In recent years, both vinyl and fiberglass windows have become popular as alternatives to traditional wooden frames.
Your choice of window frame can have a huge impact on the frame’s longevity and how much ongoing maintenance it requires.
Viny vs fiberglass windows have unique pros and cons that you must consider before making your choice.
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The Basics of Vinyl and Fiberglass Windows
Vinyl windows were first developed in the 1970s as an alternative to wooden windows. Manufacturers used the material because it is less susceptible to rotting, cracking, and many of the other issues that affect wood.
Vinyl is made using polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic and originally only came in white. However, recent advances in the use of this plastic now allow homeowners to select from a range of colors.
Did you know? PVC is a polymer that is among the most widely used on the planet. Its durability and low cost mean it’s used for many applications, including construction, healthcare, and vehicle parts.
Fiberglass windows were originally developed by European manufacturers in the 1980s. Though they’re far less popular than vinyl windows, they offer similar benefits in terms of their strength and lack of maintenance requirements.
Fiberglass is also a more environmentally-friendly material than vinyl, though this affects the cost of fiberglass windows.
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The Pros of Vinyl Windows
There are several reasons why vinyl windows are now used almost as widely as wooden windows. These advantages make vinyl an attractive option for your window installation.
Easy Manufacturing Leads to Lower Costs
Part of the reason for the explosion in vinyl windows’ popularity comes down to how easy they are to manufacture. Requiring far less effort due to the versatility of PVC, manufacturing allows for the cost-effective creation of a wide variety of windows.
Naturally, this leads to many window creators favoring the material. However, it also has knock-on effects for the consumer.
This ease of manufacturing means that creating vinyl windows costs less than making fiberglass windows. These savings are passed onto the consumer, with many basic vinyl window installations costing about $600 to $720.
Generally speaking, you’ll pay about 30% less for a vinyl window installation than you’ll pay for a fiberglass one.
DIY Install Is Possible
While not always recommended, DIY installation is possible with vinyl windows. Again, the material’s ease of use comes to the fore here.
Those who know their way around basic power tools and measuring can save a couple of hundred dollars on installation by ordering these windows and then handling the installation themselves.
These DIY possibilities exist because vinyl is not as rigid as fiberglass. Slight measurement discrepancies are fairly easy to account for.
Furthermore, many manufacturers offer vinyl windows in standard sizes, meaning it’s more likely that you’ll be able to get a pre-manufactured window that you can install yourself.
Vinyl windows contain hollow cavities. While these cavities can trap warm air by themselves, which automatically makes vinyl more energy efficient than wood, they come into their own when filled with insulation.
Many manufacturers incorporate insulating materials into their vinyl window designs for this purpose.
This makes vinyl great at keeping warm air in your home during the winter while ensuring your rooms stay cool during warmer months.
No Painting Required
More recently, vinyl has become available in a wide range of colors. Happily, this does not mean you need to paint or retouch your frames to maintain the color you select.
Instead, the coloring is integrated into the material itself, resulting in far less maintenance. Not only do you save money on the cost of paint, but you also don’t have to worry about your windows’ color fading over time.
Did you know? Vinyl window manufacturers use Reflective Pigment Technology (RPT) to color their windows. RPT allows manufacturers to use darker colors when creating their vinyl. It also reflects the sun’s ultraviolet rays, which prevents warping and color fading.
Strong Return on Investment
Vinyl windows offer a fairly high return on investment, mostly due to their low price. You can expect to add approximately 74% of the cost of your windows onto the value of your property when you install vinyl windows.
As a basic example, let’s assume you’ve spent $5,000 to have vinyl windows installed. This return on investment means you can expect your windows to add $3,700 to your home’s value.
What’s more, you benefit from the energy savings made when you replace wood windows with vinyl ones, which may add up over time to the point where vinyl windows achieve more than a 100% return.
The Cons of Vinyl Windows
Vinyl is a cost-effective and flexible window material. Still, it isn’t perfect. There are several drawbacks to keep in mind if you install vinyl windows.
Lower Strength Than Fiberglass Windows
Though vinyl windows are fairly strong, they’re not as tough as their fiberglass equivalents. Generally speaking, vinyl windows last for about 25 to 30 years, with fiberglass windows often lasting up to 50 years.
Part of this lower strength comes from the fact that vinyl reacts to the sun’s heat. Even when treated to prevent color fading, the material still expands and contracts based on the temperature.
Over time, these constant changes lead to wear and tear that requires repairs or replacements. Vinyl also has a melting point of 165 degrees Fahrenheit, which may make it unsuitable for particularly hot locations.
