What was once just a functional necessity – a hole in the top of a cave designed to let out the heat and smoke from cooking and heating fires – is what we now call a window, and its purpose is both functional and aesthetic. The word "window" originates from the old Norse word, "vindauga," a combination of "vinder" (wind) and "auga" (eye). Therefore, a window is an "eye for the wind" or "wind-eye." Windows provide our view of the natural environment from the man-made environment and bridge the gap between the interior and exterior of a home or building.
In the past, window frames were constructed of wood, aluminum or steel. But after World War II, facing a shortage of natural materials and a massive rebuilding challenge, Germany began producing extruded frames from vinyl, a relatively new thermoplastic. These early vinyl windows had a bulky, heavy-duty appearance that German consumers wanted, but were not accepted by American homeowners accustomed to narrow frames and larger viewing areas.
However, in 1959, U.S. vinyl resin manufacturer BFGoodrich Company decided to give vinyl windows another try in the American marketplace by introducing products with sleeker lines and lower prices, and in styles that were patterned after traditional wood and metal windows. This was the beginning of today’s vinyl window industry in North America.
Since the 1980s, sales of vinyl windows have increasingly grown; in fact, from 1992 to 1998, the sales of vinyl windows in residential new construction and remodeling alone grew by nearly 125 percent. Today, most of the major wood window manufacturers offer vinyl windows as well, and vinyl rivals traditional materials for aesthetics, durability, energy efficiency and value.
Innovations in vinyl formulations continue to present new design flexibilities to architects and builders. A wood-vinyl composite that is made of sawdust and vinyl was recently introduced. This product can be embossed, has the appearance and feel of wood and can even be stained or painted. Another example is cellular foam vinyl that can be extruded into solid shapes for accessories to wood windows such as molding and decorative trim. These cellular vinyl accessories can be nailed and painted at the job site, and will never rot or decay. These types of new product formulations will continue to pique the interest of designers and consumers alike. Industry projections indicate that annual sales of vinyl windows will exceed 25 million units in the year 2000.