905 761 5252
416 751 2511
800 558 5021
fax 905 761 5810
service@rusco.ca

1948 - 2012.  Serving Toronto homes for the past 64 years.
 

Window Materials

The term ‘window materials’ refers to the frame, which is only a part of the entire product - window or door. However, this is the main denominator when categorizing window or door groups. The frame material is the most tangible feature, but not the single most important to define quality. Factoring all features - a good vinyl window, low browed as it is, would be a better choice than a poorly made wood window.

Views and opinions vary as to which material is best, and as with any other product it much depends on whom you ask. Upon your on-line research you may sure get contradicting views, where all manufacturers assert that their material is superb to all others.

There is a belief that wood windows are best and the rest are in descending order. Categorically it is not true, as it confuses 'price' with 'quality'. Generally speaking, wood windows are most expensive but necessary the best. Though the form 'best' may differ from one person to another, and from a technical / structural point of view to an interior designer view to energy efficiency figures, there is no universal truth.

 We would rank the importance of the frame materials third to the window's pedigree, meaning the product maker, and second to the installation, so we strongly suggest not to judge or select a window based on frame material only. It is like buying a car based on engine only. ignoring comfort, build quality, style and fit for required use. 
We have no interest in promoting one material over the other, as all are within our offering.

A word about pedigree - purchasing a no-name window, or from what we call a 'cottage industry' maker, presents a double edged risk. Not only the product will not perform as a pure-bred would, but finding parts for it will be difficult, if not impossible. A window is not a short term disposable gadget, and if a single minor component such as hardware fails and no parts in sight, the initial savings are written off.

Certain window frame materials have been around for generations, some have come and gone while new ones are being introduced. We try to look at the materials based on the following factors, listed in no particular order:

  • Appearance

  • Thermal efficiency

  • Mechanical strength

  • Claim to fame

  • Owner's bragging rights - snob appeal

  • Maintenance

  • Ease of service

  • Cost

  • Available options

  • Cottage industry factor

  • Recycling

  • Resources

  • Shapes

  • Longevity

Fiberglass

Fiberglass cross section

Typical fiberglass window sash. Wood grain laminate shown.

The material known today as fiberglass was developed in the 1930’s, as an insulation material. It is used in many industrial and commercial applications from boat and vehicle body components, construction components, safety and sport equipment, heavy duty containers and others.

Fiberglass is a composite structural material that consists of fiber reinforcements (typically glass) that are bound together in a resin matrix. Glass fiber has a high tensile strength, and will not break, similar to a reinforcing bar in a concrete mix. The resin acts like concrete, as it performs well in compression. Together, the glass fibers and resin are good in both compression and tension, creating a sturdy material.

Fiberglass has a high strength-to-weight ratio, resists warping and is resistant to corrosion. It insulates from heat, cold and electricity, works well in extreme temperatures, and easily yields to be made into complex shapes. Being a thermoset material, versus vinyl being thermoplastic, it is not affected by temperature changes.

Fiberglass fenestration is big in Europe and growing in the US, while in Canada it is still considered a novelty. As such, few manufactures offer this product, costs are high compared to traditional alternatives such as vinyl and aluminum, but quality should be higher as well.

It is offered in limited range of finishes and accessories, and it lends itself to high-end installation, just a step below good wood products and above entry level wood products. Frames are mechanically joined, so if made correctly the seams are perfect - unlike vinyl, aluminum or low-end wood. Finishes include different in / out colours and textures, where the optional wood-grain internal finish can be stained and looks more striking than wood. In wood windows the tracks and seals are made of other materials, typically vinyl, which stands in stark contrast to the natural material. In fiberglass, everything blends well together, so the final product looks cleaner and unified.

Like any other product, two fiberglass windows made by different manufacturers are not necessarily of equal quality. When comparing look at the finishes and the joints, which are a telltale about overall quality.  Further, fiberglass Achilles' heal is moisture,  so much depends on the resin formulation and coating. A low end fiberglass product may fail in the long run if not correctly protected against penetrating moisture. 

Typical cross section shows a single wall, about 1/8” thick.

Characteristics:

  • Little coefficient of thermal expansion, similar to glass.

  • Low thermal conductivity.

