From Aluminum to Fiberglass: Choices in Window Frames

From on May 08, 2008 in Window Replacement

WindowThere are several types of window frames to choose. The type of material used to manufacture a window frame not only affects the physical traits of the window, such as size, weight, and strength, but also is vital to its energy efficiency. Common frame types are aluminum, vinyl, and wood. But you will also find composite and even fiberglass.

Aluminum windows are lightweight, durable, and the most inexpensive of frames. However, standard aluminum frames are excellent conductors of heat, a great deal more conductive than wood or vinyl. Yet, manufacturers have reduced this problem by installing thermal breaks in the frame. Essentially, the path for heat loss in the frame is broken by a non-conductive material and significantly improves the window’s energy efficiency. While this added step increases efficiency, it also increases costs. Aluminum windows often cost as much as their vinyl counterparts without meeting the same level of energy efficiency.

Vinyl frames are very common in today’s market. They are durable, low maintenance, energy efficient, and fairly priced. Small hollow chambers are added within the vinyl frame to provide strength and, in addition, trap air, which greatly increases energy performance and acts as a sound barrier.

Wood windows are the traditional choice. Inherently wood is an excellent insulator and therefore provides naturally superior energy efficiency. Newer wood windows are made with weather stripping and modern hardware, which seals the frame much better than older, drafty versions. Despite their warm and natural look, wood windows are less common now because vinyl frames are much cheaper to make and can equal wood in energy efficiency. Another drawback for wood frames is maintenance. Over time any wood surface exposed to the weather will need some care. In response to this, some manufacturers are producing wood clad frames. These wood frames are clad with a thin vinyl or aluminum cover on the exterior side of the window, leaving the natural wood look on the interior.

Recently, window manufacturers have begun producing fiberglass and composite frames also. Fiberglass frames are stronger than aluminum and vinyl, are good insulators, and do not significantly expand or contract due to weather conditions. They require little or no maintenance, take paint easily, and are very energy efficient and long lasting. Some window manufacturers also make composite windows, made from much the same material as particle board or laminate strand lumber. These frames are quite stable and have similar thermal qualities to wood frames but are more resistant to weathering. Composite windows also have the environmental advantage of reusing sawdust and wood scrap instead of virgin lumber.

Got a handle on the options? Hire a certified window contractor to ensure that your window frames are installed to be as efficient as possible.