Aluminum, Wood or Vinyl Which Windows are Best for You?
New windows can make an eye-catching difference in any home – whether it’s a classic Victorian, a homey log cabin or a sleek, modern wonder. Whether you want to improve its appearance, open up a spectacular view or simply replace old windows that tend to let in more wind and rain than they keep out, choosing the right framing materials for your new windows is just as important as the window units themselves.
Modern window frames – whether vinyl, aluminum or wood – cut air infiltration down to nearly zero. When combined with advanced glazing, new window frames can cut up to 40 percent off your cooling and heating bills. All offer eye appeal, while some also cancel out that periodic painting homeowners are so fond of.
Window manufacturers have expanded basic framing choices with new framing materials, glazing and installation options. There are a wide range of money- and energy-saving options in all three types of window frames – vinyl, wood and aluminum. Vinyl window frames are making serious inroads into what was traditionally the domain of aluminum windows – especially in residential housing. But aluminum offers strength and easy replacement. Wood, the grande dame of window frames, remains the favorite for traditional and historic homes. While all three options have their advantages and disadvantages, opting for one is ultimately a matter of personal taste. Here are some facts to help you choose.
Wooden Window Frames
Wood-frame windows are slowly losing their market dominance to vinyl – especially on new construction – although they’re still considered the gold standard by many architects, designers, professional installers and homeowners. They’re strong, beautiful and relatively energy efficient. As expected, the best ones are also the most costly.
The point against them is periodic maintenance, which includes painting or staining to keep them looking good while protecting them from the elements. Some window manufacturers address that by cladding the wood with vinyl or aluminum, although purists contend that defeats the purpose of having wood frames. However, this option gives you a strong, maintenance free exterior frame with a natural wood interior that can be stained or painted. These dual benefits do cost more than all-wood window frames.
When shopping for wood windows, look for ease of operation and tight-fitting corners. Check to make sure any exposed wood is free of imperfections and that finger joints aren’t visible. When you come down to it, wood is a light, strong, natural material. It’s environmentally friendly, it’s a good insulator and it can be milled into an unlimited array of shapes and profiles. Plus, with a bit of regular care, it’ll last indefinitely.
- Wood is a natural insulator that also serves as a sound barrier
- Aesthetically, wooden frames give a beautiful, natural look to any home
- Wood can be repainted indefinitely to match any décor or color scheme
- With regular maintenance, wood frames will last a long time
- They are an environmentally friendly option, since wood is a renewable resource
- Wood frames expand and contract in response to weather conditions; they are also susceptible to warping, splitting and buckling
- Depending on the climate you live in, wood can be susceptible to rot, mold and deterioration
- Depending on the type and style of wood frames you choose, they can be a serious investment in both money and time
Aluminum Window Frames
In years past, aluminum windows were the top choice for home builders and owners. They were the main alternative to wood and are still popular, especially when used as storm window frames and in commercial uses. Their main selling points are their long life and that repair or replacement is easy and relatively inexpensive, when compared to other materials.
Aluminum windows do a good job of noise reduction because of their greater mass. While most outside noise is stopped by the glass panes, particularly if the window is double glazed, the frame can contribute to that reduction. Thanks to their strength, aluminum window frames are preferred in regions prone to heavy storms, gale-strength winds and hurricanes, such as in coastal areas.
- Aluminum frames can be painted as required and suitable paints can be found in any hardware or large department store
- They’re lightweight, which makes cleaning, installation or removal relatively easy
- Aluminum frames are easily disassembled, meaning glass replacement can be done by the homeowner
- They can be manufactured as fixed Insulated Glazed Units (IGUs), which adds to their insulation value
- Aluminum corrodes when exposed to airborne chemicals, salts and pollution.
- They’re prone to oxidation in rooms or areas of high humidity or constant dampness
- They offer lower insulation value in areas with long, cold winters
- Plain aluminum window frames conduct heat rapidly, making the metal a poor insulating material
Vinyl Window Frames
Vinyl windows are made in the same way as aluminum windows but with the vinyl extrusion forming a frame around the glass, resulting in better thermal efficiency and low maintenance. Most types of new windows have vinyl frames. Their main selling point is the ease of maintenance, but they’re also the most affordable of window frame materials.
When shopping for vinyl frames, make sure the color is uniform throughout the frame. Also, look for joints that are heat-welded rather than joined with screws or other fasteners. You can usually expect a two- to six-week wait when ordering custom units.
- Vinyl frames offer a higher resistance to heat or cold transfer and are impervious to rust, rot and surface flaking
- Little to no maintenance is required
- Vinyl can be custom manufactured to match your home’s paint color
- Most vinyl windows carry 20 to 30 year warranties
- Sashes are sealed with glue, so it’s difficult to replace a broken pane
- Vinyl frames have little wind load resistance, making them unsuitable for storm-prone areas of the country
- They may warp and bend over time, especially in areas that experience wide temperature variations
- Vinyl frames are made of PVC, which makes them environmentally hazardous
Walking unprepared into a window showroom or home center can leave you reeling, but a little advance planning and research will help you choose window frames that will transform your home while saving you energy and providing years of service.