Question: I need no-maintenance replacement windows that tilt in for easy cleaning, don't sweat and will cut my utility bills. I thought about vinyl windows, but I hear they are cheap and low quality. Is this true?
Answer: As with all products, there is a tremendous range in quality and price. Vinyl windows are no exception.
For what it is worth, I have vinyl replacement windows in my own home. They have performed flawlessly for 14 years and utility bills are low.
Although you can probably find inexpensive, flimsy, locally made vinyl windows, high-quality vinyl windows cost about the same as other high-quality replacement windows. Of all window frame materials available, vinyl and fiberglass frames are the most energy efficient.
Reduced outdoor noise is the first thing you will notice with new vinyl windows. This results from the airtight construction and the efficient glass panes. Over time, you will also notice less carpet and furniture fading.
There are significant differences between high-quality and cheap vinyl windows in the cross-sections, material quality and thickness, and in assembly methods. One of the first design features to look for is welded corners, especially in the sash frames. They are usually thermally welded together.
Better vinyl windows are often more attractive. The extrusions used to make the frames are heavier and have more profile details. Some even have a realistic-looking natural-wood-grained indoor surface finish.
Vinyl itself is a fairly good insulator, but vinyl windows derive most of their energy efficiency from the many dead air spaces inside the hollow frame.
The interior ribs, not visible in an installed window, that create these insulating chambers also add to the frame's strength and rigidity.
Several window manufacturers inject low-pressure insulating foam into the dead air spaces. This increases the overall insulation value of the frame and adds even more rigidity. My vinyl windows have foam-filled frames. Injecting foam in the frames does not increase the price significantly.
Another unique and efficient type of vinyl window uses a solid cellular foam window frame instead of the more common multichambered hollow frame. It is very strong and has the solid feel of a wood window. It can also be painted.
For convenient tilt-in cleaning, double-hung windows are your best choice.
After five or 10 years, you may have to adjust the counterweight springs a little, but that is the extent of the maintenance required. Vinyl casement windows are the most efficient design and provide better ventilation.
A simple 30-minute inspection of your home and some simple, low-cost improvements can control utility bills and help avert the need for rolling blackouts. Download a free list of "100 Energy Saving Tips and Improvements" plus an "Appliance Cost-to-Use" chart from http://www.dulley.com/energy.