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Reno Tips: Choosing The Right Materials For New Windows and Doors

Sarah Tolle – Homify Canada Sarah Tolle – Homify Canada
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The choice of windows and doors plays a key role in the design and functionality of a house – aesthetically, windows and doors are the openings that connect a home with its surroundings, playing a big part in the way a person perceives and accesses the world around them. Functionally speaking, windows and doors are openings that, when well designed, have the capacity to increase a home's energy efficiency, streamline air and light flow, and save money on heating costs. In fact, many homeowners who upgrade their windows are doing so in order to create sustainable savings in their home's energy efficiency by taking advantage of newer technologies in passive heating and glazing; the installation of new  windows in an existing home can prove itself as a worthwhile investment after just a few years.

Currently, there are three materials in particular that are most commonly seen in window and door construction: wood, PVC and aluminum. There are, of course, many diverse combinations of these core materials that have been developed in order to tailor their use to the specific home, design, and weather conditions at hand. This article presents a high-level overview of the materials and designs commonly used by professional architects, showing the advantages and disadvantages of various materials and material combinations.

The costs at a glance

New  windows and doors  usually translates into a high financial investment upfront for homeowners. In addition to the cost of the raw materials, they must also generally pay for a professional installation performed by skilled artisans. In a single family home, the cost of installing a set of new windows and doors (including assembly) can quickly climb into the five-digit range – even when considering an affordable option like plastic-framed windows. 

Homeowners who are planning a window renovation on an existing home will do well to examine their energy bills and have a home energy specialist come to their home in order to evaluate the savings they could attain by making an investment in a new set of windows and doors. A $12,000 investment may appear intimidating, but getting a current energy loss assessment can help you come to terms with the long-term picture: in the long run, new windows pay for themselves in the reduce energy bills you'll be seeing every month. 

Experts generally will tell you that about 15 percent of a home's energy is lost through the windows. Modern windows using the newest technologies, however, can reduce this number greatly – in particular, windows that employ triple glazing in their panes are regarded as highly energy efficient (You can ask a professional for exact figures on energy efficiency by referencing the U-value or thermal transmittance of a certain materials; this gives consumers a comparison value by which they can assess the energy efficiency of a window).

Wood: pros and cons

Wood remains a highly popular  material with homeowners. This is partly due to aesthetic reasons: wooden windows are considered to a high quality addition to a home that enhances its sense of warmth and comfort with a natural touch. However, the pros of wooden windows go beyond their organic appearance: because wood has excellent properties from the viewpoint of thermal insulation, a wooden window frame that's manufactured professionally and properly fitted boasts excellent values for the window's energy efficiency. A wooden door, likewise, has the advantages of warmth and natural texture, offering a surface that can be painted, sanded, varnished, stained, and so on, in order to both withstand the elements and conform to the look of the home. 

What are the cons of using wood? The price. Wooden windows and doors are usually more expensive than their counterparts (often made of a plastic-based blend). In addition, they must be treated regularly to ensure their longevity – a wooden door or window frame could require refinishing anywhere between every two to every fifteen years. 

P.S. If you're considering the ecological impacts of using wooden materials in your home, you can make sure that the windows and doors have been awarded for sustainable forest management by checking to see if they've got an FSC label.

Love the way wood looks in the construction of a home? Have a look at this impressive wooden home in the Netherlands!

Aluminium: pros and cons

While aluminum has often used for siding and for commercial constructions, aluminum is just now being seen popping up in the windows and doors of modern homes. There are many good reasons for which windows and doors are made of aluminum: this material is especially durable and robust – even over many years, aluminum is extremely resistant to damage from the elements (one of the reasons why it's so often used in a home's siding). In terms of safety, aluminum is equally convincing: compared to wood or plastic doors, an aluminum door is much more burglar-proof. Moreover, aluminum is very easy to clean. In general, an aluminum window or door will not have to be repainted. 

The negative aspect of aluminum lies in its poor ecological balance: while this material performs well with regards to thermal insulation, the energy required to produce the material is enormous. This is also reflected in the price: aluminum windows are much more expensive than plastic windows.

PVC: pros and cons

PVC has several advantages. First of all, windows and doors made from PVC are particularly easy to maintain, especially when compared to wooden counterparts: you won't be needing to paint and re-paint a PVC door so that it can defy the elements over time! In addition, PVC is a highly flexible material from the outset and can easy be designed to accommodate special shapes like asymmetrical designs, rounded edges, etc. Likewise, various colors and designs are easy to attain. Modern plastic windows also provide excellent properties with regards to energy efficiency, and they usually come pre-designed with mechanisms for conducting rainwater. 

The disadvantages of a PVC or plastic material can be seen after a period of time: in the years to come, plastic windows and doors often acquire a certain yellowed or faded out look. In addition, the smooth, polished surface of PVC can sometimes seem out of place – for example, in a classic stone manor. From an ecological standpoint, PVC is questionable, as the disposal and subsequent decomposition turns out to be relatively complicated.

Material mixes: pros and cons

Among the common material mixes, wood-aluminum and aluminum-plastic are two core combinations for windows and doors:

Wood and aluminum windows and doors are regarded as one of the most expensive combos. Inside, residents enjoy a natural wood appearance, which creates a pleasant indoor climate, while an aluminum layer protects the window or door from the outside against wind and weather. Wood-aluminum provides excellent value in energy efficiency and a long service life – at low maintenance.

Aluminum-plastic doors and windows are typically made of a sturdy plastic frame, which is covered with an elegant aluminum shell. The benefits of this combo are its durability, its low-maintenance burden, and high energy efficiency.

Looking for more inspiration for an energy efficient home? Have a look at this tour of an eco-friendly family home!

What do you think of this guide to window and door materials? Comment below!
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