Welcome to our complete window buying guide! This guide provides an overview of everything you need to know in order to make a well-informed window buying decision. From window materials to tips for selecting a contractor, we cover it all so that you can find exactly what you need for your home.
What are the Main Window Types?
Here is an overview of window types, also called styles and designs. The descriptions discuss operation, cost and performance of each type – all considerations in addition to their looks.
A single hung window (single-hung window) is a window that has a fixed top sash and an operable bottom sash. The window “sash” includes one pane of glass and the frame that holds the glass in place. An operable bottom sash means that the bottom of the window opens and closes, while the top remains fixed in place. Single hung windows are the least expensive type of operable window, which makes them a popular choice for tighter budgets. They’re not available in some high-end wood window lines.
Double hung windows, or double-hung windows, can be opened and closed from both the top and bottom sashes. They offer superior ventilation to that of single hung windows, because both sashes can be opened at the same time to create natural air circulation. Double hung windows are more expensive than single hung windows, but they are still affordable for most budgets, and one of the most common window types for residential homes.
A casement window operates by swinging out (most) or in (a few lines) instead of sliding up or down. Most casement windows have a “crank” handle that you turn to open, so there is less effort involved in operating the window. Push-out casement windows do not have a crank, but are not common. Casement windows also offer excellent ventilation, because the entire window opens rather than just a section of it. Another benefit of casement windows is that they can be quite large. If you’re looking for a statement window, casement windows are an elegant choice.
Awning windows have top hinges that allow the window to swing open from the bottom. They generally swing outwards from the house, rather than inward. The name “awning” comes from the fact that when this type of window is open, it creates a small awning over the window space.
Awning windows are usually small, simple windows, and their primary function is ventilation. They are sometimes used in conjunction with other window types, such as below a picture window. While not common, a type of window that looks and opens like an “upside down” awning window is called a hopper window.
Sliding windows, also known as gliding windows, operate by sliding open to the right or left. Sliding windows are manufactured with two opening sashes or, more commonly, with one fixed and one operable sash. This type of window is a popular choice for homeowners looking for extra ventilation, because sliding windows often have a larger opening than most other window types. They are also a good choice if you want to display a scenic view, because of their large, less obstructed window panes.
Sliding/gliding windows fit right into the average price range for operable windows, and are usually comparable in price to double-hung windows.
Fixed Frame Windows / Picture Windows
Fixed frame windows are also commonly called picture windows. As the name says, fixed frame windows do not open. They are used for natural light or to showcase a scenic view rather than ventilation. Fixed windows come in various shapes like 6-sided, half-round and round.
Because of their simple structure with no moving parts, these are some of the least expensive windows when compared with other window types of the same size.
Bow windows – not to be confused with Bay windows – are window units that are installed in a curved, half-circle formation. Bow windows project out from the wall of the house, creating an open feeling with lots of natural light. They are made up of four or more fixed or casement windows.
Because of the architectural size and installation work that bow windows require, they are one of the more expensive window types. One way to keep the cost down on a bow window is to install all fixed windows instead of operable casement windows, as fixed windows are significantly cheaper.
Bay windows are similar to bow windows in a lot of ways. They project out from a wall of the house and bring in natural light as they open up the space inside a room. Typically, a bay window has three parts: one large picture window in the center, and two smaller casement or single/double hung windows on the sides. This also creates a “bowed out” appearance, but not as rounded as a bow window.
Bay windows are also an expensive window type, and generally require professional installation.
Hurricane Impact Windows
Hurricane impact windows are windows that are specifically designed for climates with frequent severe storms and high winds. In some coastal areas, hurricane impact windows are even mandated.
Hurricane impact windows are available in many window types, including single and double hung, casement, and fixed frame. They have impact-resistant glass, strong frame materials, and durable hardware that can withstand severe weather and protect your home in a storm.
Because of the extra protection that hurricane windows offer, they are generally more pricey than other window types.
Garden windows are one of the most unique window types. They not only bring lots of natural light into the house, but they can also serve as extra shelf space. Garden windows protrude out from the house and are usually made of four glass panels attached to a frame. They are often installed above a kitchen sink, and a popular use of the shelf space is to grow herbs for use in the kitchen.
Garden windows tend to be more expensive than the average window, because they are bulkier and require more involved installation. You can expect to spend a few thousand dollars on a new garden window with installation costs.
Basement egress windows are below-ground or partially below-ground windows in a basement. They are required in basements that are used as living spaces, or that have at least one bedroom, and are a secondary escape route in case of an emergency. Because of this function, there are specific size requirements for basement egress windows to ensure that the window is large enough for a person to fit through.
