With windows, it's what's on the outside that counts. Because all-wood windows are less durable to the elements and require more maintenance, development of "clad" windows - windows with wooden interior components and exterior sheathing of stronger materials - were developed. In the past five years, sales and popularity of clad windows have grown, and manufacturers are expanding their lines to include products that can even be used in historic remodels.
"The numbers say that the clad market is growing," says Mike Koenig, manager of material development for Andersen. "And vinyl windows as a class are also growing. This is something that consumers want."
Most clad windows fit into one of two categories: vinyl or metal. As a general rule, vinyl-clad windows are more durable and more cost-effective, and metal-clad windows offer more color and style versatility.
"Aluminum is very durable, and it offers a great advantage in that it comes in multiple colors," says Bob Eckert, residential marketing manager for Weather Shield. "Vinyl is often a nice option, too. It gives the customer a low-maintenance exterior. Vinyl-clad windows are very popular for their affordability."
Vinyl-clad windows are typically made from extruded PVC material. Because this material can be fused at the corners, vinyl-clad windows are especially leak-resistant. The PVC material is exceptionally resistant to weather and is the least expensive of clad window types. Yet vinyl is difficult to color, and painted vinyl requires regular maintenance. Fiberglass-clad products are also being introduced to the market.
"Consumers are generally pretty sensitive to the maintenance characteristics of products," says Greg Millerd, the Southwest region wood-clad window representative for Milgard. "They want maintenance-free exteriors, and if they can find a product that can give them the aesthetics they want with the maintenance of vinyl, then they're game for it. The biggest issue, for most people, is cost."
According to Mike Koenig, manager of material development for Andersen, it's important to consider each individual project's needs before choosing what type of window material might work best. Here are qualities to consider when specifying window products:
On the other hand, aluminum windows offer more color options for consumers concerned with appearance. According to Jennifer De Boef, market manager for Pella, tan, white and brown remain popular color choices for window cladding, but deep greens, off whites and brick reds are being requested more and more. Because aluminum windows are painted with the same process that many automobile manufacturers use to paint cars, aluminum-clad products never need repainting. Custom colors can also be ordered, and the pre-painted aluminum windows still surpass all-wood windows in durability and weather resistance.
"The main benefit is low maintenance," says John Tracy, national sales manager for Caradco. "The exterior does not need to be repainted, scraped or sanded. And if a primed exterior is used, then you can paint it whatever color you want."
Aluminum windows can also include features specifically inserted to achieve a more historic or realistic appearance. Brick mold casing, attached to clad windows, helps replacement projects blend in on an historic home. "We're sending out more windows with that casing to replacement and remodeling applications," says Tom Sinning, dealer sales manager for Marvin. "It doesn't look like a patchwork remodeling job - the windows look identical but are now energy efficient and low-maintenance."