  • Dimensional stability.

  • High strength-to-weight ratio.

  • Chemically inert.

  • Easily paintable and re-paintable with minimum preparation.

  • Low environmental impact – made of readily available silica sand.

  • Future recyclable capability.

  • Resistant to corrosion from chemicals.

  • UV stable.

  • Can be painted / coated with dark colours which are not recommended for vinyl.

  • Unlike wood framed windows, fiberglass does not rot or warp.

  • Does not require a thermal break as found in aluminum windows.

  • Does not require the stiffeners that many vinyl frames require.

  • Stress on seals, caulks and joints is minimized, contributing to higher efficiency windows.

  • Tight and stable seals maintain the resistance to air leakage and water penetration.

  • About 3 times stronger than aluminum and 9 times stronger than vinyl windows.

  • Frame strength increases the sizes that an be made in a single span, making large picture windows possible and more energy efficient.

  • Practically maintenance free.

What makes our fiberglass different:

  •  The looks. The rounded and gentle frame contours show same details as wood frames, where other fiberglass windows look more like their vinyl cousins.

  • The sightline, also called daylight opening or glass opening is wider. The frame weight – or thickness - is lighter than wood or vinyl windows. A typical vinyl window frame weight is approximately 3.25” to 3.625”, while our window frame is approximately 2.5”.
    What this means for you is that on a 20” wide window, the glass opening on a vinyl windows will be 13.5”, while on our fiberglass window you will get an additional 1.5” of glass, width and height.
    It may not matter on a large window, but with smaller ones found in older homes, the difference can be paramount.

  •  Our fiberglass Infinity window line uses a specially formulated and patented Ultrex material, that is more resilient and as such lends itself to more refined details on the window frame.  

  •  Ordinary window surface is finished as it comes through the die, or painted via pigmented jell. Our Ultrex profiles are Tecton coated - three layers of acrylic bonded protective coats. The Tecton process allows high bonding of the finishing layer, smoother so no dust or pollution particles may adhere to it and is moisture resistance and lasts for decades. The process was developed from similar used in the automotive industry, made to withstand all weather conditions ad yet not lose its luster.

  • We offer two standard inside finishes - stone white and off white as well as five outside finishes at the same price. Optional wood grain inside is available at a small premium.  

Fiberglass rod

 

Vinyl rod, at same size

 

Hardware finishes

  Bronze Sierra White
  Bronze Sierra off white White
  Satin taupe Satin nickel Brass
  Satin nickel Satin taupe Brass

Frame finishes - inside

Sierra Stone white
Sierra off white Stone white

Everwood

Real wood -left, stainable wood grain finish, right.

Strong corner key holds the frame sections.

Frame finishes - outside

Cashmere Bronze Bahama brown
Cashmere Bronze Brown
Pebble gray Stone white Sierra
Grey White Sierra off white

Summary

Appearance                      Neat
Thermal efficiency   High             
Mechanical strength High
Claim to fame   Material of the future
Maintenance None
Service     Expensive
Cost   Expensive
Options  Limited
Cottage industry factor  None
Bragging rights  High   
Recycling   Yes
Resources                         Renewable
Shapes                             Yes, though no round
Longevity                          High

Aluminum

Aluminum cross section

Aluminum window cross section - note the thermal break.

Aluminum needs little introduction. It is the most abundant mineral in the earth's crust. There is evidence of its use from as early as 300 B.C., but it was not until 1888 that an economically feasible process was developed for modern, commercial production. Today, it is used practically everywhere - from industrial to household products, in aviation, marine and military uses. It is the latter that brought aluminum to the building industry. After WW2 the manufacturing industry looked for new avenues for their materials, and found a perfect match with the building boom of the time.

For a brief period (from the mid 50's to the early 80's), aluminum fenestration reigned supreme. Looks were questionable at best, having a 'military issue' appearance, but as the numbers grew and prices dropped it become the standard of that era. 

Having an excellent strength-to-weight ratio, corrosion resistance and being easily formed into complex shapes and profiles, it is an easy material to work with. It does not rot or deform, so it’s life is virtually unlimited and needs no maintenance save for periodical cleaning.

