What makes one window frame better than another? The answer depends on you, and your priorities. All of the primary types of window frames – wood, vinyl, composite, and aluminum – have their strengths and their weaknesses. Choosing the right replacement window frame requires you to understand which qualities each material has to offer, and to decide which qualities matter most to you.
If your budget is the primary concern when selecting a replacement window, vinyl frames are a solid choice. This isn’t a reflection of the quality of the windows, but rather that vinyl is an inexpensive material. As a result, vinyl windows are less expensive than their aluminum and composite counterparts. Wood is the most expensive frame material.
Composite, and particularly wood, windows are often considered to be more attractive than their counterparts.
Vinyl is available in a limited number of colors, has a plastic-like appearance, and require thicker frames. Aluminum windows come in slender frames and a wide variety of painted colors, but are subject to fading, pitting, and chipping over time.
Wood windows, on the other hand, can be either stained or painted to maintain their timelessly appealing looks. Like aluminum windows, composite windows come in slender frames and a range of colors; composite windows retain their looks more easily than aluminum windows do.
Neither wood nor composite nor vinyl window frames transfer heat well; that makes all three effective insulators. When combined with the right glass, all three frame materials can yield very energy-efficient windows. All three can perform well in more demanding climates.
Relative to the other frame materials, aluminum transfers heat easily. As a result, they are not always a strong choice for climates with cold winters or hot summers. Aluminum frames can be enhanced to provide better insulation and efficiency, but this will increase their cost.
If the wood is high-quality, and appropriate care is taken, wooden window frames can last for several decades. Composite replacement windows, such as these from Renewal by Andersen, should last between 20 and 40 years, as will higher-quality vinyl windows. Aluminum windows can last even longer, though some elements of the window may require replacement.
Both vinyl and composite windows excel here, retaining their looks and performance without requiring maintenance. Wood window frames, on the other hand, require occasional re-painting or refinishing in order to look and perform at their best; this is also true of painted aluminum windows.
Which qualities matter most to you in a window frame? Looks? Energy-efficiency? Durability? Now that you have a better idea of the relative strengths and weaknesses of the different materials, you’re well on your way to making a well-informed choice of replacement window.