction and then covered (or clad) with vinyl or aluminum. Window cladding is available in a range of colors, and both the sash and frame are usually clad. Clad wood windows are practically maintenance free on the exterior. Brands such as Andersen that have vinyl cladding going up to the glass window sash tend to be more maintenance free on the interior than brands that have wood touching the window sash. This is because all windows experience some amount of condensation during winters in Wisconsin.

Vinyl Windows Don't Need To Look Cheap

A high quality vinyl window, when designed well using painted woodwork, can look as beautiful as a more expensive window.

Vinyl Windows

Vinyl windows are constructed of heavy, rigid, impact-resistant PVC. They include a hollow air space inside the frame which makes them energy efficient and resistant to heat loss and condensation. They are affordable and efficient, but the can distort when exposed to extreme heat or cold. This can affect their operation and can make them prone to air leakage, and lower their energy efficiency.

Aluminum and Steel Windows

Aluminum framed windows can more durable than wood in the right circumstances. They're also thinner and lighter to install. Aluminum windows are often insulated using foam or vinyl which can reduce heat loss and condensation, but you must be certain that the windows have thermal breaks and are engineered for your climate. If you live in a coastal area, aluminum windows might not be the best choice as they can corrode over time due to the humid, salty air. Aluminum and steel windows are rarely appropriate in Wisconsin's cold winters, except in commercial storefronts.

Fiberglass Windows

Black Fiberglass Windows

Because of their stability, fiberglass windows boast the best ability to be painted deep colors. In this example, both the interior and exterior are deep black, and white painted woodwork is applied to the interior for a striking contemporary take on traditional window trim.

Fiberglass framed windows bost the advantage that they are perfectly in tune with the glass inside of them. While vinyl and wood both expand and contract with changes in temperature or humidity, fiberglass and glass have almost no expansion or contraction. Fiberglass windows can have interiors and exteriors painted in many colors for different design effects. They can also have wood window stops applied on the interior, hiding most of the fiberglass and making them appear similar to a clad wood window. 

Types of Window Hardware

Operable windows are all equipped with hardware used for opening and closing the sash, latches, locks and more. Some today even have operable shades installed between the glass. Hardware can be functional or a decorative element of the window. There are many different types of windows. It's always best to speak with your designer or design-build remodeling contractor about which style is appropriate for your home. Here are some styles of window hardware available:

• Cranks – Casement, awning, hopper windows and skylights are all operated with cranks. Some manufacturers offer cranks with finishes that are non-metallic. Newer models have fold-away handles that are relatively inconspicuous and avoid conflict with window coverings.

• Hinges - The best quality casement, awning and hopper windows have room to fit your arm between the sash and frame for easy cleaning.

• Counterbalances – On double hung windows (those where both the top and the bottom sash is operable) the sash is counterbalanced on the sides using weights or torsion screws. In old pre-war homes these are typically weights. Double hung windows from the 1940's and newer use springs, torsion screws, or retractable sash cords to lift and hold the sashes.

• Sliding Hardware – The sashes in most vinyl and aluminum replacement windows are light and able to slide in the sill tracks. Larger sashes like those found in sliding patio doors are typically supported by a heavy-duty roller on the bottom track.

• Window Security – Latches are used to tightly secure windows. On double-hung windows, a sash lock is used to connect the upper and lower sashes to keep them secure. Some double hung windows have built in security latches that allow the window to be opened a small amount for ventilation. Some sliding patio doors can be forced open or lifted off tracks. To keep your patio door secure, insert a dowel into the interior tracks keeping the operable sash closed. There are also patio door track locks available that secure the bottom of the door in place. Double hung windows can also lock using wedge locks, key operated latches or locking pins that prevent them from being fully opened.

Replacing windows during a home remodel is an essential element for the energy efficiency and security of your home. Your designer can help you to choose the types of windows that will complement the style of your home. When it comes to energy efficiency, the material, glazing and proper installation are all important factors. Your design-build-remodel contractor can help you to choose the appropriate window to meet the demands of your local weather and match the architectural style of your home.   

This article was updated by Abe Degnan on 8/1/2018.

About Degnan Design Build Remodel
Since 1981 Degnan Design Build Remodel has provided home improvement and construction services to customers throughout Greater Madison, Wisconsin. Our goal is to WOW you with a "Designed For Your Life" solution using a process that will transform your home into a beautiful living space, delivered on time, and on budget. We are known for our communication, respectfulness, and a commitment to our customers and our community. Contact us to speak with one of our designers about your home improvement project.