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Different Types of Replacement Windows: Which One is Right for You?

Need new windows? Learn about the different types of replacement windows that are available, how they impact performance and cost, and which one might be right for you.

“How much do replacement windows cost?” is a top-of-mind question for most homeowners, once they realize their home needs new windows. They understand there are different types of replacement windows, and they might prefer one style over another… but they don’t really know how that decision impacts the overall performance of the window, and the price they’ll pay.

There are three main components to consider that can help you decide which type of home window might be right for you, and how much it will cost. These include:

  1. How many panes of glass each window has,
  2. The type of material used for the window frames, and
  3. The operating style of the window (how it opens/closes).

Let’s briefly go over each one.

1. HOW MANY PANES OF GLASS DO YOU NEED?

It makes sense that extra panes of glass in a window will cost more, but what’s really necessary? Double-pane windows are considered the standard for most homes. Triple-pane windows may sound like an improvement, but they are considerably more expensive, and best suited for colder climates and noise suppression.

Here’s the difference between single-pane, double-pane and triple-pane windows in more detail.

Single-Pane WindowSingle-Pane Replacement Windows

Outdated, Fragile, Least Energy Efficient

Single-pane windows are the most basic type of window, made of a single pane of glass. The dinosaurs of the windows industry, single pane windows are outdated and no longer produced by most manufacturers. And, since they don’t meet minimum energy efficiency requirements in Arizona, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone willing to sell and install them.

And if you do? Even with every upgrade available, they remain the least energy efficient option. Single-pane windows are also less durable and more prone to breakage because the frame isn’t very substantial.

If you live in a home with single-pane windows, you’re paying more for your heating and cooling bills than you would with double-pane windows.

Request a quote on replacement windows

Double-Pane WindowDouble-Pane Replacement Windows

The Most Popular, Cost Effective, Today’s Standard

Far more energy efficient than single-pane windows, double-pane windows are made of two panes of glass separated by an air space. The air space helps insulate the window, keeping heat in during the winter and cool air in during the summer, and it’s even more effective when gas insulation fills that space.

Double-pane windows are also more durable than single-pane windows.

This type of window is the standard for today’s modern replacement windows. In Arizona, you’ll want argon gas between the panes, and at least two low-E coatings on the glass to reflect sun, preferably more.

Triple-Pane WindowTriple-Pane Replacement Windows

Quiet, Expensive, Best for Cold Climates

Triple-pane windows are the most energy-efficient type of window glass (low-E coatings aside). They’re made of three panes of glass separated by two air spaces, often filled with gas insulation. The air spaces help to insulate the window even more than double-pane windows. However, because of the added materials and labor, they are very expensive. There is quite a price difference between double-pane glass and single-pane glass.

Because the difference in energy efficiency is minor, with minimal cost savings showing up on your air conditioning bills, it can take decades to recover the cost of this upgrade. Most people move before realizing the cost savings, so it’s not something we typically recommend.

It’s a different story if you live in Northern Arizona, though. In cold climates, the savings on heating bills are much more impressive, so the upgrade pays for itself faster. They might be something to consider.

Triple-pane windows block cold more effectively than heat.

They also dampen noise well, so they might make sense for homes with noise issues they’d like to suppress, such as homes overlooking a freeway or school.

 

2. CHOOSING THE TYPE OF FRAME MATERIALS

Another component of replacement windows that impacts cost is the type of materials used for the frame. This single decision can drastically change price.

From least to most expensive, common choices include vinyl, aluminum, composite, fiberglass and wood (incl. clad wood)

Vinyl Windows

Why are vinyl double-paned window the most popular type of replacement window sold in America? They’re cost effective and a good quality vinyl window can last for three or four decades.

Older vinyl windows don’t last that long, unfortunately, so if your vinyl windows were installed more than fifteen years ago, you’ll want to inspect them annually for performance issues.

If you’re looking for something that can last even longer than a good quality vinyl window, composite windows are a nice step up in quality. Fiberglass will last the longest, and are the most energy efficient.

Vinyl windows are energy-efficient and durable, too, but can be limited in color and style options.

Composite Windows

We’re big fans of composite windows, which are made from a blend of thermoplastic polymers and other fibers. Depending on the brand, they are stronger than vinyl replacement windows and last longer. They also don’t fade, since color isn’t a surface treatment; it’s blended right into the formula.

