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Are Vinyl Windows Considered “Green”?

Apr 20 2021

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Vinyl windows that are slightly open and overlooking a forest

Nowadays, eco-friendly options are becoming more common and readily available to homeowners — from eco-friendly materials to eco-friendly appliances to eco-friendly windows. This brings us to the discussion of vinyl windows. 

Vinyl windows are windows with a frame made out of a plastic material called PVC (polyvinyl chloride) or uPVC (unplasticized polyvinyl chloride. They were first manufactured in 1954 in Germany; and 10 years after, vinyl windows started to gain traction in North America. By the 1990s, sales of vinyl windows grew by 125% in Canada alone. And now, vinyl windows have become the preferred choice for virtually all kinds of structures. 

To answer the main question of this article, yes, vinyl windows have a high potential to be green. After all, vinyl windows are typically designed to be energy-efficient. High-quality vinyl windows are also maintenance-free and durable. Vinyl, as a material, is also 100% recyclable and does not emit toxic compounds. However, not all vinyl windows are the same.

Being green or eco-friendly has a spectrum — certain vinyl windows would definitely be higher on the spectrum while some may lag behind or even be barely counted as an eco-friendly window. So if you’re looking for eco-friendly windows, you’re in the right place! This article explores the following:

Let’s get started!

Photo of the second floor of a house with vinyl double hung windows

What Qualities Distinguish Eco-Friendly Windows?

When we talk about eco-friendly windows, we are looking at totalities. Eco-friendly windows must be able to minimize air loss and heat loss from within the house. So apart from being well-constructed and properly installed so as not to have any leaks, we’re also looking at the materials used for the frame and the kind of glass used. 

1. Eco-Friendly Materials Used for the Frame

Technically, eco-friendly materials include low transfer materials that offer insulating properties. This includes wood, composite, and vinyl. Though these materials are all beneficial from an energy-saving standpoint, they are not equal when it comes to lifespan and the maintenance required. Here is a table for comparison:

Wood Frame Material Maintenance Required Lifespan When Maintenance Requirement is Met
Wood High; susceptible to fading, water damage, rotting Around 60 years
Composite Medium; susceptible to scratches and fading 50 – 60 Years
Vinyl Minimal; resistant to scratching, fading, and warping 20 – 40 Years

2.  Has At Least a Double-Pane Glass Unit

Double-pane or double-glazed windows are those that have two panes of glass, parallel to each other with air, argon, or krypton to fill the in-between space. These windows are thus able to give better insulation than their single-pane counterparts. Multi-pane windows contribute to the U-value and R-value of eco-friendly windows — which are two of the metrics used to quantify energy efficiency.   

In some areas, like the province of Ontario, having double-glazed windows is not just a matter of practicality but is also legally required. On January 1, 2013, the Ontario provincial government made changes to its Green Energy Act; within these changes, they required all residential windows to be double-glazed and have a Low-E (low emissivity) coating.

Reasons Why Vinyl Windows are Considered Eco-Friendly Windows

From the above sections, you now understand that a window frame made of vinyl does not automatically mean the window is eco-friendly. The kind of glass used is just as important – as well as the overall construction & installation of the window so that it prevents leaks. 

However, as a window frame, how does vinyl contribute to the eco-friendliness of the window? Here is what sets vinyl apart:  

1. Most Vinyl Windows are Designed for Energy-Efficiency

Though there are also single-pane glass windows with a vinyl frame in today’s market (which are NOT energy-efficient), it is more common for you to find vinyl windows that bear the Energy Star. It’s no coincidence. After all, vinyl contributes to the insulating capacity of eco-friendly window glass, making them a perfect pair to create an eco-friendly window.  

Moreover, most manufacturers are aware that vinyl is a popular choice for many modern homeowners due to its chic appearance and durability even with minimal maintenance. In line with this, the modern homeowner is more eco-conscious and informed than ever before, encouraging top manufacturers to really step up and combine two high-demand attributes: vinyl and energy-efficient glass. 

2. Vinyl is a Recyclable Material 

PVC and uPVC, which are materials used to create vinyl, are 100% recyclable. This means that once the vinyl window has reached the end of its lifespan or has been subjected to blunt physical damage that cannot be repaired, eco-conscious homeowners can rest assured that these windows will not occupy landfills if disposed of properly.

3. Vinyl Windows are Durable and Can Effortlessly Last the Longest

The keyword here is “effortlessly.” Arguably, windows made of wood and composite can last longer than vinyl windows – however, both materials also require maintenance, (which can be costly and time-consuming), which vinyl windows do not require. 

4. Being Maintenance-Free is Eco-Friendly

The fact that vinyl windows are maintenance-free also adds to their eco-friendliness. You will NOT need paints, stains, sealants, and other potentially toxic chemicals that you would’ve needed for other window frame materials. All vinyl windows really need is light cleaning every now and then and occasional hardware lubrication

Woman doing light cleaning on vinyl windows.

Do All Vinyl Windows Give the Same Benefits?

No. The level of energy efficiency and durability of a vinyl window depends on how the vinyl window was manufactured and installed into your property. In addition, the kind of technologies applied to the window glass itself also makes a vast difference as to how much you can save on your power bills. 

Find High-Quality Eco-Friendly Windows for Your Property

This concludes our article on the correlation between vinyl windows and eco-friendliness. We’ve emphasized that vinyl windows are not all equal when it comes to the benefits they offer. 

Therefore, we recommend the following best practices when looking for eco-friendly windows:

  • Look for the Energy Star
  • Once you have options, compare and contrast the energy rating metrics that they have. 
  • If all else is equal, go for the most trusted manufacturer.

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