Windows come in all shapes and sizes, but only a few main materials. This guide compares timber and plastic window frames based on style, maintenance, security, and even environmental impact. As you’ll see, while timber windows might be more expensive than uPVC, their lifetime value can be far higher.
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Timber vs uPVC overview
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Why do window frame materials matter?
When windows are doing their job correctly, you might not give much thought to what their frames are made of. But when issues develop, such as condensation, poor insulation, rusting, and jams, it becomes absolutely obvious – materials matter!
The differences between materials fall into two main categories:
Presentation. The exterior and interior appearance of the window, including:
- How the window fits with the style of the property
Performance. How well the window does its job and for how long, including:
- Life expectancy
- Smoothness of operation
- Maintenance requirements
Wood has been used for hundreds of years in the construction of window frames. It’s a natural, renewable material that allows for practically any window size or shape.
One of the main benefits of timber windows (that even the biggest fans of plastic windows would struggle to argue with) is that they have character and charm. They add style and warmth to a property, whereas plastic windows risk detracting from it.
uPVC (also known as PVC-U or vinyl) windows are made from a robust, lightweight form of plastic. Because they’re made from an artificial material, they don’t decompose and require little maintenance to keep them in working order.
Plastic windows are generally lower cost than timber windows but are unlikely to add as much value to a home as timber.
Both uPVC and timber windows are available in a wide range of styles, including sash, bay and casement. uPVC used to be limited to a white plastic look but now allows for a wide range of colours, including (at extra cost) a wood grain imitation effect. While to a keen eye the wood grain effect pales in comparison to real timber frames, it helps those on a budget get closer to a traditional look.
Although it is possible to repaint uPVC windows, it’s not a simple job. However, timber is incredibly customisable. Not only can you choose a different colour for the interior and exterior of the window, you can also easily sand and repaint wooden windows when you fancy a change.
Browse our full range of timber windows to see which style is perfect for your home.
For heritage, conservation or listed properties, there’s no comparison. Timber windows win on aesthetics every time. In fact, Historic England has said that ‘the loss of traditional windows from our older properties poses one of the major threats to our heritage’, and ‘replacement windows have become a greater threat than ever before to the character of historic buildings and areas’. Traditional sash windows, which slide open vertically, are the perfect example – nothing beats the beauty of natural wood.
Timber windows are also a building requirement in many conservation areas. This means that plastic-framed windows aren’t allowed because they detract from the heritage and appearance of the property and local area.
Perhaps because plastic seems more ‘modern’ than timber, it’s sometimes thought that double- and triple-glazing require uPVC frames, whereas wooden windows are always single-glazed.
In fact, while we do offer a single-glazed version of our box sash window, which is ideal for period properties, the rest of our range is double- or triple-glazed and exceptional at minimising heat loss.
There’s also a wide range of glass types available for timber windows, including obscure or patterned glazing that adds artistic flair while providing privacy from neighbours or the street.
And for enhanced security and soundproofing, you can opt for triple-glazing, while the style of the window frame and bars stay perfectly in keeping with your property.
Windows that are energy-efficient, and therefore better for your bills and the environment, are designed to prevent heat from escaping your home.
Double- and triple-glazing uses inert gas within the panes to prevent heat from radiating out. In addition, a ‘Low-E’ coating (included with all our windows) improves energy performance by allowing more heat in and less heat out.
The other important factor in energy efficiency is what the frames are made of and how well they’re constructed and fitted. Wood has natural thermal insulation properties, making it ideal for keeping in the heat. And while uPVC has come a long way in recent years, it doesn’t outperform timber on energy performance.
To learn more, including how to compare windows based on their energy ratings, check out our easy guide to understanding energy-efficient windows.
While it’s possible to find uPVC and timber windows that are equally efficient in conserving heat, energy performance doesn’t tell the whole story. We also need to consider the resources and processes involved in the manufacture and disposal/recycling of the window’s materials.
There’s lots of evidence, including research compiled by the Wood Window Alliance, that plastic windows are worse for the environment than wooden windows.
The main concerns involved in the manufacture of uPVC windows are:
Fossil fuels used to produce the plastic.
Human toxicity. Burning PVC emits toxins that can cause respiratory diseases.
Energy and emissions. Chlorine, used to make PVC, requires massive amounts of energy.
Difficult to recycle. Although efforts have been made to increase recycling rates of uPVC, toxic chemicals still make their way into recycled plastic.
On the other hand, when sourced from credibly-certified, well-managed forests, timber windows are:
- Naturally renewable, providing environmental and economic benefits for the long-term.
Healthy, with coatings that are friendly to people and the environment.
Biodegradable, able to be recycled for new uses or burned for energy.
Low-carbon, by storing carbon and encouraging its uptake through forests.
When Heriot-Watt University compared uPVC and wooden windows across ten impact categories, including sustainability, recycling, human toxicity, and more, they found that ‘uPVC has a significantly increased impact on the environment than timber window frame options’.
Each timber window used instead of a uPVC window saves an estimated 160kgs of CO2e over its lifetime. As a Wood Window Alliance member, all of JELD-WEN’s timber windows live up to this important standard.
All windows need some level of maintenance to keep them in good working order. uPVC windows require very little upkeep – a wipe down now and then is sufficient.
Wooden windows used to require more attention, but with the quality of today’s engineered wood and finishes, timber doesn’t demand much more time or effort than plastic.
If finished timber windows are kept clean, they shouldn’t require sanding and repainting for at least 10 years. This depends on exposure location and assumes that you’ll conduct an annual inspection and repair any minor damage, e.g. from window cleaners’ ladders.
If your window faces significant damage, it’s much easier to repair if it’s timber than uPVC. Significant damage to a plastic window could require a total replacement.
How long do timber windows last compared to uPVC?
High-quality, well-maintained timber windows are no less secure than uPVC windows. In fact, they may even offer higher security if, like most of our range, Secured by Design (SBD) is an option.
SBD is the official police security initiative aimed at improving buildings’ integrity through recognised standards for all security products. SBD has led to 87% fewer burglaries in new homes.
Built-to-last windows should come with long-lasting guarantees. You may find that uPVC windows come with 10- or 20-year warranties, but not much longer due to their shorter lifespan compared to timber windows.
Our wooden windows come with these guarantees:
✔ 6-10 year paint
✔ 6-year stain
✔ 30-40-year rot and fungal attack
✔ 10-year glazing
✔ 10-year manufacturing defects
To find out more, check out our Guarantees and Maintenance page.
Timber windows are generally more expensive than uPVC, which is why plastic frames have exploded in popularity over the last few decades. uPVC could be up to half the initial cost of timber windows.
However, because timber windows offer many advantages over uPVC and have different features, it makes sense to weigh up their lifetime value instead of considering just the purchase price.
uPVC is cheaper initially, but timber windows last up to twice as long
uPVC is easy to maintain, but timber is easier to repair
Timber windows can add value to a home, whereas plastic could detract value
Timber windows offer equal or better energy performance than uPVC
Wooden windows require zero compromises on style, colour or finish
When researchers analysed Service Life Planning, Whole Life Cost, and Life Cycle Cost, they found that, despite lower initial purchase prices, uPVC windows were the highest cost over 60 years. In contrast, for mild weather exposures (most of the UK), ‘timber windows offer the lowest lifetime cost option’.
Ultimately, the choice between uPVC and timber windows comes down to personal preference and how important the various aspects of presentation, sustainability and performance are to you.
If you like the sound of timber windows and want to check costs, our window quote tool can help. It will give you a detailed quote based on your choice of style, colour and quantity.