Costs - aluminum windows are the cheapest in the fenestration family. Nevertheless, a good aluminum window could be more expensive than a poor vinyl one. However, these days it is hardly used for low-rise residential buildings. It is still the standard fare in high-rises and commercial or architectural applications. Our take on that is the high-rise building code was based on aluminum products during the transition from steel, and will require a real push to establish a similar code for vinyl. Once that happens, we firmly believe that the use of aluminum will further decline.

Thermally, aluminum is an excellent conductor, which is not a good thing in this industry. It requires a thermal break which in essence is a vinyl profile inserted in between two aluminum sections, which may affect it's overall strength.

While it is offered in pre-painted finishes, it does not take brush painting well, so you may better stick to the original colour. 

Typical cross section is a box-like single wall, approximately 1/16” thick. In residential windows there are two parts connected with a middle vinyl section acting as a thermal break.

Characteristics: 

  • High expansion rate.

  • High thermal conductivity - requires thermal break.

  • Dimensional stability.

  • High strength-to-weight ratio.

  • Low environmental impact .

  • Future recyclable capability.

  • Resistant to corrosion from chemicals.

  • UV stable.

  • Can be painted / coated with dark colours which is not recommended for vinyl.

  • Unlike wood framed windows, aluminum does not rot or warp.

  • Does not require the stiffeners that are needed for vinyl windows.

  • About 3 times stronger than vinyl.

  • Practically maintenance free.

Summary:

Appearance                      Poor
Thermal efficiency   Poor             
Mechanical strength High
Claim to fame   Found everywhere
Maintenance None
Service     Cheap
Cost   Cheap
Options  Many
Cottage industry factor  High
Bragging rights  None
Recycling   Yes
Resources                         Abundant
Shapes                             Yes
Longevity                          High

Vinyl

Vinyl cross section

Vinyl window cross section - note the stiffeners.

"Plastic windows ?”

Vinyl has been the world’s most versatile plastic since its invention in the early 1920s.  From its first use as golf balls and shoe heels, vinyl is found today in almost all industrial applications. Known as polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, it offers excellent resistance to chemicals and corrosion, and as uPVC, it withstands the damaging effect of the UV energy of the sun.

Being easy to shape into complex profiles, offering superior thermal characteristics and having good strength to weight ratio, vinyl has become the de-facto material for the fenestration industry. It can be easily machined and welded, can be extruded in colours or painted, and all that in a price favorably competing with traditional materials such as steel, aluminum and wood.

A vinyl product is practically indestructible and will outlast any other material used in the industry. It needs no maintenance and can be easily cleaned to look like new. We fully agree that the prettiness is last on the vinyl attribute list, but it's high functionality makes up for that.

Vinyl has evolved from being an almost unthinkable window material into holding approximately 80% of today's market. We believe that no other material comes close to this. Not far back - in the early 90’s it was nearly impossible to convince a homeowner to use ‘plastic windows’. It is the iPad of the fenestration industry - came form nowhere and took the market in a storm.

The material is an oil by-product, so it’s price may be affected by oil price fluctuation. However, compared to other fenestration materials that are energy intensive, vinyl has low embodied energy, so its manufacturing process consumes little energy.  It can be recycled, though if dumped in a landfill it will take much longer to disintegrate than wood.

Vinyl is an excellent insulator, both for hot and cold. It is stable, and is easy to produce and machine. As such, vinyl components are found in almost any window or door, even in wood or fiberglass. We believe that (good) vinyl windows offer the best insulation values, having most weather stripping lines combined with air cavities - honeycomb like frame. 

To dress down vinyl, manufacturers of other materials point to it’s weakest characteristics - softness, comparative mechanical weakness and high expansion / contraction rates. All are correct, but immaterial - at least in a high-end vinyl window:

  • Softness - vinyl can take more abuse than any other material. Scratches can be easily removed using a razor blade and some smoothing. This is not the case with other materials, where a dent or a scratch are there to stay.

  • Mechanical weakness - as all vinyl windows are made with air cavities. The walls in between the cavities reinforced the section same as a honeycomb structure. Further, any decent window manufacturer reinforces the sections with a steel section driven through the cavity. It is transparent to the homeowner, but uses the strength of steel with the look and warmth of vinyl.
    In retrofit application the vinyl softness is a blessing - houses shift, so the vinyl absorbs  most of to protect the glass, which is the rigid part.

