They used to be a low-maintenance default when it came time to replace leaky or rotting wood double-hungs. But, over time, white vinyl could yellow, colored vinyl wash out, and the material itself split or crack in extreme temperatures. Times have changed. The vinyl window shown here—full-frame, fully assembled, and ready to install—comes in no-fade colors and faux-grain finishes that weather well in any climate. And its sturdy construction and insulated glass meet Energy Star criteria. Read on for other features worth a second look.

No, you are looking for quality construction and design. The best vinyl has additives that protect against brittleness, yellowing, or fading. Sash and frame extrusions should have welded corners and numerous internal air chambers for strength, rigidity, and insulation.

To minimize heat loss and gain, a quality window sandwiches inert gas and “warm-edge” spacers between double panes. Low-e coatings reflect heat and protect furnishings from fading.

Look for a “double lifetime” warranty that covers potential performance problems, such as condensation between the panes, and can be transferred to the next homeowner.

No, read the fine print. Look for an Energy Star–qualified unit; its efficiency and airtightness have been independently verified by the National Fenestration Rating Council. Also, windows with Gold Seal Certification from the American Architectural Manufacturers Association have also passed strict structural-integrity tests.

Double-hungs that tilt in are easiest to clean (no need for a ladder), as are double panes with grilles sandwiched between the glass. Never use a pressure washer, which can damage seals and break glass.

Premium windows can be ordered with a different color on the exterior to match or contrast with house trim.