Vinyl vs. Wood Windows: Point By Point Comparison

Wood Windows
Wood Windows. huseyin turgut erkisi / Getty Images

In the last 25 years, wood dropped from accounting for almost half of all windows sold to less than 20%.  Guess which material took wood's place?  Vinyl.

Does this mean that wood windows are lower quality than vinyl or more difficult to deal with?  No, it means that when the sales representative speaks to you, vinyl windows get the hard sell.

Both wood and vinyl have strong points.  Wood windows possess a classic charm that vinyl can only hope to impart.

 Yet for the majority of homeowners, vinyl's low cost is a charm that beats wood's aesthetic allure.

 

Vinyl Windows

Wood Windows

DefinedVinyl windows are made largely of high-quality extruded polyvinyl chloride (PVC) Some metal and other types of plastics are used for the sash mechanism.Wood windows are usually wood on the inside (typically pine or Douglas Fir).  Exteriors are wood covered with extruded aluminum, PVC, or fiberglass.
Colors and Finishes"Vinyl" and "white" have tended to be synonymous when it comes to windows.  Rich, dark colors that do not fade have traditionally been hard for manufacturers to achieve.  Most colors beyond white or tan are considered premium and will cost more.One chief value of wood windows is that the inside frames can remain a natural wood color, if desired.  Exteriors and interiors may be painted any color.
MaintenanceVinyl replacement windows never need painting or sealing.  The industry has a saying for this:  vinyl is final.Wood-exterior windows need painting or sealing, not just at the time of installation, but throughout their lifetime. Painting wood windows is an exacting task and must be done frequently.  Wood windows with aluminum cladding never need painting.
Insulating FactorFair.  Vinyl is a poor conductor of temperatures--a good thing.  However, vinyl window frames are often hollow.  Cold air will pass through hollow spaces.Excellent.  When it's cold outside, try this--feel the frame of a wood window. You'll find that wood-framed windows are excellent at inhibiting the transmission of cold or heat from the outside. So it's a great energy-saver.
Cost (Window Only, No Labor)

Vinyl windows are about 25% cheaper than wood windows.  Jeld-Wen 36" x 60" Vinyl Double Pane New Construction Double Hung Window currently costs $219 at Lowe's.  This actually represents a price drop over a ten-year period. 

Wood windows are costlier.  Call it the law of supply and demand, the price of beauty, or just the fact that fewer companies make wood windows--but you will pay more for wood.  Jeld-Wen 37.375 in. x 60 in. Wood Window currently costs $364.
AppearanceFair.  Vinyl windows are no longer the pariah of home renovation.  With the addition of better colors besides just white and tan, vinyl windows are considered more attractive than they were in the past.Excellent.  The point of wood windows is usually to keep the interior natural or stained, with sealer on top, thus keeping the wood grain visible.  Vinyl simply cannot duplicate this.  Or, if you wish to have the look of solid colors, you can paint wood.
TurnaroundExcellent.  Vinyl windows are plentiful from many different manufacturers, so it is not difficult to obtain them on schedule.Fair.  Wood has dwindled to a 16%-17% market share, so manufacturers and retailers do not prioritize them.  Thus, it may be slower to obtain wood windows over vinyl.
Resale ValueGood.  Within the right context, buyers accept that vinyl windows will be part of the home.Excellent.  Well-maintained wood windows catch the attention of buyers.
Bottom LineDo not be deterred by vinyl windows' lack of coolness during your next cocktail party conversation with your neighbors.  They may have bought wood windows because of wood's cachet, but they also spent more money than you did.  Plus, every few years have have to haul out the brush and paint can; you don't.  If you're happy with a basic, functioning window in a limited amount of colors, vinyl is for you.You've heard the arguments in favor of vinyl but you just can't bear to inflict plastic fenestration on your gorgeous 1902 Craftsman home.  Yes, you will pay more for your wood windows, but you will also maintain high resale value with your historic home.