There seems to be a hearty debate underway over the value of the newest generation of composite windows, I won't jump into the mix with my own opinions, save to present the arguments posed by major manufacturers and ask my readers to weigh in on their own experiences.
I have found an easy way to distinguish wood and vinyl products by their durability, cost and insulation qualities. It's no simple thing to declare one product better without knowing what kind of home you have and the ultimate budget you can put together during some rather cash-poor times. So this is no endorsement of any kind.
Suffice to say that if I had a priority in preserving the architectural integrity of a period home, I'd lean toward a wood frames. And wood has its own drawbacks in how it decays unless you stay atop annual or bi-annual maintenance. If cost and ease of maintenance were the guiding elements in the conversation, then vinyl would suit me fine. But what about the long-term benefits of clad windows, fiberglass or new composite windows? They certainly can cost the most up-front to outfit with energy efficient options.
Looking at composite replacement windows
Composite replacement windows can be spendy. My initial concern is whether they've been in homes long enough now to gauge durability. On the plus side, composite windows are said to measure up to or exceed wood in terms energy efficiency, but surpass wood in flexibility of color options and overall strength. They cost less than wood, too, and can pass in the looks department if you choose a high-end product. Manufacturers claim that they resist the common degradation of materials common to wood.
Andersen touts its Fibrex composite material as borrowing the low maintenance qualities of less expensive vinyl while owners will find the window comes with "no need to scrape or paint again and warranted not to rot, flake, blister, peel, crack, pit or corrode". You can read their promotion materials at the Anderson 100 Windows website. Fibtrex, says Andersen, is a green product, made from 40 percent reclaimed wood fiber.
LBL, maker of Finale windows, offers a composite called MikronWood made from thermoplastic resins. They claim it exceeds the structural attributes of vinyl profiles while looking as great as wood.
What do you think about composites?
If you're looking to replace home windows or have evaluated composite windows from Andersen, Pella, Thermal Line, Traco, AMSCO, LBL, Marvin or others, you're welcome to pass along your comments.