The Core Differences Between Cheap and High-Quality Vinyl Windows

One of the main objectives of every window replacement project is to achieve the highest energy efficiency by getting a high-quality window that is meant to last. Shopping for vinyl windows it’s very easy to get confused by so many available window products that claim to offer the best durable and efficient solution. We must keep homeowners informed on the differences between cheap and high-quality vinyl windows, especially if your budget is sensitive and expectations are high. The essential pillars of every high-quality window are multi-chamber frame, structural reinforcement of window profile, compression seal, hardware and handles. Let’s be more specific.


Cheap Window Hardware vs Quality Hardware

One of the most important parts of a window system, if not the most important part, is the hardware. The hardware, which is a system in itself, includes all the materials and non-metal parts that allow a window to ­­­open, close and stay in a properly sealed closed position. The quality of the hardware is also a key element for the performance of your windows but also for their durability and longevity.

Locking Points

What makes quality hardware is the design and the material used to manufacture them. Out there you can find windows with hardware systems that are poorly designed. There are a few things that you can check to make a quick assessment of the quality of the design.

Good quality hardware on a casement or an awning window features long tie bars (the metal bar with pins that secure the sash to the frame) with the top and bottom locking pin very close to the corners.

Tie Bars

Some hardware systems have the lowest locking point above the locking handle. In fact, there are window systems that do not even have tie bars. A few companies are now offering hardware systems with tie bars also on the horizontal top part of the window.

We would classify this as the best of the best. A window with high-quality design hardware will operate better, will close and stay sealed tighter to ensure superior thermal performances. Because of this, the window will perform at its best for a long time.

Smoothness of Operation

Another easy way to recognize the quality of the hardware is by operating it. A smooth and secure movement of the system as well as a stable transition into the locked and unlocked positions are a clear indication of quality. The most sophisticated systems have also been designed to hide the gear mechanisms.

This is done to protect them from dust and abrasive material that overtime will deposit on compromising their functionality and longevity. Take a closer look at the adjustability of the hardware. Both locking pins and hinges should have an adjustable position to allow a perfect set of your sashes into your frame once the installation is complete. Many systems have adjustability on the hinges but not on the pins, this is a big limitation.


Another key element that makes a quality hardware system different from cheap is the material used along with the fabrication process. It is very common to see cheap hardware system made with folded metal sheets or metal stamped parts.

These are extremely low cost and have durability quantifiable in a few years if you are not opening your windows. Quality hardware is made with solid steel metals cut on laser machines. This ensures smooth operation and durability. There are quite a few manufacturers that use parts made in Asia, which also try to copy North American made systems. Physical tests on windows have proved over the years that North American design and made systems are very good, even better than German design systems that are largely used in Europe. North American manufactured window hardware delivers the ultimate performance.


True Multi-Chamber Technology

To convince homeowners of buying a specific window, many window manufacturers claim to have windows with Multi-Chamber technology. It refers to a profile which observed through a cross-section and shows a lot of small pockets. Such a design was invented to improve the structural performance preventing warping and enhancing the sound insulation. Double or triple glazing is not the only component when it comes to high-quality window performance. If you want to achieve the highest efficiency values, next time discussing window performance features, let your sales representative inform you about their windows frame technology used.


Window Reinforcement for Structural Rigidity

As window systems are getting larger and larger, manufacturers have been forced to find ways to add reinforcement to the windows to avoid distortion, deflection and provide some sort of structural rigidity. Reinforcement can be placed in-between window units or inside the window itself; inside the sash (moving parts) or frames (the fixed part of the windows).

In-Between the Windows

Many manufacturers add wood profiles in between windows to reinforce their structure. If on one side this solution has avoided the substantial cost to redesign the window systems and keep utilizing old technology on the other, it cannot provide energy-efficient and proper joints between windows without adding two extra inches to hide a 2 x 4 wood profile.