The most common composite window we sell is the Andersen® Fibrex® replacement window. Made from the same material as Renewal by Andersen® windows, it is a blend of PVC and wood fibers reclaimed from their manufacturing plant, which makes it much stronger and more durable than vinyl alone.

It’s an excellent product that we often recommend when budget allows.

Aluminum Windows

Almost maintenance free, aluminum windows are a light, strong choice for window frame material. However, they typically have poor energy efficiency compared to other window frame materials.

Because of our climate in the Phoenix metro area, aluminum windows should only be considered if they are thermally broken, which helps prevent heat transfer into the home. Metal windows can get very hot in the summer, absorbing a substantial amount of heat, and it’s not the best idea to allow that into the home. It forces air conditioning to work harder, driving up your utility bills.

Many of the brands that are common to other states simply aren’t available in Arizona, due to our climate.

The only aluminum window we currently sell is the Milgard® thermally improved aluminum window. It’s a durable, low-maintenance product with a specially designed thermal channel to interrupt the flow of heat through the frame. It’s better than most aluminum windows, in terms of energy efficiency, but typically still less efficient than other types of window frame material. However, some homeowners love the modern look, which has a slim frame, and its dark anodized finish.

Aluminum-clad wood windows are commonly confused with aluminum windows, but they aren’t the same thing. We’ll cover that next.

Wood Windows

Wood windows are a popular choice for homeowners who want a classic look. They are reasonably energy efficient, but they do require quite a bit of maintenance to prevent water and insect damage. In our climate, they’re also prone to drying out and cracking, and must be consistently re-painted or stained to last as long as possible.

They’re popular with homeowners looking for a wood stain or finish on the interior of the home. To reduce maintenance, they are available with exteriors clad in other materials to improve durability. Aluminum-clad wood windows are the most popular wood window that we sell and install at DunRite Windows & Doors. We do not recommend vinyl-clad wood windows, since the thin layer of vinyl doesn’t stand up to Arizona heat.

We don’t recommend wood windows in Arizona if they don’t have cladding on the exterior; however, they can be a lovely choice for homes in our historic district.

Fiberglass Windows

Our number one choice of replacement window, because of its long lifespan, durability and energy efficiency, fiberglass windows are a good choice for homeowners who want a low-maintenance window. They typically have the longest lifespan, lasting forty years or longer.

Depending on the features, upgrades and operating style, they can also be the most energy-efficient option available.

However, they tend to be more expensive than other types of windows.

Our preferred fiberglass windows are the Pella® Impervia® series, or the Milgard C650 Ultra™ Series. The first is textured, with a wider frame, versus the smooth, narrower (but deeper) Milgard fiberglass product.

You can also find windows that are fiberglass composites, such as the Andersen A-Series, which combines fiberglass, wood and Fibrex.

Size & Shape Can Limit Choice of Material

Size of the window opening can impact the choice of material, too. If it’s a specialty shape, such as an octagon or extremely large, certain materials may not work.

For example, fiberglass, Fibrex or aluminum is best suited to big oversized windows, since it’s a strong material that can handle huge panes of glass, but vinyl wouldn’t be an option. It isn’t strong enough.

For very large doors, aluminum is the best option due to its strength.

The salesperson can help guide you during the appointment, since they’ll be able to discuss the pros and cons of specific frame materials and uses.

 

3. WHY CERTAIN OPERATING STYLES INCREASE THE PRICE

Operating style of a window dictates how it opens and closes, and this impacts price, too. Do you want it to slide up from the bottom, down from the top, or both? Do you want it to slide sideways, or open at an angle to capture a breeze?

If the operating style you choose takes longer to build and requires extra parts, this is reflected in the cost. For example, a double-hung window costs more than a single-hung window, just like a double sliding window costs more than a standard single.

Most people go with the same operating style as the home’s original window, perhaps upgrading the number of sashes that move—such as going from a single-hung window to a double-hung, where the bottom slides up, and the top slides down.

Different types of window operating styles
Credit: Energy Star

Sometimes the size of the window opening determines the operating style, or at least narrows the choices.

For example, a home with wide window openings typically has sliding windows installed. It operates by moving one or both sashes sideways to open or close. They could also choose a fixed picture window, which is less expensive but doesn’t open.

What they can’t do is change to a casement window, which are a single sash that opens sideways with a crank, since one sash with side hinges would be too heavy for a wide window.

They also can’t choose a single- or double-hung window, which slides up and down, since it would require sashes that are wider than they are tall, which would look strange and out of place, and would be too heavy to easily slide up and down. It’s better to have sliding sashes, where each sash is the full height of the opening and supported by the bottom window frame as it moves.