  • Expansion rate - it may make a difference if a single window span will extend to say ten feet. In reality, such is rare in residential applications; the expansion in real life has no effect on the final product performance. Further, windows are glazed using setting blocks - neoprene spacers, which absorb any such stress. The same setting blocks are used in any window, so this is not a process peculiar to vinyl only.  

The only setback of vinyl windows is their appearance – bulky by nature. To overcome that, newer windows are now made from toned down profiles, allowing a softer looks. 

Vinyl can be extruded in any colour. However, in most applications the outside is either co-extruded or painted in different colour.  

Typical cross section is boxy, where the CSA specifies an outside wall of .060” and internal wall .040”. The standard is voluntary and is followed only by high end manufacturers, where at low end you may find lower or inconsistent values.  

The Vinyl Curse

The low costs, popularity, and ease of production are vinyl’s biggest curse. The industry evolves at a fast rate, so machinery become obsolete fast. Buying a basic, non automated production line (welder, router and miter saw is all that is) costs less than a used car, and a cheap one at that. Add to that the rate of micro manufacturers going under, where their machinery is resold for peanuts, so every man and his uncle can hang up a shingle and become manufacturers, sort of.  That's what we call cottage industry.

Further, one can buy vinyl profiles from public molds, meaning worn obsolete molds used to their capacity, where precision and product finishes are a far cry from same used by real manufacturers. Using such profiles via similarly obsolete, none calibrated machines, combined with no-name hardware and no-name glass, result in seriously crippled windows. However - product is cheap.  Considering that no-name hardware would last for few years only and replacement parts cannot be found – the product becomes useless.

As with any other product, only more so, you get what you pay for. There is little brand recognition in this industry, so it is easy to be misled by “buy direct from manufacturer” hype. It is wise to adhere to the bigger names, where the product may by more expensive, but superior in every other way. It is always wise to scrutinize the seller and the product, or else one may get stuck with a poorly functioning product – sometimes worse than the one just replaced. This issue is peculiar to the vinyl window industry as other products – wood and fiberglass have no cottage industry factor.

Vinyl Myths

Being the most popular material, it is sold by most window companies. We are amazed by the creativity of the sales pitches we hear:

  •  Virgin vinyl - no extruder uses recycled vinyl in windows. Recycled vinyl is used to make shopping bags and fleece pants, not windows.

  • Powder vs. granules - the raw material is offered in both forms. There is no advantage of one formulation against the other.

  •  Lead in material – at least in North America, lead is not used in vinyl windows. It used to be found in low-end vinyl products, as colour stabilizer, but was long replaces by Titanium Dioxide (TiO2).

  • Vapour - there is some vapour emitted by vinyl. However, it is hardly measured by PPM, and as vinyl is practically everywhere there is no advantage of one formulation over the other. Vinyl is found everywhere and commercially available PVC is stable. We have only once encountered a person where this was a perceived issue.

  • Vinyl extruders and brands - the larger window manufacturers, a half a dozen or so, extrude their own profiles. Other large scale manufacturers buy from dedicated high end extruders - Royal and Vision come to mind, where the molds used are designed and owned by window manufacturers.
    Add to that other 'exotic' overseas extruders who try to differentiate their brands, such as Rehau of Germany. Thy do use their own formulation and molds, but it is not to say that they are better or worse than the others. Touted as German, the brand indeed is , but it is extruded here. 
    At the bottom you may find smaller and less controlled extruders, and off-shore extrusion which are used wholesale by the micro manufacturers. 
    The cottage industry buys from less controlled extruders, and use uncontrolled dies.

What makes our vinyl (and windows) different:

  •  Our main product line is sourced from Gentek and Oran – the most innovative, quality sensitive and largest manufactures in Canada, selling from coast to coast. The manufacturing process is tightly controlled – raw material formulation and extrusion, making own glass and top-end industry standard hardware. The windows offered always include the latest in fenestration technology, relying on extensive in-house R&D. Strict QC eliminates later day surprises. The warranty offered is for real, the best in the market place, where we have access to service parts for products made decades ago.

