If you’re looking into replacement windows for your home, you’ve likely considered both vinyl and fiberglass options. Each comes with distinct advantages and drawbacks, including differences in pricing, design options, life spans, and the practicality of conducting DIY installations. Read here to learn whether vinyl or fiberglass is the best window for your particular needs.
Fiberglass Windows Overview
Homeowners who would rather pay for professional window installation should consider using fiberglass windows. Their rigid construction makes them more durable and far less DIY-friendly. They cost anywhere from 30% to 50% more than vinyl and present a far more high-quality look that can mimic the texture and feel of wood windows. These windows can also be repainted and refinished to match nearly any home exterior.
Fiberglass Windows Pros and Cons
- Can mimic the appearance of wood better than vinyl
- Far sturdier than vinyl windows
- More suited to extreme climates
- More expensive than vinyl windows
- Rigidity makes DIY installation more difficult
Vinyl Windows Overview
If you’re looking to save money and conduct your home improvements, then more workable window materials like vinyl (also known as PVC) may be more your speed. For the money you’ll pay, these window frames are fairly low-maintenance, stand up to extreme temperatures, and have a long life span. Depending on the window options available for your particular home, vinyl could be a cost-effective option that will yield a high return on investment and last for 20 years or more.
Vinyl Windows Pros and Cons
- Can have more insulation injected to lower heating and cooling costs
- Can last more than 20 years with proper care
- Readily available at hardware stores for DIY installation
- Can warp or crack over time
- Can’t be painted or refinished
Fiberglass vs. Vinyl Windows Cost
Regardless of window type, professional installation costs for any new windows will range between $120 and $320. Industry average rates for general contractor or window installer labor are between $40 and $45 per hour — expect installation costs for your fiberglass window frames to be higher due to increased labor costs.
Vinyl window frames are the best option for homeowners on a tighter budget. Typical vinyl double-hung windows will cost between $250 and $400 per unit, according to current retail averages from Lowe’s, Home Depot, and similar outlets.
A similar Low-E double-hung fiberglass window from the same retailers would cost between $400 and $600 per unit before labor costs have been factored in.
Appearance, Style, and Aesthetics
As with any home improvement project, you should consider aesthetics when deciding which window material to use. Vinyl and fiberglass replacement windows each have different ranges of textures and finishes, which will be suited to different building styles and homes.
Whether you’re in the market for new construction or replacement windows, you’ll find that both vinyl and fiberglass options exist in a variety of finishes and colors.
You’ll most commonly find vinyl windows with a smooth finish. If you’re viewing floor models in a big-box retailer or online, these will usually be a smooth white or off-white color. However, this material comes in various color options besides basic hues and can be purchased in textured, wood grain finishes.
Fiberglass windows are available in many of the same finishes as vinyl windows. However, many homeowners find that the wood grain textures these frames come in are more realistic than those found on vinyl windows.
In addition, many fiberglass windows are sold with real wood interiors that can be refinished and painted multiple times over to match the inside of a home. The rigidity of the material also allows for thinner muntins and rails. This means the actual windowpanes will be larger, allowing for more in-home natural light.
Installation: DIY and Professional
Whether you opt for high-quality vinyl or fiberglass, your installation time per window — as well as installation method — will differ.
Generally speaking, vinyl windows are easier to install on your own. A typical double-hung vinyl replacement window will take between three and seven hours to install. When embarking on any home improvement task that requires precise measurement and leveling, we recommend handling this with a partner. However, you should be able to tackle this job independently if needed.
Hiring a general contractor or window professional would be best if you’ve chosen to go with fiberglass windows. Fiberglass offers more resilience and style options but is far more difficult to install. DIYers with home maintenance experience can attempt installation with these windows, but we still recommend getting qualified assistance.
Durability and Strength of Each Window
Both vinyl and fiberglass windows are highly durable and long-lasting. However, there is a marked difference in life span between the two.
- Fiberglass window life span: 50 years or more
- Vinyl window life span: 20 to 40 years
Both vinyl and fiberglass windows will usually outlast wood windows because they’re fully resistant to moisture, mold, and corrosion. Typically, manufacturer warranties will reflect this — most purchases will come with protection plans of up to 20 years. However, this will vary between manufacturers.