And a sliding window won’t look right or operate correctly in most openings that are taller than they are wide – which is typically the case where casement windows, single-hung or double-hung windows are installed. It wouldn’t provide much of an opening.

Each operating style is best suited to a certain size and shape of opening, depending if the opening is a vertical or horizontal rectangle, or even if it’s a specialty shape. For example, half round windows and hexagon or octagonal windows are all fixed windows. These complicated shapes don’t open. That’s why if you see a half round window stacked on top of a vertical window, it’s generally a single- or double-hung window below, which opens, and a fixed half round window on top.

Let’s quickly go over why certain types of operating styles change the cost, and the energy efficiency of a window.

Sliding Windows

In a sliding window, one or both sashes open by sliding horizontally.

In a single sliding window, one sash moves sideways, overlapping the other, non-opening sash. You can only open one side. Extremely wide windows might have a fixed center panel, and sliding panels on both sides.

On a double sliding windows, both panels can slide, since neither is fixed.

A sliding window can’t have more than 50% of the window open at any given time, since there is always all or part of a sash overlapping the other. And since the sliding panels don’t shut as tightly as a window with a hinge, it tends to leak a bit more air. However, this air leakage is minimal and shouldn’t impact your decision.

Single- & Double-Hung Windows

Single- and double-hung windows also slide, but vertically instead of horizontally. A single-hung window is opened by sliding the bottom sash up, with the top panel fixed. Double-hung windows don’t have a fixed panel, so the bottom sash slides up like all windows, but the top sash also slides down. Both panels move.

Double-hung windows are more convenient, but they cost more.

Opening the top half of a window can be a great way to open up the house to a fresh breeze while safely keeping the dog, cats or kids inside. Double-hung windows are easier to clean outside the home, too, since you can make a tall window reachable by simply dropping the top sash down. Some double-hung windows can be tilted inward, allowing both the interior and exterior glass to be cleaned from inside the home, which is very useful for homes with multiple stories.

Like a sliding window, single- and double-hung windows don’t compress tightly. If they are tight, they’d be too difficult to move. This makes them a less energy-efficient operating style. However, the cam-style locking mechanism helps pull the two windows together for a tighter seal at the center of the window.

Casement, Awning & Hopper Windows

Hinged windows tend to be the most energy-efficient operating styles, since they tightly pressing the sash against the weatherstripping and frame to close.

Casement, awning and hopper windows are all hinged products, although each has the hinges mounted on a different side of the window.

A casement window is hinged at one side, opening outward using a crank or lever, or by pushing it outward. They’re commonly used on tall narrow openings, and can only be opened from inside the home, which is a nice security feature. However, since they open outwards, they’re susceptible to damage from extreme wind, fully exposed to the elements when open, and more fragile than a single- or double-hung window. It’s the only type of window that opens all the way, although it can either block the wind or funnel it into the home, depending which way the wind blows. It’s also the only type of window that has glass in a single unobstructed panel, and the only ones that open more than halfway. .

Awning windows are hinged at the top, with the bottom opening outward. Hopper windows are the opposite, hinged at the bottom and opening inward. Both have a latch to keep them closed. Some pull open for ventilation, while others are crank. They’re most commonly used in a bathroom or basement, but are fairly uncommon in Arizona.

Hinged windows are typically more expensive than sliding windows.

Fixed Windows

Made with a glass insert that doesn’t open, fixed windows are often used for specialty shapes, for extremely large picture windows where ventilation isn’t a priority, or where a window shouldn’t open for safety reasons.

These are the simplest to manufacture, and more cost effective.

Choosing the Right Type of Replacement Window

When choosing replacement windows, you’ll need to consider your budget, your needs, and the style you prefer. This can often help you go into the process already knowing which frame material and operating style you prefer; it’s why we often suggest people drive around their neighborhood specifically looking at windows. It’s a great way to see what your neighbors have, and decide what you like and dislike.

We hope this was helpful. In addition to considering the number of panes of glass you need, the type of frame material and the operating style, take a close look at the specific energy ratings for the product you’re considering. And the warranty.

Learn more about shopping for replacement windows in our Ultimate Shopping Guide or free eBook. And if you’re in our Phoenix-Scottsdale service area and ready to obtain a quote, we’d love to meet you!

Published: Aug. 4, 2023
(Header image photo credit: Anlin Windows)

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