There are lots of different window types that can be used as basement egress windows, with some of the most popular being sliding/gliding windows, and casement windows.
Basement egress windows usually require a window well, because they are below ground level. The total cost of a basement egress window tends to be higher because it includes the cost of digging out and building or installing a pre-fab window well. If you are just replacing a basement egress window that already has a well, then your cost will just include the cost of the new window unit plus installation.
What Window Materials Are Available?
Below is a quick overview of each window material and its features. For a more in-depth list of window materials and the pros and cons of each material, check out our guide Comparing Home Window Materials.
Wood is the most beautiful and classic window material. It is most commonly stained, but primed and painted wood frames are also available. High-end wood windows are offered in a range of species including oak, mahogany, hickory, cherry, Douglas fir and other options in addition to pine. Wood is also the most expensive window material and requires significant upkeep to preserve its beauty. Almost all wood windows are clad, or covered, on the outside with aluminum or vinyl to protect against the elements.
Vinyl is the most common window material right now because it is both functional and budget friendly. Vinyl can be pigmented nearly any color, though white and neutral tones like beige and almond are most common. Vinyl windows are energy efficient and affordable for most budgets.
Fiberglass is becoming one of the most popular window materials on the market because of its durability, attractive appearance of painted wood, and decent energy efficiency. It is a reasonably priced material, and you get a high-quality product for your money.
Aluminum is a budget-friendly material that won’t scratch or warp easily. However, some homeowners prefer to stay away from aluminum because it is an excellent conductor of heat, and therefore not the most energy efficient window material.
Steel isn’t the most common window material, but in terms of strength it can’t be beat. Steel is an incredibly durable material that can last for decades without much maintenance. Because it is so strong, steel is a popular material for minimalist styles with narrow frames.
The drawback of steel windows is that they are fairly expensive and not very energy efficient. Like aluminum, steel is a conductor of heat and cold, so steel windows are not an eco-friendly option. The major window brands make very few steel windows.
Who Are the Best Top Window Brands
Interested in looking at some specific brands? Below is a list of the main window manufacturers and their most popular window lines.
Champion is a manufacturer that produces windows in the mid-range and budget price range. All Champion windows come with a Lifetime warranty, which includes the cost for parts and labor in case of repair or replacement.
Champion only manufacturers one window line, which makes shopping for Champion windows easy! The Champion Comfort 365 window line offers vinyl windows with Energy Star rated glass, and a lifetime warranty.
Ply Gem might be the largest manufacturer of vinyl windows in North America. The brand manufacturers windows in low, mid, and high price ranges. Their most popular windows fall in the mid-range. Ply Gem has a huge selection of window types with material options that include vinyl, aluminum, clad wood, and wood composite. One of Ply Gem’s unique features is that they produce windows specifically designed for the East and West regions of the United States.
Ply Gem has both replacement windows and new construction windows. Some of their most popular windows are found in the three lines of replacement windows they sell: the Contractor, the Pro, and the Premium series. The Contractor series is a value option with excellent durability. The Pro series has everything in the Contractor series, but with upgrade options for glass and other features. The Premium series, Ply Gem’s high-end line, delivers even more upgrades and glass options.
Ply Gem also owns Simonton, which is another big name in windows. Simonton specializes in vinyl windows.
Alside’s windows are in the budget to mid-price range, with a few higher-end options. They are known for their attractive lifetime warranty and financing options. Alside has both new construction windows and replacement windows, in a wide variety of window types. Alside manufacturers single hung, double hung, sliding, fixed frame, bay, bow, awning, casement, and even garden windows.
Anderson is one of the biggest names in windows, and they produce windows in the low to high price range. Anderson wood windows in several series give you excellent price and style options. The company is also known for its composite material Fibrex. Fibrex is a blend of wood fiber and thermoplastic polymer and is said to block thermal transfer 700 times better than aluminum.
Anderson has three product lines that feature Fibrex material: The A-Series, the 100 Series, and the Renewal by Anderson series.
Jeld-Wen manufacturers windows in the low to high price range, with their most popular windows falling in the mid-range. One of Jeld-Wen’s standout features is that they produce all of their windows in both replacement and new construction options.
One of the most popular Jeld-Wen window lines is their Premium Vinyl V-4500 series.
