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5 Window Frame Materials

It used to be that if your house had windows (and, typically, they did) they were made out of glass panels, wooden frames, and metal locks. Nowadays, though, homeowners have many more choices for replacing old windows. While the glass is still pretty much glass, the frames are taking all sorts of different forms and being made of varying materials including vinyl, aluminum, composites, fiberglass, and of course, there’s still wood.

Window frames can also be made of a combination of these materials and each option has its advantages and disadvantages.

Aluminum makes a great window frame because it is so strong and yet lightweight. It can be formed into nearly any shape and size, which makes it a great choice for custom-sized openings. The drawbacks to aluminum are also significant, though. They are known offenders of energy efficiency, contributing greatly to heat loss and often creating condensation around the window frame. Additionally, they are corrosive which can be particularly problematic in moist regions like on the coast.

Wooden window frames are still the most popular choice among homeowners because of its traditional look and the beauty and warmth wood adds to the home. Another advantage is that they are easily painted, making them easily adapted to room renovations. Unfortunately, however, wood frames need periodic maintenance to keep them moisture-free. If not manufactured, installed, and cared for correctly, wooden window frames can allow moisture to invade the frame, leading them to crack, warp, or become difficult to open and close.

Composites, consisting generally of wood scraps, vinyl waste, polyurethane, and other recycled products, can make very durable window frames that are resistant to moisture. Although they are made of a significant portion of recycled content, composite window frames typically end up in landfills when they are replaced because they are difficult to re-recycle.

Vinyl is a growing choice for window frames. Because they are made of PVC they are highly flexible, which allows them to be able to be installed in a wide variety of oddly sized and shaped spaces. Other advantages of vinyl is that, unlike wood, they require little to no maintenance and they have no inclination toward, cracking, swelling, shrinking, or corroding. Additionally, vinyl window frames are excellent for reducing heat loss and condensation. Unfortunately vinyl is not a uniquely strong material and this limits the size of vinyl window frames as well as the weight of the glass inserted in the units. Some manufacturers reinforce vinyl windows with metal to strengthen the units, but this can decrease the window’s R-value. Other disadvantages include vinyl frames’ tendency toward softening, warping, or bowing when heat builds up inside the frame and fading in color over time.

Fiberglass window frames are fairly new and usually made of fiberglass composites. These window frames are great at insulating a home’s openings, allowing very little heat loss. Additionally fiberglass window frames won’t warp, swell, shrink, corrode, or rot and they are very low maintenance units. Other advantages include frame strength, which allows them to span very large openings and they can come in nearly any color or be painted to suit the homeowners taste. These, too, have drawbacks, though, including the fact that because they are so new to the marketplace they aren’t widely available yet, making them a bit difficult to find and more costly than alternative windows. It also remains to be seen how their performance will be rated over time.

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