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Vinyl vs Aluminum Windows: Pros, Cons, & Differences

Vinyl Window vs Aluminum Window

Although some properties do still have wooden windows, the two most common choices for new windows today are vinyl and aluminum. Both are considered durable, weather resistant, and easy to care for. But, while the two do share certain similarities, they are also very different.

New windows can cost several hundred to more than a thousand dollars each, and will hopefully last 20 years or more, so it is important that you make the right decision in choosing a window material for your home. Read on to find out more about these two popular choices, as well as the pros and cons of each, so that you can make a decision that is right for you and your home.

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Overview of Vinyl Windows:

Vinyl window
Image Credit: Gina Leonard, Shutterstock

Vinyl windows are made of PVC, or plastic. Although not as durable as wood, they can last as long as 20 years with minimal maintenance required over their life. They were first introduced to the glazing market in the 1970s to compete with wood frames. They didn’t last as long but they were cheaper, didn’t need scraping and painting, and the frame could be insulated to improve the thermal efficiency of windows.

Traditionally, the windows were made from white material and there were very few design options. However, further developments have seen a much greater range of colors and styles available. They can even be designed to look like other materials such as wood, to give an authentic look even to a period home.

Vinyl Window Maintenance And Life

Although vinyl windows are difficult to damage, bird poop and other substances can harden and may cause some erosion of the plastic, so the external frames do need cleaning. You should also keep the inside frames clean.

Vinyl windows require little to no maintenance. If they get dirty, they can be wiped clean with a damp cloth and because the vinyl is weather and water resistant, you can wash them with a hosepipe when you clean the windows. In fact, using acid and solvent based cleaners, or abrasive cloths can damage the vinyl.

window sill
Image Credit: Samir Lyctum, Shutterstock

Appearance And Options

When it was first introduced in the 1970s, the vinyl window only really came in white and had a very uniform appearance. However, today, it’s a different story. As well as being able to choose virtually any color of vinyl frame, you can also have textured finishes. Faux wood vinyl is a popular choice because it offers the appearance of a wood finish without the need to constantly clean and regularly strip and repaint the frames.

Pros
  • Cheaper than aluminum
  • 20 year life
  • No maintenance required
  • Frame is insulated
  • Difficult to damage
  • Available in faux-wood and other textured finishes
  • Good insulation
Cons
  • Once installed, you can’t really paint or otherwise change the frames
  • Not all vinyl windows are high quality
  • Heavily customized vinyl windows can be expensive

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Overview of Aluminum Windows:

Aluminum window
Image Credit: Apinya Kurakhan, Shutterstock

Aluminum is not as common a window frame material as plastic, but it does have its uses. For a start, it is a very strong material by weight and volume, which means that aluminum frames can be made to be very thin. This allows for more glazing and it can give the appearance of a window that virtually floats. Like vinyl, it does not require stripping and painting and they will retain their original looks longer even than plastic windows. However, aluminum is a poor insulator, which means that it could cause you to lose heat or cold from your home when you want it.

Aluminum Window Maintenance And Life

Aluminum windows have a very long life of 40 years or more, which means they can last two times longer than vinyl windows. Although they are considered low maintenance, because they do not require stripping and painting, they may need an occasional wipe.

Although high quality aluminum should withstand the weather, it can be prone to condensation and may rust if water is allowed to pool and remain. This is easily remedied by wiping condensation away or treating with an aluminum solution, but it is worth bearing in mind.

black window frames
Image Credit: Piqsels

Appearance And Options

There aren’t too many options when it comes to aluminum frame design, and the reason that most people choose this material is because they want a minimally sized frame to show off the glazing itself. Once installed, like vinyl, you cannot paint or really change the appearance of the frames. Considering the extra-long life of the windows, that means that you need to be sure that you really want aluminum because they will be around for 40 years.

Pros
  • Minimal frame shows off the glazing
  • Last for 40 years or more
  • Minimal cleaning and maintenance required
  • Durable and hardy
Cons
  • Can be dinted and scratched
  • Poor insulation
  • Expensive and difficult to install
  • Very few design options available
  • Design cannot be altered once installed

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Insulation Properties

It is estimated that nearly 20% of the heat in a house is lost through the windows, which means that poorly insulated windows can significantly reduce warmth. Modern vinyl windows have additional insulation in the frames and are considered highly energy efficient. On the other hand, aluminum is a poor insulator and you will lose heat in the winter and cold in the summer through those frames.

If you live in an especially hot or cold climate, and you are concerned by mounting energy bills, then vinyl is likely your preferred option. If you live in a temperate climate, or you get plenty of power from solar panels on your roof, for example, this may not be as much of a concern.

handyman repair window
Image Credit: Andrew Angelov, Shutterstock

Design Options

Window frames are a prominent exterior accessory and your choice of window frame can have a big impact on the overall aesthetic look of the property. Vinyl frames come in a much greater range of colors, textures, and finishes, but they tend to be sized and shaped similarly to traditional wooden frames. Aluminum frames are thin and narrow, because the material has high levels of tensile strength.

If you want traditional looking windows or are looking for your window frames to make a statement with their color or finish, vinyl is the better option. If you want the glazing itself to be the main focal point of the windows, narrow aluminum frames will serve you better.

Installation Difficulty

It is generally recommended to have vinyl or aluminum windows fitted by professionals because they will ensure a good fit and they will eliminate or reduce any potential heat loss or structural problems around the frames. They should also be well equipped to deal with any problems. Also, if anything does go wrong, they will be liable to buy replacements.

Installing windows yourself carries a certain risk. If you break a frame yourself, you will have to replace it. And, if the installation isn’t done right, you may need to replace the windows much sooner and at greater expense. With that said, keen and accomplished DIYers do install their own windows and vinyl frames do have some flexibility and give in them which makes them easier to install. Aluminum is rigid and has no flexibility.

If you’re having the windows professionally installed, you can choose either vinyl or aluminum and trust that skilled professionals will do a good job. If installing yourself, and you are inexperienced with window installation, vinyl is more forgiving and cheaper if you need to buy a replacement.

man doing window repair
Image Credit: Pixel-Shot, ShutterstockPixel-Shot, Shutterstock

Overall Cost

Even though modern vinyl windows have several layers and the frames are reinforced and have additional insulation, they are still about half the price of aluminum windows. However, this doesn’t tell the whole story. Top quality plastic window frames will last 20 years, while top quality aluminum windows will last 40, so the cost could even out over time and aluminum offers the benefit that you won’t have to pay inflated prices for a second installation or pay another installation fee in 20 years.

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Conclusion

Vinyl and aluminum windows are both considered modern window alternatives to wood frames. They are both durable and they don’t require regular painting, although applying some aluminum treatment to aluminum windows is a good idea, but the decision of which to get typically comes down to either insulation or design.

While vinyl windows offer decent insulation to help keep the warmth in, aluminum is a poor insulator. If you want minimalist frames that are barely visible and show off the glazing itself, aluminum frames are for you. If you want traditional looking frames, vinyl are the better choice.


Featured Image Credit: Left: Vinyl Window: Gina Leonard, Shutterstock | Right: Aluminum Window: Apinya Kurakhan, Shutterstock

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