Also when a 2 x 4 wood reinforcement is used there is a big obstruction of the view and less glass surface in your window opening. This solution compromises the aesthetic of the window but also energy efficiency performance.
Comparing a cheap window vs high-quality window, a good window system features profiles with a high degree of rigidity. This is achieved through a proper design engineering and using the right amount of material, look for the wall thickness of your window profiles. Those systems are already engineered to accommodate steel-based reinforcement for large applications without compromising performances or view of your windows.

Inside Window Profiles

As a window unit reaches certain sizes manufacturers add reinforcement inside the window to avoid distortion, deflection and provide some sort of structural rigidity. Some manufacturers have been inserting metal (in most cases aluminum or steel) inside the sash (moving parts) or frames (the fixed part of the windows).

If the window system is properly designed and manufactured using the right amount of material, reinforcements should only be used when the window unit reach large sizes. For a slider or a hung window, we are talking about 48” x 84”. In general terms, no reinforcement should be used for casement or awning windows. If you compare the weight of two similar windows you should be able to distinguish a heavier better from a lighter lower quality window. Remember, make sure to compare apples to apples, same size and same glazing!
The metal reinforcement inside the window, often “sold” as a benefit, is actually a symptom of limitations as it is needed to provide the structural rigidity to the window elements. In addition, metal elements conduct heat through the system compromising the overall performances of the window.A good window system features profiles with a high degree of rigidity. This is achieved through a proper design engineering and by using the right amount of material, look for the wall thickness of your window profiles. A good window system does not require metal reinforcement inside the profiles unless you are working on extreme large applications.


Compression Seal – Cheap Window Insulator vs High-Quality Insulator

Windows and doors main function is to isolate the inside of your home from the outside elements. You definitely want a window that keeps the water out, but you also want a window that is not drafty and protects you from the elements for many years. A high-quality operable window that can deliver that has a superior design, quality hardware and quality sealing element.

Sealing elements are placed between sashes and frames and can be in the form of a pile (weatherstrip) or bulb seal. Weather-strips are used mainly for sliding windows. You want a few of them between the sash and the frame. A very good window will feature three. Low-cost windows one or two. Bulb seals are used on Awning and Casement windows.

Quality bulb seals are made with Santoprene rubber, the same used for your car and on certain aeronautic applications. They are expensive, but their “memory” will keep your window sealed years after years. Also, their low freezing point allows you to open your windows in cold months. In addition, Santoprene rubber is a great insulator. The Santoprene bulb seal is applied during the window manufacturing process. Good quality windows are designed in such a way that even if damage occurs to the rubber it can be replaced. Low cost or cheap windows may feature one bulb seal.
There are many systems where instead of bulb seals manufacturers use coextruded PVC black or white coloured gasket. This is a huge limitation for a good quality window and you really do not want that. PVC does not have memory and will lose the sealing power in a few years. Also is has a lower freezing point and breaks easily. Also being a part of the window frame, if it breaks it cannot be replaced leaving your entire window compromised. This is another core difference between the cheap and high-quality window.Make sure your windows have good seals!


High-Quality Window Handle vs Cheap quality

As you already know, the hardware is a key part of a window and the quality of the hardware in itself can determine the quality level of the entire window. When it comes to the there are two main things to keep into consideration; smooth operation and finish. Try operating the hardware and you will be able to tell by the sound it makes. There should not be any foreign noise. Listen to how smoothly it turns and how it transitions into the open and closed positions. In some cases you will find hardware that operates loosely, or is too stiff, does not stay in position or it makes difficult to operate. These are the signs of the low-quality hardware.

The finish is another visible indication of quality hardware. The smooth and consistent surface is easy to spot. There are manufacturers that feature off white finishes others paint them. The top-quality hardware systems offer elegant and refined finishes such as brushed nickel, antique brushed, black and other options to complement the finishes of the windows. Another way to spot quality handles is to see if they are secured to the window with a screw or with a snap-in mechanism. While the screws secure the handle to the operator with the highest mechanical standards, the snap-in is a cheap assembly technique which will also lead to wear and tear and eventually failure of the hardware. The Roto system is considered a high-quality system and offers a variety of quality finishes along with a unique locking mechanism that helps to open the window by holding the handle in open position. This is also an indication that the system has a security lock position that prevents any unlocking from the outside.