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Windows Buying Guide (page 2 of 7)

Learn the pros and cons of different types of windows, the various styles and latest trends.

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Vinyl - Low Cost and a Debate

More vinyl windows are sold than all other types of window construction combined - about 67 percent of the residential window market. That's because vinyl combines low cost with durability, reliability and energy performance. Vinyl is virtually indestructible, impervious to moisture and insect- and rot-proof.

Vinyl is  an inert material that's a poor thermal conductor, meaning it's a good insulator. It's  tough and strong - stout enough that the sash is hollow, creating air-filled chambers with excellent insulating capabilities. Lightweight vinyl windows are relatively easy to install for professionals and DIYers alike.

One objection to vinyl is it's appearance - fusion-welded seams aren't attractive, and the material is decidedly synthetic. Colors extend throughout the vinyl, which helps camouflage scratches and nicks, but color choices for off-the-shelf vinyl windows typically are limited to white and tan. A simple palette of gray, green, red and a few other colors may be available through special order.

 The jury is out on whether vinyl windows can be painted. Some experts suggest using an epoxy-based exterior paint, such as an automotive finish. Others say not to paint vinyl at all because paints don't adhere well - the material expands and contracts too much and can cause cracks in painted surfaces.

The sustainability of vinyl is another source of debate. On one hand, the manufacture of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) produces toxins such as dioxin, and the material itself may last hundreds of years in landfills, disqualifying it from consideration in the minds of environmentalists. Nevertheless, the longevity of the material means durability, and the replacement cycle for vinyl is extremely long.