Environmental Considerations

The Vinyl Institute website offers two comprehensive databases about vinyl and recycling.

  • Click here for the database of vinyl recycling companies.
  • Click here for the database of manufacturers of recycled vinyl products.

Section Contents:

Recyclability and disposal issues. Like all vinyl products, vinyl window and glass door profiles are recyclable, both pre-use (e.g., manufacturing off-cuttings and construction site waste) and post-use (e.g., removal at end of useful life). Because vinyl is a thermoplastic, it can be reprocessed for recycling using heat with minimal loss of properties. In the fenestration industry in particular, several major vinyl window extruders not only recycle their own in-house scrap, but they also accept – and in some cases, buy back – scrap from window fabricators to recycle back into new vinyl windows and doors. Vinyl window scrap is also highly valued for use in other rigid vinyl applications like PVC pipe.

If recycling is not an option, and vinyl window and door scrap must be landfilled, it can be trusted to remain safely inert under normal landfill conditions. At the same time, vinyl’s inherent durability means these products will serve long useful lives, preventing waste from being generated when less durable products are used.

Energy efficiency. Vinyl windows and doors are energy efficient during both the manufacturing and use phases of their lifecycle.

  • Manufacturing phase: Vinyl products in general have low embodied energy, which means that the amount of energy required to convert raw material into a final product is lower than for many alternatives. In fact, a lifecycle study by Franklin Associates has shown that vinyl windows require three times less energy to manufacture than aluminum windows. The use of vinyl over alternatives in window frames saves the United States nearly 2 trillion BTUs of energy per year – enough to meet the yearly electrical needs of 20,000 single-family homes.
  • Use phase: Vinyl windows and doors continue to save energy throughout their useful lives. Vinyl is an efficient insulating material for heat and cold, which means that the windows maintain an even temperature, keeping them comfortable to the touch and decreasing condensation caused by indoor/outdoor temperature and humidity differentials. The design of vinyl window frames further enhances their energy efficiency by creating chambers in the frame that provide additional resistance to heat transfer and insulating air pockets. The frames and sash corners are fusion-welded for maximum strength and protection against air and water infiltration.

Although many factors impact overall energy efficiency, measurements of typical "U-values" – which represent the rate of heat flow through a window or glass door – show that vinyl performs as well or better than alternative framing materials. For example, the typical U-value of vinyl windows ranges from 0.3 to 0.5, with lower numbers meaning less heat flow and better thermal performance. The U-values of wood windows fall in the same range, while aluminum-clad and vinyl-clad windows range from 0.4 to 0.6 and aluminum windows range from 1.0 to 2.2.

To specify the most energy-efficient windows and glass doors, look for labels from the National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC) or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s and US Department of Energy’s Energy Star Program. There are many vinyl window and glass door products which have met the energy efficiency standards of these two organizations. The NFRC and Energy Star labeling systems provide an accurate and practical way to measure and compare the energy efficiency of different windows, doors and skylights.

The NFRC sticker on windows is based on testing of the "U-value," although for cooling-dominated climates, NFRC provides a similar rating comparison figure, the Solar Heat Gain Factor (SHGF). To qualify for the Energy Star label, products must use less energy, cut utility bills and help protect the environment. Products that bear the Energy Star label have also met criteria such as control of inside air pollutants, supply of outside air, acceptable thermal comfort and appropriate illumination levels. Initially used for homes and office buildings in the commercial and public sector, the program is expanding to schools, retail stores and other building types.

Indoor/outdoor air quality. The energy efficiency of vinyl windows and glass doors means less electricity must be used to heat and cool a home or building, reducing the greenhouse gas emissions associated with coal-fired power plants. In addition, the low maintenance requirements of vinyl windows and glass doors eliminates the need for paints, stains, strippers and thinners, which can negatively impact indoor air quality.

Resource conservation. The same lifecycle study by Franklin Associates found that manufacturing of vinyl products accounts for less than 0.3 percent of all gas and oil consumption, with windows and doors accounting for a small fraction of that number.