Like all plastic materials, vinyl window frames are made by changing hydrocarbon-based raw materials (petroleum, natural gas or coal) into unique synthetic products called polymers. The polymer that makes vinyl windows is unusual, however, because it is based only in part on hydrogen and carbon. Rigid polyvinyl chloride (vinyl) possesses excellent fire performance properties. In particular, it will not support combustion.
After the vinyl resin is produced, the manufacture of vinyl windows and their installation follow three basic steps. First, the window frames are made through a process called extrusion that combines heat and pressure to form the vinyl resin into the desired shapes. Second, the vinyl frames are cut to the desired size and assembled with glass and hardware into a completed window unit. Finally, the window units are installed in the home.
The stability and inert nature of the vinyl polymer keep vinyl windows in service for many years. Because of the long term color and property retention, homeowners avoid the vapor emission, cleanup and disposal problems associated with frequent application of certain paints and stains.
Vinyl is readily recycled. When vinyl components are formed during the extrusion process, product changeovers (for different colors and frame parts) and new product start-ups require different operating conditions that may produce some scrap. This scrap can be reclaimed and recycled back into the manufacturing process or into other plastic products, such as pipe.
During the window assembly process, materials are cut to length and welded or mechanically fastened into window sashes and frames. Manufacturers’ high-tech, computer-controlled equipment optimizes cutting efficiency and minimizes waste. The small amount of scrap generated can be recycled into other plastic products.
In terms of the total amount of energy needed to take a product from raw materials to market, a 1991 study conducted by Franklin Associates showed that vinyl windows required considerably less energy to manufacture than windows made from competitive materials, particularly aluminum. In fact, according to the study, the manufacture and use of vinyl windows (compared to the energy costs required if wood and aluminum were used as alternative framing materials) saves the U.S. nearly 2 trillion Btu’s every year — enough energy to meet the yearly electricity needs of 20,000 single family homes, or the equivalent of 16 million gallons of gasoline.
Because vinyl windows are not good conductors of heat or cold, they provide superior insulation during both winter and summer season. The combination of vinyl’s excellent insulation properties and specially designed insulating air spaces makes vinyl frames a formidable barrier to heat transfer. Tests using a common measure of insulating ability (U-value) have shown that vinyl windows regularly outperform competitive products. Vinyl windows keep the warm air in during the winter and the cool air in during the summer. Energy is conserved and money is saved when the furnace and air conditioners work less to maintain the desired temperature.
In fact, using conservative national averages, upgrading to double glazed, energy efficient all-vinyl windows could save a homeowner more than $30 a month during the coldest part of the winter. Further, in recognition of excellent energy performance, many utility companies across the nation are offering builders cash incentives to install vinyl windows. For example, under its Energy Partnership Program, San Diego Gas & Electric provides an average of $600 to builders who switch from aluminum to vinyl windows in 2,000 square foot homes. Consumers should check with local utility companies for details and requirements.
The facts are in. In terms of energy consumption and maintenance, vinyl windows represent a wise investment. Their superior insulating capability allows homeowners not only to conserve energy, but to save more on heating and cooling costs as well. Vinyl’s long-term endurance and recyclability also support vinyl windows as a sound environmental choice. More and more Americans are selecting vinyl windows for their homes. U.S. sales of vinyl windows currently exceed 16 million units each year, with continued growth expected.
It is clear that vinyl windows are a smart choice from a cost and maintenance perspective. It is also apparent that vinyl windows are the clear choice for not only energy and cost-conscious homeowners, but the environmentally-aware as well.
The environment is something we at Everest are very sensitive to, as you will see from our preferred products such as vinyl windows and LP SmartSide siding.