  • Both manufacturers carry several product lines - low and high end. We carry the top line in both cases - the Regency and the Glengarry, to our opinion the best in the vinyl menagerie,

  • Specifically – standard fare on all windows now offered:

    •  Profiles are micro finished – smoother and less prone to dust and pollution build up.

    • Extrusion walls are thicker and heavier than specified by the CSA, and offer more inside cavities than the ordinary window.

    • Positive drainage system through all profiles ensures that any trapped  humidity is drawn out.

    •  Frames are put together using NC machinery and multipoint welders, so all frames and joints are true.

    • Cutting edge low e / argon glazing, SuperSpacer (warm edge non metallic spacer)  are standard.

    •  Thermal glass units are double sealed, and are wet glazed (glued to frame, as with commercial grade glass)

    •  Non-destructible Maxim Elite hardware.

    •  All sections longer than 3’ are steel reinforced, and all meeting rails on double hung / double sliders are steel reinforced.

Summary:

Appearance                      Bulky
Thermal efficiency   High             
Mechanical strength Low, needs reinforcement
Claim to fame   Cheapest
Maintenance None
Service     Cheap
Cost   Cheap
Options  Many
Cottage industry factor  High
Bragging rights  None
Recycling   Yes
Resources                         Limited
Shapes                             Yes
Longevity                          High

Wood

Wood alum window

Wood window clad with aluminum.

The most desired product, with the ultimate look, from humble to exotic species, and allowing for indefinite design variations, patterns, and options.

A good wood window is an excellent product in both appearance and features, will last and perform for a very long time, but it comes at a price. It could be easily three or more times the price of a comparable vinyl window, and it needs constant maintenance.

A cheap wood window is a disaster in waiting, as many frustrated home owners have noticed that when the cheap builder’s window enter their second decade and crumble. To be fair - home owners much contribute to wood windows early failure, as such windows need much upkeep and maintenance, which is hardly ever done.

Wood windows are not for everybody, and are considered luxury top-end products. Even the best wood window still requires ongoing maintenance and constant painting, so the cost of the window does not end at the purchase price. Similar to buying a luxury car - the service and parts carry luxurious price tag as well, so costs do not end with purchase.

Having the natural look and aura, the best all-wood window will not perform as well as a lowly vinyl or fiberglass window. Wood in not strong enough to carry modern double glazed thermal units. To keep the desired delicate fine looks - rather than the bulky looks of vinyl - it uses lighter and narrower sealed units, less sophisticated hardware and fewer weather stripping. All that, and the need to constantly maintain the outside of the window, has ushered a new breed of hybrid windows. Today, all high-end manufacturers offer either vinyl or aluminum layer (capping) on the outside. This eliminates the need for maintenance and also reinforces the window.

Service could be an issue with wood windows, where glazing stops may damage when replacing a sealed unit, so a full sash replacement is needed, at a price to match. Hardware replacement may be equally difficult, as screws need to be reinstalled at the same place, with little room to go deeper or sideways. What it really means is that unlike other materials, with wood windows you will need to get back to the manufacturer for service. In the past decades some of the wood window makers seized to exist, so replacement glass (full sash) and proprietary service part are no where to be found.  

Wood windows can be stained or painted, much depends on the species used. Unlike other materials, all wood windows will be finished on site.

Being a wood window does not necessarily mean it is high end. There are miserable looking wood windows, even at the high price level. Look for joints that do not meet, nail heads show, tracks and accessories visible, to name just a few.

Summary:

Appearance                      Excellent
Thermal efficiency   Fair    
Mechanical strength Low
Claim to fame   High end
Maintenance High
Service     Expensive
Cost   Expensive
Options  Many
Cottage industry factor  None
Bragging rights  High   
Recycling   Yes
Resources                         Renewable
Shapes                             Yes
Longevity                          Fair

Hybrid windows

Fenestration became a high-tech industry, at least with the constant innovations and new products and features that were considered futuristic just a short while ago.

Where traditional windows were made of a single material throughout, we have now hyphenated materials - wood with fiberglass, vinyl or aluminum, vinyl with aluminum ad so on. All that is good, till you try and define which is the main product and which the add-on:
is a wood and vinyl window a vinyl capped wood or wood veneered vinyl?

