Window Types 101: A Complete Guide – Part 1

Windows are an investment, and there are a lot of different window types out there with different window materials. From a variety of styles to energy and efficiency ratings, shopping for windows can be a little overwhelming. In this guide, we will talk through everything you need to know about windows, including terms to know, what they mean for your region, and the pros and cons of different window materials and window styles. While the options are abundant, at the end of this guide, you should have a pretty good idea of what type of windows works best for your home. So, let’s get started!

Terms to Know 

One of the first things you’ll notice when you start shopping for windows is that there are a lot of ways to rank windows. While this is extremely helpful in determining which window types and styles are best for your home, you have to first understand what those ratings mean. Spoiler alert: they all have to do with performance.

R-Value – This is the measure of a window’s ability to prevent heat transfer, meaning how well it keeps uncomfortable temperatures outside and maintains comfortable temperatures inside. The higher the R-value, the better the window is at preventing heat transfer.
U-Value – Also known as U-factor, this measurement is the opposite of R-value and measures the window’s tendency to transfer heat. The lower the U-value, the better.
Solar Gain (SHGC) – Solar gain indicates how much a window will heat a room when the sun is shining. Solar gain is a good thing for colder climates, but it can raise air conditioning costs during the summer. The higher the SHGC number, the greater the heat gain.
Wind Resistance – Wind resistance, also called air leakage or air infiltration, is the measure of how much air can get through the window. It is displayed in two numbers: one for 70 degrees Fahrenheit and one for 0 degrees Fahrenheit. The lower the number, the less air leakage occurs.

Choosing Window Types by Region

Now that you understand what these different ratings mean, let’s take a look at the performance factors based on where you live. We all know that a window’s purpose is to protect you from the elements, but what you may not know is that different window types serve different purposes. While some are better at keeping you warm, others excel at keeping you cool. For this reason, it’s important to choose window types based on your climate. The following climate zone map from Energy Star splits the US into four different regions and recommends the ideal U-value and solar gain value based on that region’s climate.

Region U-Value Solar Gain
Northern 0.35 or lower No requirement
North-Central 0.40 or lower 0.55 or lower
South-Central 0.40 or lower 0.40 or lower
Southern 0.40 or lower 0.65 or lower

Window Materials

Now that we’ve gone over what rating to look for when purchasing window types, let’s talk materials! There are a variety of window materials available, each with their own benefits and detriments. The type you choose can vary for a number of reasons, whether it’s cost, durability, aesthetics, or maintenance requirements. We would like to take a moment to note that you get what you pay for when it comes to windows. While there are some inexpensive options available, you’ll find that they come with more problems than they’re worth in the long run. Opting for high-quality, energy-efficient windows almost always pays off. Now that we’ve given you the obligatory quality spiel, let’s move on to material types.


Wood has been used in construction for thousands of years, and while it’s no longer the go-to material for maintenance-free windows, it’s still preferred by many homeowners for its natural beauty and warmth. Wood window types offer the best insulation value, with low heat and cold transfer values. It’s also environmentally sustainable and can be fabricated into a variety of shapes and sizes, making it a versatile choice as replacement windows. On the downside, wood is generally more expensive than other materials and requires regular maintenance as it is susceptible to rotting, mold, and mildew.


  • Offers the best insulation value
  • Strong and durable
  • Can be painted or stained to match any décor
  • Environmentally sustainable
  • Can provide a better return on investment


  • More costly than other materials
  • Requires regular maintenance
  • Susceptible to rotting, mildew, and mold


Vinyl is quickly becoming the material of choice for replacement windows due to its high performance and low cost. Made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC), vinyl windows provide low maintenance, exceptional insulation, strength, and are resistant to rotting and corrosion. Vinyl windows are also available in a wood-grain finish, so they provide a similar aesthetic to wood while retaining their look for years to come with minimal maintenance. Unlike wood windows, vinyl won’t flake or peel either, so you’ll never have to sand, re-stain, or repaint them. You can also get them in several different exterior colors.


  • Affordable
  • Energy efficient
  • Doesn’t require any maintenance
  • Non-corroding and UV-resistant
  • Very durable


  • Quality can be inferior (depending on the manufacturer you choose, ask questions)
  • Cheap vinyl windows may warp over time
  • Not all vinyl windows are the same


Aluminum is a low-maintenance window material option that is similar to vinyl. Aluminum windows have been the custom home builders’ choice for many years, mainly due to the strength and durability of the material. Because aluminum window frames are thinner, they provide a sleek aesthetic that’s ideal for modern and mid-century homes and construction projects.


  • Low maintenance
  • Slim profile
  • Lightweight and customizable
  • Warp resistant


  • High heat transfer rates (U-value)
  • Least energy efficient of all window materials
  • Prone to condensation
  • Susceptible to corrosion


Fiberglass is stronger than vinyl, less prone to contraction and expansions, and less likely to warp. It’s gained popularity in recent years mainly because it has a traditional wood profile but requires little to no maintenance. Frames made from fiberglass look good and can be configured to match just about any home’s exteriors.


  • Wood-like appearance
  • Can be painted to match the exterior of your home
  • Resistant to rotting, warping, and swelling
  • Very strong
  • Energy efficient
  • Superior insulation
  • Comes with UV-resistant acrylic finish


  • Costs slightly more than other materials
  • Limited color choices, so they may need to be painted
  • Standard finish can easily scratch


In an effort to make wood windows more durable, many manufacturers apply a cladding of vinyl, aluminum, or fiberglass to the exterior. This practice greatly increases the durability of the wood, creating a weather-resistant barrier that protects the wood, and also requires less maintenance in the long run. While these are some of the most expensive windows you will find on the market, they come with some pretty significant benefits.


  • Extremely weather resistant
  • Low maintenance
  • Available in a wide range of colors and can be painted
  • Energy-efficient options available


  • May be more susceptible to rotting
  • More expensive than other materials

So, you likely know what window types you’re looking for now, but what about window styles? In the next part of this blog, we will talk about all the different style options available. In the meantime, if you have any questions about windows, or would like more information, feel free to give us a call at (972) 393-3991 or visit our windows page. Until next time!

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