Vinyl windows first caught the attention of U.S. markets in the 1960s. Since then, what was once considered a less common alternative has become the most installed window material. Why? As the American Architectural Manufacturers Association (AAMA) puts it, “the proof is in the performance”.
Vinyl itself refers to the more technical term Poly Vinyl Chloride, or PVC. Made primarily from salt, vinyl is considered an eco-friendly material for its composition of abundant and renewable resources. It now stands as the second most produced plastic in the world largely because of its durability, affordable cost, and environmental friendliness.
Vinyl windows manufacturers first promoted the benefits of vinyl windows to homeowners. Aside from the plethora of other vinyl advantages, the relief from constant upkeep that previous window materials required was one of the first aspects that set vinyl windows apart. This appeal to homeowners gained traction almost instantly and expanded the uses for vinyl into floors, wall coverings, and doors in addition to windows. But what actually makes vinyl virtually maintenance-free?
- No surface coating necessary. Since color can be added with pigments in the formulation process, there is no need to paint vinyl. This eliminates surface coating issues like chipping or scratching for vinyl frames.
- Durability. Vinyl also resists rotting, peeling, corrosion, and pests like insects and fungus. Its human-made composition extends the life of the material and reduces stress from needing to look for and fix problems like these.
- Ease of care and installation. Cleaning can be done with mild soap and water and requires no chemical treatment or expertise. The comparatively easy installation process lowers both risk potential and cost for installing new or replacement vinyl windows.
We’ve known for several decades about the convenience of vinyl windows. Today, much of their popularity in the United States comes from the material’s high energy efficiency.
Measuring energy efficiency
Manufacturers use a U-factor to measure thermal conductivity in materials—the lower the U-factor, the better the insulation. A more common term, R-value, refers to a material’s resistance to heat transfer. The R-value is the inverse of the U-factor (1/U-factor), and R-values increase with better performance. This means materials with low U-factors and high R-values have the best thermal insulation.
The effective thermal insulation in vinyl makes the material a top choice when meeting the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Star® performance standards. The AAMA cites the average U-factor of vinyl windows as between 0.3 and 0.5—a major improvement from aluminum windows, which can have U-factors as high as 2. All available glazes that improve energy efficiency are also compatible with vinyl windows. Energy efficient windows save money on heating and cooling bills and improve resistance to condensation, which can lead to foggy glass and mildew.
In addition to their energy benefits in homes and buildings, vinyl windows take far fewer resources from the planet. Despite the high prevalence of vinyl products, manufacturing processes for all vinyl products globally uses less than 0.3% of all oil and gas consumption. In fact, the Vinyl Institute states that vinyl used in construction saves upwards of 40 million barrels of oil each year compared to other building materials. Vinyl is also easily reusable and recyclable.
Vinyl windows support a vast range of creative elements. As previously mentioned, color can be added directly with pigments into the material. While surface coating is not always necessary, the ability to add a bonded color coating to vinyl expands the spectrum of color availability to include nearly anything.
Since vinyl is thermoplastic, vinyl window frames can be shaped using heat into a variety of shapes that would cost much more to create with other materials. From polygons to semicircles, the options for custom vinyl windows are endless. Thermoplasticity also allows for ingrained textures and patterns, which can create a desired look for your windows without the potential hassles of cost, maintenance, energy efficiency, and creative flexibility that often come with using the original material.
Vinyl Windows: Designed for Performance (American Architectural Manufacturers Association) http://www.aamanet.org/upload/file/Locked_Online_Vinyl_Windows_Designed_for_Performance.pdf