Less Environmentally-Friendly Materials
Though vinyl can help you to save money on your energy bills, it’s not the most environmentally-friendly material available. Sustainability is the issue here.
PVC is a made-made material that requires the use of plastic. Plastic is not a sustainable source, meaning it will eventually run out.
PVC is also difficult to recycle, which usually means that most vinyl windows get disposed of in landfills.
Fewer Colors Available
Though technological advancements mean you’re no longer restricted to white vinyl, coloring the material is still an expensive process.
As a result, most manufacturers only offer their vinyl in a limited number of colors, focusing mostly on the most popular choices. If you’re looking for something a little more unique, you may find it difficult to get the color that you want.
Painting is possible with certain types of acrylic paints. However, applying paint to vinyl means you lose the low-maintenance benefits of the material.
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The Pros of Fiberglass Windows
Despite being a newer and less popular window material, fiberglass holds several advantages over vinyl.
Fiberglass is typically made using recycled glass, which makes these types of windows more sustainable than their vinyl cousins.
What’s more, manufacturing fiberglass results in fewer harmful chemicals being released into the environment, meaning that production doesn’t contribute as heavily to climate change.
Adding to this is the fact that fiberglass also leads to higher energy savings than vinyl. Though vinyl window construction allows you to save more heat in comparison to wood, it does not stack up to fiberglass due to the nature of the materials used.
Fiberglass does not conduct heat, which means it doesn’t allow warm air to transfer through it at all.
Did you know? Fiberglass is up to 15% better than vinyl as a standalone insulating material. Though some manufacturers infuse their vinyl windows with additional insulation, this also adds to the cost of manufacturing.
More Glass Per Frame
Fiberglass window frames are extremely thin, which allows manufacturers to fit more glass per window than they can with vinyl frames.
The result is that more light can enter your home. In addition to creating more open and aesthetically-pleasing rooms, the presence of more natural light is often a big selling point for potential house buyers.
More light from outside also means less reliance on your home’s internal lights, which offers another minor contribution to fiberglass’s energy efficiency benefits.
Stronger for Longer
We’ve already mentioned that fiberglass is stronger than vinyl, with some stating that it is up to eight times more durable.
However, this strength really comes to the fore over time. As the years go on, vinyl will slowly start to lose its strength thanks to the effects of hot and cold temperatures.
As a non-conducting material, fiberglass doesn’t change at all, no matter what the weather is doing. This lack of expanding and contracting means that fiberglass frames maintain their strength for much longer than vinyl frames.
Though you’ll pay more for a fiberglass window installation, that money is repaid by the fact that the window lasts about 20 years longer than vinyl.
More Color Options
Fiberglass can be painted far easier than vinyl, meaning you have a wider selection of color and style options.
However, this benefit is a double-edged sword. Though fiberglass allows you to achieve a certain look and feel for your home, the need for painting creates many of the same problems that wooden windows have.
Peeling, cracking, and fading are all issues that you must confront if you choose to take advantage of painted fiberglass to create a more unique aesthetic.
Stronger Noise Insulating Properties
Though vinyl can restrict some noise from entering your property, fiberglass is a much more effective option when it comes to noise reduction.
This enhanced noise reduction comes as a result of the density of the material. Vinyl frames have the gap that we mentioned earlier, which can allow some noise to penetrate your home.
While fiberglass is not a perfect noise insulator, the density of the material means that less noise makes its way through.
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The Cons of Fiberglass Windows
With fiberglass being more efficient, versatile, and stronger than vinyl, the choice between the two may seem obvious. Still, there are some downsides to these types of windows that you must account for.
Professional Installation Only
The rigidity of fiberglass windows makes them incredibly difficult to install yourself. You have less leeway when it comes to measuring and most manufacturers make their windows to order rather than providing pre-manufactured options.
Furthermore, many fiberglass window manufacturers require you to have a professional installation carried out to access their warranties.
As such, going the DIY route may mean you lose out on some of the protections received by those who hire contractors.
More Costly Installations
As mentioned, you can expect to pay more money upfront for a fiberglass window than you would for a vinyl one. The lack of DIY options also means it’s difficult to save money on this cost.
Furthermore, there’s little data to suggest how strong the return on investment will be. The most current data suggests approximately 70%, which is lower than vinyl windows.
However, this number may change as more data becomes available.
This drawback is offset somewhat by the higher energy efficiency of fiberglass windows. If you can absorb the higher upfront costs, you’ll save more money over time.
Potential Difficulties in Finding Contractors
Though fiberglass windows have a lot of benefits, they’re still a fairly unpopular option in the United States.