Another leading name in windows is Marvin. Marvin offers windows in the low to high price range, with the average window cost in the mid-range. Marvin focuses on quality, so has a smaller range of products that tend to cost a little more than average. Marvin offers three main windows series: Marvin Signature, Marvin Elevate, and Marvin Essential. The Marvin Signature series also has three sub-lines, including a coastal option with impact-resistant glass.
Milgard windows are in the low to high price range, with most falling in the low to mid-range. They offer three series of vinyl windows, one aluminum series, and one fiberglass series. Milgard no longer manufacturers wood windows. One popular feature of Milgard windows is that they offer vinyl in budget-friendly options as well as premium lines, so that they can accommodate a wide variety of homeowners.
Pella is one of the leading manufacturers in the window industry. The brand’s many window lines appeal to a wide variety of homeowners because they offer windows in the low to high price range. Pella specializes in energy efficiency and classic beauty.
The Pella 350 series is Pella’s most energy efficient window line, featuring three panes of glass and high-quality vinyl. Consider Pella for wood, fiberglass and vinyl windows with a large selection of styles and accessories.
MI Windows / CertainTeed Windows
The CertainTeed name is now completely out of the picture, and MI Windows makes what used to be called CertainTeed windows. MI Windows is a respected brand. It sells only vinyl windows, but aims to deliver a truly high-quality vinyl product. MI Windows are priced in the middle to high end of the spectrum.
Harvey is a regional manufacturer that builds high-quality wood and vinyl windows in the mid to high price range. They offer both replacement and new construction windows. Harvey’s most popular vinyl windows are the Harvey Tribute series, which is manufactured with triple-pane Energy Star rated glass called Thermalock glass.
Window World is well known to be a top competitor with leading brands like Anderson and Pella. They offer windows in the low to high price range. Window World produces exclusively replacement vinyl windows, with a lifetime warranty. Another unique feature of Window World is that they sell their windows in a package that includes installation. They do not sell their windows for DIY installation.
Where Is Your Budget?
Knowing your budget before you begin a project is one of the most important steps to take. Having a set budget will help you to find what you’re looking for quickly, without any unpleasant surprises down the road. Below is a quick overview of prices ranging from low to high, and the products available in each price range.
Low Budget: $100 – $700 per window
A low window budget can buy vinyl and cheap fiberglass windows, in simple styles like single/double hung and fixed frame.
Mid-Range Budget: $500 – $1,200
A mid-range window budget can buy good quality vinyl and fiberglass windows, as well as some composite and lower-end wood windows. Mid-range budgets cover most window types except for large bay or bow windows, oversized casement windows, and sliding windows with multiple sashes.
High Budget: $800 – $2,000 per window
A high window budget can buy excellent-quality wood windows and premium window series like the Anderson E-Series and Pella Reserve. Windows in the $2,000-plus range cover large windows like bay and bow windows, or multi-slide sliding windows.
One of the decisions you’ll need to make when you shop for a new window is what type of glass you want. This will be determined by your budget, climate, and household needs.
Types of Glass
Glass is an important consideration as you put together a package of windows suitable to your climate, budget and home.
Low E Glass – Low E glass, or low-E glass, has become the standard for most windows, as energy efficiency is prioritized by more and more homeowners. Low E stands for “low emissivity,” which is the ability to radiate energy. Low E glass radiates a low amount of energy, making it energy efficient. If you are particularly climate conscious, look for Energy Star rated glass. The Energy Star rating ensures that the glass really is energy efficient.
Tempered Glass – Tempered glass is glass that has been manufactured for extra strength. Similar to it, shatterproof glass is glass that is laminated for safety. Impact-resistant glass used in hurricane windows is laminated so that if it does break, the window still holds together rather than shattering into pieces and creating an opening. Tempered glass is also popular for noise reduction.
Other Glass Types – other glass options include tinted glass, obscured privacy glass and decorative glass.
The accessory options available for most windows include special lock systems for security, blind options like in-between blinds for high-end windows, and grille options. Each window manufacturer offers different accessories, so be sure to check what is available for the brand you’re interested in.
Choosing a Contractor
Choosing a contractor is an important part of the window buying process. When investing in a quality window for your home, you want the installation to be done right. Here are three tips for choosing a contractor:
- Research – Look online for certified contractors with good ratings and reviews.
- Get Multiple Estimates – Don’t rely on just one person to estimate the cost of your project. Get multiple estimates so that you know how much the project should cost and can choose a contractor who offers you a fair deal.
- Ask for Specifics – When communicating with a contractor, ask specific questions about how long the project will take so that you know what to expect, and can hold the contractor accountable to his word.