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Window Frame Types

On this page:
  • 5 best types of window frames
  • When to repair vs. replace
  • Window frame sizes

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Types of Window Frames for Replacement

There are 5 different types of window frame materials for replacement windows that most of the top window brands will offer. These window frame types include aluminum windows, composite windows, vinyl windows, fiberglass windows, and traditional wooden window frames. The window style, energy efficiency, and durability of each differ slightly. We will discuss these differences below.

When you are buying new or replacement windows, window frames are one of the most important factors to consider. They are the structural backbone of a window, and a quality frame will keep a window functioning for decades rather than a few years. When you are looking for quality windows, start by focusing on the frames and then worry about the glass. It is important that you know what type and size window frame you need before you make the purchase.

Replacing vs. Repairing Windows

Some window frames—especially wooden—can be repaired affordably. Still, you should assess the current condition of your window frame and glass before deciding if a repair or a full replacement is necessary.

If you are looking to upgrade your home windows to the most energy efficient option to keep your home comfortable and energy bills low, you might want to replace your current windows with vinyl or fiberglass frames.

Rotting windows are not worth the trouble to repair and often can not be repaired anyway. Single pane windows create a drafty environment and they are not good for insulation or energy efficiency. So if you have single pane windows in need of attention, it is best to replace them entirely.

If your home’s windows are double paned, you might consider repairing them versus replacing. Wooden windows can be repaired and updated easily with kits and other commercial products sold for the purpose. Older wooden window frames offer a certain charm that you will not get from windows sold today, so making repairs is an affordable way to save that vintage aesthetic.

Window Frames Comparison Chart

Vinyl Window Frames

Vinyl windows are windows with frames made out of PVC (polyvinyl chloride), the same material used to make pipes and fittings for plumbing. The material is extruded into a straight shape and then crafted into a window frame and filled with glass.

Vinyl Windows

Vinyl is one of the most popular window frame choices for homeowners today

  • Most affordable framing material

  • Energy-efficient

  • Multiple design choices

  • Last 20-40 years with proper care

Vinyl replacement windows are one of the most popular window frame choices for homeowners today. They are the most affordable option, and are known for being good insulators. Vinyl is also a highly versatile material that can be used to make the majority of window styles, so you can get exactly what you are looking for.

One reason homeowners may upgrade to a different window frame type is that vinyl windows are not the most durable option over time. They are not quite as strong as fiberglass, wood or aluminum window frames. They also do not have the same traditional charm as wooden or aluminum windows.

Aluminum Window Frames

Aluminum replacement windows are known for being durable and long-lasting. They also have a more modern look compared to than vinyl windows, and work well with sleek and modern home styles.

Aluminum Windows

Aluminum windows are a top choice for homeowners that value durability in their new windows

  • Sturdy framing material that resists weather

  • Add modern style to the home

  • Require little maintenance

  • Last 40-50 years with proper care

Aluminum window frames let in plenty of sunlight and are low-maintenance, especially when they are not painted. They will not wear out in sunlight, and will not rot or mold from the common weather-related problems that usually affect wood, vinyl and fiberglass windows.

One drawback of aluminum windows is they they fall short in terms of energy efficiency. Aluminum conducts heat, so they are susceptible to expanding and contracting in high temperatures. They can also be quite expensive. You will spend more for aluminum windows than you will for vinyl or fiberglass, though they are usually a bit cheaper than wooden windows.

Fiberglass Window Frames

Fiberglass replacement windows are a less common window frame installation option, but they are increasingly becoming more popular for many reasons. This window frame material is very durable and relatively simple to maintain. Fiberglass windows are made from extruded fiberglass sections and have a similar shape to vinyl frames.

Fiberglass Windows

Fiberglass windows are quickly becoming a replacement window favorite for homeowners

  • Highly resistant to weather and heat

  • Wide variety of styles and designs

  • Very energy efficient

  • Last up to 80 years with proper care

Fiberglass windows are known to resist weather and temperature changes better than any other material. That is because fiberglass is so close in composition to the glass panes used to make up windows, so both materials expand and contract about the same amount during temperature changes. Fiberglass is an excellent insulator and makes window frames that work to prevent the transfer of heat. These windows can last an impressive 80 years with proper maintenance.