Energy Efficiency and Environmental Friendliness
Despite some negative customer impressions about how the manufacturing process for vinyl windows impacts the environment, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) materials can be recycled at the end of their life spans. This is also true of the glass panes and metal hardware in any window frame construction. Vinyl windows are excellent thermal insulators, which means your home will generally be more energy-efficient with vinyl windows than wood. These windows have hollow cavities, which can be filled with better insulation to aid in this regard.
Fiberglass windows are made from the same material used to insulate attics and similar spaces. As a result, these windows are extremely energy-efficient. This, combined with the fact that these windows allow more natural light into your home, makes them a highly attractive option.
Maintenance and Cleaning
Both vinyl and fiberglass windows are easy to maintain and clean once installed. To preserve the existing finish and condition of either window, you should avoid using abrasives or strong chemicals — basic soap and water are more than enough for cleaning.
For maintenance, you should purchase windows with competitive maintenance plans attached. Examine manufacturer warranties and be sure of exact coverage before buying. Similarly, if you hire a contractor to handle your window installation, you should inquire about labor warranties.
Real Estate Value
Replacement windows should have a return on investment (ROI) of between 50% and 70%. So, if you spend $10,000 outfitting your home with new windows, you can expect its value to increase by $5,000-$7,000. Both vinyl and fiberglass will have an ROI toward the upper end of this range due to energy efficiency, durability, and aesthetics.
Due to life span, increased energy efficiency, and the greater amount of light they will allow into your home on average, fiberglass windows are the better choice. However, the higher cost makes many homeowners question which type of window to purchase — especially if they plan to outfit their entire home. If you’re concerned with keeping a tight budget, vinyl windows still represent a solid alternative that will last up to 20 years and come in many of the same style options. Ultimately, your budget will be the final deciding factor between the two.
FAQs About Fiberglass vs. Vinyl Windows
Why Are Fiberglass Windows Not Popular?
Fiberglass windows are often less viable for window replacement due to their higher cost and the more difficult labor associated with DIY installation.
What Are the Other Types of Windows Available?
What Are the Other Types of Windows Available?
What Is the Main Difference Between Vinyl and Fiberglass?
Generally speaking, the main difference between the two types of windows is the sturdiness of each. At a glance, you may be unable to tell the two apart. However, their relative life spans might be the deciding factor for many homeowners. Vinyl windows last 20 years on average, while fiberglass can last up to 50 years.
Do Vinyl Windows Increase Home Value?
According to Paradigm Windows, installing luxury vinyl windows on your home has a 68.6% return on investment. So, if you spend $5,000 installing new windows around your home, you can expect your home’s value to increase by $3,430.
Methodology: How We Rank Window Companies
At Today’s Homeowner, we strive to bring you the most transparent, accurate information for your home improvement projects. Our window company ratings emphasize what matters most to you—a wide range of well-designed products with reliable installation and great curb appeal.
Our ratings are based on publicly available information about each company, secret shopping online and over the phone, customer-review analysis, and discussions with renovation and building experts.
A company can earn a maximum of 100 points across five categories, converted to a five-star scale. We researched dozens of windows installation and replacement companies to develop the following formula:
- Product Offerings (30 points): Window installers can earn the maximum point value in this category if they offer a wide variety of window styles, frame materials, hardware designs, and glass and coating options. Companies earn more points if they design custom windows for your home. We also score the quality and energy efficiency of the windows each company installs.
- Service Offerings (10 points): When evaluating this category, we consider factors such as consultations, post-installation cleanup, and additional product offerings. We also look at each company's installation team structure – including whether it uses certified window installers or subcontractors to complete work – as this can cause variances in quality.
- Affordability (25 points): Our affordability rating considers the provider’s average window prices and how they align with industry averages, as well as discounts and payment plans.
- Warranty and Support (20 points): A best-in-class window installer will back up its work with a solid warranty to give you added peace of mind. Companies receive the maximum point value in this category if they offer lifetime warranties for their products and workmanship.
- Company Reputation (15 points): To ensure we’re recommending worthwhile installers, we check each company’s reputation and standing with the Better Business Bureau (BBB). We also consider how many years of experience it has in the window industry.
We monitor company data on an ongoing basis to keep rankings and information up to date.