Seems like every contractor in Houston is selling vinyl windows these days with roofers, siding contractors, and even the neighborhood handyman jumping on the bandwagon. But are vinyl windows the best option for you? What are the alternatives?
First of all, you should know that there are over 1000 vinyl window manufacturers in the United States, and as a result, there is a lot of advertising money being spent to convince homeowners that vinyl is the way to go, just as vinyl siding was being pushed just as aggressively a few years ago. Sort of the “if you liked vinyl siding, we’ve got another vinyl product that you’re going to love just as much” mentality.
Well, just like vinyl siding has serious drawbacks, so do vinyl windows. First of all, vinyl is a petroleum based product that is susceptible to sagging, bowing, and warping in extreme heat. And when you live in south Texas that can be a problem. Can you think of anything made of vinyl that you consider to be a quality product, capable of withstanding more than three or four south Texas summers?
Better quality vinyl windows will have thicker walls, multiple internal chambers, and a reinforcement bar made from aluminum or fiberglass in the sashes. Of course extra vinyl means more frame and less glass, which many homeowners don’t like as it often detracts from the original design characteristic of a home, and limits the amount of light coming in.
So what alternatives are there for Houston homeowners? One of the best is thermally-broken aluminum (TBA). TBA windows are incredibly strong allowing for narrow frames and maximum glass, and they do not sag, bow, or warp in the hottest of summer months – no matter how large the window, or how much direct sunlight the window receives.
Now, at this point, you might be thinking: “Why would I want to replace my aluminum windows with aluminum windows?” That’s a very good question. First of all, the windows you have now are one piece extruded lightweight aluminum, which is very inefficient (as you already know). TBA windows, on the other hand, are built with commercial grade aluminum and incorporate a “thermal break” into the design, which effectively separates the frame into two halves; an inner half and an outer half. Between the two halves is hardened polyurethane, which acts as an insulator, greatly reducing the transfer of heat and cold through the aluminum.
All products have pros and cons, and TBA is no exception. The trade-off for getting narrower frames, greater rigidity and strength, and long term durability is a higher U-Value. While double pane vinyl windows are typically in the .29 – .30 range, with some getting as low as .27, TBA windows are rated at .42. However, when it comes to Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (SHGC), they are very close, with vinyl averaging .19 and TBA at .21. Practically, this means that TBA windows are slightly less efficient than vinyl, primarily in the winter months, and of course, our winters are typically not the season of big spending on utility bills. During the summer months, when our houses get the most uncomfortable while our air conditioners non-stop, TBA performs very comparably to vinyl.
When it comes to energy efficiency, in the rush to compare U-Values and SHGC, don’t forget the rating that most window companies don’t talk about: Air Leakage (AL). Most vinyl windows carry an AL rating of .12cfm – .20cfm, which is not stellar, considering that the American Architectural Manufacturer’s Association requires a tested air leakage rate lower than .30cfm just to be certified, and the higher quality products will be certified at .05cfm or lower. The AL rating tells you how good the window is at keeping indoor air in, and outdoor air out. Obviously, the tighter a window seals, the more efficient it will be, and Ultra TBA windows are rated at .03cfm – one of the lowest in the industry.
Vinyl windows do have a place in the replacement window industry, and after evaluating all of the options you may decide that vinyl is right for your situation. We’ve installed thousands of vinyl windows over the years, but only after letting our customers know the options that are available to them, and giving them the information necessary to make an informed buying decision. We’d appreciate an opportunity to do the same for you. Contact Ultra Windows today for a free, no-obligation consultation, and let us show you the level of service and commitment to customer satisfaction that you deserve.