However, unlike wood or aluminum, fiberglass windows can be a bit dull in appearance. This can be remedied by painting them in a different color. The window material is also quite expensive and can cost as much as or more than aluminum or wooden windows. Fiberglass is much more expensive than vinyl windows are for a very similar look, and that is why so many people end up with vinyl frames in their homes.

Wooden Window Frames

Wooden replacement windows are just as durable and long-lasting as other window frame options when properly maintained. They have been used in homes for hundreds of years. Though they have adapted to modern standards, they still offer the same general strength and aesthetic appeal that they always have.

Wooden Windows

Wood windows are known for their traditional look and feel

  • Provide good insulation

  • Weather resistant

  • Eco-friendly

  • Last up to 10 to 20 years with proper care

However, compared to vinyl or fiberglass windows, wooden windows are pretty expensive. They also require maintenance. For instance, if you fail to repaint the windows when needed, they can suffer from severe expansion and contraction due to moisture changes in the wood. They are also susceptible to rot and weathering in certain climates.

Clad Wood Window Replacement 

Composite windows, also called clad wood windows, are constructed from a combination of two materials. They are made of a wood, plus either a vinyl or aluminum material mix to create what is referred to as a “composite window frame.”

Composite Windows

Window frames that are made up of a mix of wood plus vinyl or aluminum are known as composite windows

  • Same classic look and feel of wood windows

  • Superior durability

  • Highly weather resistant

  • Last 15 to 30 years with proper care

Clad wood windows can be made to look like any of the window frame types mentioned and are very easy to maintain. Going with this framing option gives you the best of both worlds – the classic look and feel of wood windows, combined with the strength and durability of aluminum or vinyl windows. Composite replacement windows, however, can get very expensive. They are a great option if you are not worried about higher prices for new windows compared to more affordable window installation options.

Window Frame Sizes

Before deciding on new window frames, make sure you have your window measurements properly sized by an expert to fit the standard size window opening in your home.

Without proper sizing, you will run into one of two major problems. The first is that the windows will be too large for the opening, so you will either have to cut away some of the wall in your home to accommodate the new window size or return the window.

If the window is too small, it will be difficult to hang properly and will let in drafts, have poor insulation and potentially even break. It is best to have a local window installer inspect your home’s layout and help you choose the best window type for your project.

Divided Window Frames

When shopping for windows, you will have to decide if you want a full frame of open glass or a divided frame. Divided window frames have sections with small pieces of glass between each section. There are also windows designed with faux dividers that make the windows look separated even though they really are not. For an unimpeded view, avoid divided frames when installing different window styles. On the other hand, if you prefer the classic look of window panes, here are several options to choose from.

Authentic Divided Windows

Windows with authentic dividers and small pieces of glass between each divider are quite expensive. They are more work to create and have more weak points. They are the best choice for an old-fashioned look, but they obstruct your view more than windows of open glass.

Attached Grid Window Frames

For a realistic divided look, attached grid windows have a full pane of glass with dividers glued to their surface. They appear to be divided just like authentic divided windows, but they are more affordable and generally more efficient.

Faux Grids Frames

Finally, there are faux grids. These grids sit in front of the window as part of the frame and often do not even touch the glass. They are the least convincing option in terms of a realistic look, but they are the easiest to clean. You can easily put a cloth in behind the separators and clean the entire glass all at once, which makes it much less of a hassle than cleaning each individual piece.

Return on Investment

When it comes to choosing new windows for your home, it is important to consider return on investment – especially if you plan to resell your home in the future.

According to the 2022 Cost vs. Value Report by Remodeling Magazine, the window frame types that will earn you the highest return on investment this year are vinyl windows and wood windows. Buying replacement vinyl windows for your home is expected to earn you a 67.5% return on investment, while choosing wood windows can earn you a 66.3% return on investment on average. These numbers are determined by the relative cost of the window frame compared to the value it produces for your home.

Window Warranties

It is common for a manufacturer to offer a “lifetime” warranty with their window and frame. But that warranty can mean one thing for one manufacturer and something completely different for another. It is important to read the fine print and find out the length of the window warranty, as well as which conditions the warranty covers so you know which manufacturers stand behind their products.