Both are correct. There are wood windows with a vinyl (or aluminum or fiberglass) outside, and vise versa. This brings up a new question:

  • Should one buy a window made by a vinyl window maker, where the window has a beautiful wood layer inside, to be selected from a long list of species,
  • or, should you buy from a wood window manufacturer, where the outside is capped with vinyl?

There is no correct answer. It depends on the buyer, where the bragging rights acquired with a high end wood window brand are no doubt higher than same from a lesser known vinyl brand, whether as good a window and same inside wood finish.

What it really means that materials will meet somewhere in the middle. A high end vinyl window, equipped with all latest technologies and capped inside with wood, would be a better buy than it's wealthy cousin - wood window with vinyl capping.

It is a no brainer both ways. Some buyers would not be caught dead with vinyl windows, hyphenated or not; while others will weigh the looks and characteristics and will decide accordingly.   

Steel

An honorable mention. We would have never been here if it was not for the world famous Rusco Steel Windows. See more in the about us section.

In the early 20th century, steel became a widely accepted and popular material for window framing. It was strong, integrated well with other building systems, and was readily available. These properties were also critical to the development of glass curtain walls for high-rise buildings.

Yet, as often happens in architecture, time exposes weakness. Steel was heavy, and in early applications, prone to rust. By mid century it fell out of grace for fenestration and was replaced by aluminum – a lightweight and versatile material that could be readily formed into a multitude of profiles.

Today, because of significant advances in manufacturing processes, steel frames have come a full circle for architectural and commercial windows. European architects have used steel framing for decades to allow larger spans of uninterrupted glass and minimal frame dimensions – an unreinforced steel frame can be only 1", smaller than any other commercially available material today. Steel is nearly three times stiffer than aluminum and allows for much more design liberty. Its load capacity is greater than that of typical aluminum assemblies.

Rusco had offered steel residential windows from mid 40’s to early 90’s. Steel windows have served hundreds of thousands home owners in North America. It held fort till fashion changed and the much cheaper vinyl was introduced. No current product can reproduce the ultra slim line and delicate features of the steel windows of the past.

Comparison

 

  Fiberglass     Aluminum      Wood  Vinyl
Corrosion resistance Superior Fair Poor High
Durability       Superior High Low Fair
Weight Light Light Heavy Moderate
Warping        None None High Moderate
Electric Conductivity None High When wet None
Thermal Insulation High Poor Fair High
Strength        High High Fair Low
Finishing        Stable Stable Required Stable
Impact Resistance High High Low Low
Cost    High Low High Low
Life Expectancy High High Low High
Fire Resistance Fair High Low Low
Dimensional Accuracies High High Low Fair
Energy Required to Produce Low High Low High
Resources Abundant       Abundant       Renewable     Limited
Service Cost Fair Low High Low

 

Future materials

New materials are being developed fopr the military, automotive and aviation industries. As with other industries, no doubt the fenestration industry will benefit from such advances. Add to that recycling awareness, green building codes and dwindling resources of currently used materials, so we may see a similar revolution as was with the vinyl just three decades ago and now the fiberglass at it's heels.

We now see glass characteristics that were considered unattainable just a few years ago. We use sealants that did not exist in the 80's. Frame materials are sure on the way.   

New composite materials are already being used in the industry, made of recycled and organic by-products. We already offer same in some of our lines. It is yet to see it will catch or not, but watch this space for more developments.  Read more about the fenestration of tomorrow.

BTU / hour loss

Material BTU/Hour loss      
Aluminum 1416      
Steel  312      
Vinyl         3.6      
Wood   04 - 1.2      
Fiberglass 2.1      
Glass 9      

 

Residential windows demand, in millions of units

  1995 2000 2005 2010 2015
Total 44.7 56.6 75.3 75.3 86.1
Vinyl 16.6 26.9 42.0 48.6 60.9
Wood 17.8 19.7 20.2 17.4 16.4
Aluminum 9.8 9.4 9.0 8.6 8.1
Other 0.5 0.6 0.7 0.7 0.7

Figures are for the US. Canadian values are slightly biased towards the vinyl, and represent an additional 10% of above.

Source: National Window and Doors Manufacturer Association, March 2009

 

 

 

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