This translates to more difficulty finding a competent fiberglass installer. If you opt for vinyl, you’ll usually get to choose from a larger number of contractors, making it easier to find somebody who offers a good deal and can handle the job correctly.
Did you know? Fiberglass windows currently have a 3.2% market share in the United States.
While this number represents consistent growth over the 2% share it had previously, it’s far lower than vinyl windows. In 2019, vinyl dominated the market, with 53.4% of all new installations being made using vinyl windows.
Top Vinyl Window Manufacturers
Due to their popularity, vinyl windows are made by a large number of companies. This means you have a lot more options both in terms of where you get your windows from and who installs them.
Offering five ranges of vinyl windows, NT Windows is one of the country’s leading manufacturers. The company has operated for over three decades and consistently lands in Window and Door Magazine’s Top 100 Manufacturers lists.
Starting as an aluminum window manufacturer in 1962, Milgard windows has expanded its range to include several vinyl windows.
Milgard makes its windows in-house, which allows the company to maintain full control over its manufacturing process. It even has a proprietary vinyl design, which it gears towards properties in harsh climates.
One of the United States’ oldest window makers, Simonton started life as an aluminum window manufacturer.
It transitioned to vinyl in the early 1980s and quickly established itself as one of the country’s leading companies.
Simonton windows stands out because it offers vinyl windows in a huge array of styles, making it fairly easy to find a window that suits your needs.
Having operated for almost 100 years, Pella windows has the benefit of experience on its side. However, it’s a latecomer to the vinyl window scene, with its first windows going on sale in 2003.
Still, the company achieves consistently positive feedback for its quality and it’s backed by extensive window-making experience.
A global window and door manufacturer, Jeld-Wen windows maintains manufacturing and sales facilities in North America, Asia, and Europe.
The company offers all major types of window frames, with its vinyl windows extending from basic builder’s options to customizable premium products.
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Top Fiberglass Window Manufacturers
As fiberglass windows are comparatively new to the market and less popular, there are fewer reliable manufacturers. Still, several US-based companies make high-quality fiberglass windows.
In addition to entering the vinyl window market at the start of the 21st century, Pella made inroads into fiberglass with its Impervia series.
The company’s windows offer superb impact resistance and come with attractive powder-coated finishes to guard against corrosion. They’re also available in several styles, including sliding, casement, and awnings along with the standard hung windows.
A major player in fiberglass windows, Marvin Windows offers both the Essential and Elevate series of fiberglass windows.
This offers customers the choice between more affordable options or premium products that still offer the strong benefits of fiberglass.
Versatility is key to the Marvin offering, as the company offers fiberglass windows in 13 different styles.
Andersen Windows and Doors
A Jack-of-all-trades manufacturer, Andersen makes aluminum, vinyl, wooden, and fiberglass windows. Based in Minnesota, Andesrsen Windows has over 100 years of experience and is currently one of North America’s leading manufacturers.
With its variable warranties and extensive energy efficiency testing, Fibertex has established itself as a frontrunner in the fiberglass windows market. It manufactures its windows in-house to ensure consistency.
Plus, the company makes fiberglass door frames and slabs, allowing you to create a more complete look for your home.
Fiberglass vs. Vinyl Windows – The Verdict
|Lower cost thanks to ease of manufacturing||Not as strong as fiberglass||More sustainable||Higher upfront cost|
|DIY installation possible||Can warp and degenerate over time||Can use recycled materials||Fewer choices in manufacturing|
|Low installation costs||Fewer colors available||Doesn’t warp or bend under the sun||More difficult to find good installers|
|No painting needed||Less sustainable materials||Stronger noise insulation||Warranty may be voided with DIY installation|
|Energy efficient||Saves more energy|
|Good return in investment||More glass per frame|
|More color options|
Both fiberglass and vinyl windows offer several advantages over more traditional wooden windows. They’re stronger, more durable, and require less maintenance. They’re also easier and cheaper to install thanks to their more modern materials.
However, when it comes to choosing between the two, you face a more difficult task. In terms of pure quality, fiberglass windows come out on top. They’re more energy-efficient, stronger, and offer superior noise insulation compared to vinyl windows.
Vinyl windows win when it comes to pricing, as you’ll likely save several hundred, if not thousands, of dollars on a full home window replacement.
Furthermore, though vinyl windows are not as strong or efficient as fiberglass windows, they’re still more than good enough for most properties.
Ultimately, your choice will likely come down to your budget, the look you want to achieve, and how easy it is for you to find competent contractors in your area.
$3,520 - $6,895