Replacement windows: aluminum or vinyl exterior?
June 27, 2015 10:53 AM   Subscribe

Given that the replacement windows are otherwise of similar quality, does one material provide an advantage over the other? Or will short / long term performance be essentially the same?
posted by elf27 to Home & Garden (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I don't have enough experience to be absolutely confident of this recommendation, but I've found aluminum to hold up better. Our current house has some good quality (Pella) aluminum-clad windows that were probably installed in the 80's, and they're all still fine aside from not being quite as energy efficient as newer models. I've seen vinyl windows crack due to sun exposure in less time.
posted by jon1270 at 11:14 AM on June 27, 2015

My experience is that, whichever you choose, it's the glazing units that fail long before there's a problem with the frames.
posted by pipeski at 11:31 AM on June 27, 2015

Aluminum clad is a little more durable. Just to be clear, full aluminum frames don't tend to be very energy efficient, but aluminum cladding just on the outside is more durable than vinyl. Most people find they tend to look better too.
posted by ssg at 2:00 PM on June 27, 2015

You may want to add fiberglass frames to the mix of windows you're looking at. You often don't see them mentioned, but they will generally be more durable and have better longevity than either vinyl or aluminum, but not command the massive price premium of wood.
posted by eschatfische at 2:33 PM on June 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

My house has full aluminum frames. They transmit heat like mad. Apparently commercial-quality aluminum frames have an insulating break separating inside from outside. On the other hand, my units are 30+ years old and still in fine condition; I do not think vinyl would have lasted even half as long with the ridiculously aggressive summer sun UV we get around here. On the third hand, vinyl frames would be 10x more energy efficient.

I like eschatfische’s suggestion of fiberglass. I expect they’d stand up to the test of time and UV.

And, yes, the window seals will blow out long before the frames do. Dead easy to replace the units, though; the frames are not affected, regardless their base material. Basically, one just pops the glass out, pop new glass in.
posted by at 4:21 PM on June 27, 2015

There is nothing good to be said about vinyl. It weathers really badly. You cannot recycle it. Fiberglass is much better, and very energy-efficient, but also has weathering issues - ask for a 20-year guarantee.
Wood, or a wood/alu combination is the best for durability and energy-efficiency combined, but I'm guessing you are looking for low-maintenance, and in that case aluminium or fiberglass are the best options.
posted by mumimor at 11:29 PM on June 27, 2015

modern aluminum windows are more durable than vinyl - it's the same material used for skyscraper facades and commercial storefronts. Modern aluminum windows do always include a thermal break, so they do not have the thermal problems of 70's era aluminum windows, which are awful. Only thing to be careful of with aluminum is that it is prone to galvanic action, so you should be sure all your window flashing is ALSO alumninum to prevent the window from corroding. Is there a reason you wouldn't get wood windows? They'd probably be a more appropriate choice for a a house (assuming that's what you're asking about - most people do either wood or vinyl for residential - aluminum is primarily commercial).
posted by annie o at 9:22 PM on June 29, 2015

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