Wood windows have a natural appeal that other materials mimic but can’t match. But wood is a high-maintenance beauty.
What are the pros and cons of wood windows? This post covers those obvious points and other wood window frame pros and cons with more depth than you’ll find elsewhere.
Wood Window Advantages
You have several frame construction options with wood window frames.
Plain wood exteriors are gorgeous but susceptible to moisture and rot.
Clad wood windows have solid wood frames. The exterior side is covered (clad) with vinyl or aluminum. Cladding offers better protection against the elements and lower maintenance demands.
Pella Lifestyle wood windows are clad in your choice of more than 10 colors. Andersen 200 Series wood windows offer just 2 exterior cladding colors. Marvin Ultimate wood windows are clad in your choice of almost 20 colors. Most wood window brand makes at least one line of clad windows.
Wood interiors and synthetic exteriors offer the best protection against moisture. The Andersen A-Series windows are wood on the inside with fiberglass composite exteriors, just one example of a hybrid wood window.
Natural Good Looks
This is easily the top reason for choosing wood window frames over other materials.
Stained wood has classic beauty. Vinyl, fiberglass and aluminum don’t measure up in aesthetics.
Even primed and painted wood windows, while not as naturally beautiful, allow you to change their color when you redecorate. Vinyl and fiberglass are not as easily painted.
Pine is the most commonly used and affordable wood for windows. It is used in Andersen 200, Pella Lifestyle and many other entry-level and midgrade wood windows.
If you spend more, then your options really open up.
For example, Andersen E-Series wood windows are produced in your choice of 10 wood types including pine, maple, oak, cherry, walnut, mahogany and Douglas fir.
Marvin Ultimate wood window frames are made in six wood types: Pine, Douglas fir, vertical grain Douglas fir, mahogany, cherry and white oak.
Wood Stain Colors
Wood interiors come factory-finished in a wide range of popular stain hues.
Some, like Andersen E-Series offer custom stain colors. Send them a sample of what you want, and like the paint store does, they’ll match the color. There’s a slight risk here that they won’t get a “perfect” match, and you’ll be unhappy with the results.
Your other option is to order windows with bare wood, and you can stain them any color you like. Keep in mind, though that if you hire a painter for the staining, your total cost will be higher than if you order them stained. It only makes sense to order bare windows when you want a particular stain color that the manufacturer doesn’t offer or can’t match.
Styles for Any Architecture
While wood has a reputation for being the most traditional-looking material, that’s only half the story.
There are several wood window lines designed for modern and contemporary homes.
Andersen E-Series windows are available in contemporary styles as well as traditional styles.
In fact, if you’re looking for inspiration for modern homes, see Andersen’s page that links to Andersen windows that fit three styles: Industrial Modern, International Modern and Miesian Modern. The last is based on the design of architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.
Pella Architect Series 850 Contemporary and Jeld Wen Siteline windows are two other options for modern and contemporary style.
Any Type Window in Lots of Styles
Wood frames also come in many interior and exterior profiles from slim and understated to robust, thicker designs. As you browse the major manufacturers’ windows, you’ll find several wood window with the look you want.
Better Insulation than Aluminum
Wood, fiberglass and vinyl have insulation values pretty close to one another.
Aluminum is a poor insulator. It’s a minor point, but worth noting if you’re considering windows in a cold climate. Avoid aluminum – if you can even find them.
Great Resale Value, If…
When savvy house shoppers hear that a house they’re about to see has wood windows, they think “that could be great…or it could be a disaster.”
The ultimate verdict will be based on how well the windows have been maintained.
Gorgeous wood windows that are well maintained for looks and functionality are a definite selling point. Wood window frames in bad condition send homebuyers running.
Wood Window Disadvantages
A solid list of wood window frame pros is balanced by two significant cons to consider – Cost and maintenance.
Wood Windows Cost More
Sure, some vinyl and fiberglass windows cost more than some wood windows.
However, at every quality level – basic, better and best windows – wood is the most expensive option.
As we show on the Vinyl Window Cost page, they start at less than $75. The average cost for premium vinyl windows, other than bay/bow windows, is about $1,000 for popular sizes.
Our Wood Window Cost page shows a starting point closer to $200 per window. The top range exceeds $2,000 for the most common window sizes.
Fiberglass window cost falls in the middle. There are no cheap fiberglass windows, so the cost range for most installed fiberglass windows is more like $400-$1,200.
Unclad Wood Window Frames Require More Maintenance
Vinyl and aluminum windows are maintenance-free options. Fiberglass are low/no maintenance too.
Wood exteriors must be kept well sealed with stain/sealer or quality house paint.
This presents two disadvantages – one real and one potential.
Cost: First, you have the cost of maintenance. This is real for all non-clad wood exteriors. Expect to paint their exterior frames every 3-7 years depending on many climate factors including direct sunlight, amount of rain and what your winters are like. Along the coasts, exterior paining is required more often.
The cost of exterior window painting for labor and supplies ranges from $20 per window if a handyman does it to more than $40 per window for a house painter.
Consequences: The potential danger is damaged wood that requires repair or replacement. This is the reason some wood windows have shorter warranty periods than other materials.
When moisture is able to penetrate the wood, decay and the damage it causes can develop in just a year or two.
When it is caught early, the rot or mold stain can be sanded away or removed and replaced with wood filler as needed.
If rot continues, the frame might need to be replaced. This usually occurs after a decade or more of neglect.
Oh, and insects and wood peckers might also be attracted to wood exterior frames, especially once rot starts. Those pests can produce major damage pretty quickly.
Note on clad windows: They’re NOT maintenance-free. You should inspect cladding annually to ensure that the joints/seams of the cladding are in good condition. In the infrequent chance they come apart, moisture can penetrate into the wood. If you discover gaps, call your window installer for repairs or fill the gap with quality exterior caulk.
The Bottom Line on Wood Windows
If you are committed to the beauty of wood, there’s no disqualifying reason to avoid wood window frames. Many historic homes and buildings in the US have wood windows that are 100+ years old.
When you’re on a tighter budget and are willing to reduce maintenance cost with DIY staining or painting, then bare wood exteriors are the best option.
If there’s more room in the budget, then a wood interior with a clad exterior or an exterior made of vinyl or fiberglass is the option with much better durability.
You’ll get a better warranty with clad wood or window exteriors of a different material. That’s an added bonus for the extra cost.