There are 5 different types of window frame materials for replacement windows that most of the top window brands will offer. These 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 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 frame you need before you make the purchase.
Replace vs. Repairing Window Frames
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. 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.
Vinyl Window Replacement
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 replacement windows are affordable and they are known for being good insulators. Vinyl is a versatile material and can be used to make most 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, and they do not have the same aesthetic charm as wooden or aluminum windows. They are not quite as strong as fiberglass, wood or aluminum, even when made with the best design practices.
Aluminum Window Replacement
Aluminum replacement windows are known for being rugged and long-lasting. They are also more modern and work well with sleek and modern home styles. They 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 wear problems that affect wood, vinyl or fiberglass windows.
One drawback of aluminum windows is they are not very efficient, even though manufacturers do everything they can to boost those “energy efficiency window figures.” When compared to other options, they fall short in terms of efficiency. They are also 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 Replacement
Fiberglass replacement windows are a less common but durable window installation option, and they are relatively simple to maintain. Fiberglass windows are made from extruded fiberglass sections and the frames are a similar shape to vinyl frames. 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.
Unlike wood or aluminum, fiberglass windows are a bit dull in appearance. This can be remedied by painting them in a different color, but many people still do not find it as charming. 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 Replacement
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, and though they have adapted to modern standards, they still offer the same general strength and aesthetic appeal that they always have.
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 window frames, also called clad wood windows, are constructed from a combination of two materials. They are made of a wood and vinyl window material combo or from a wood and aluminum material mix to create what is referred to as a composite window frame. They can be made to look like any of the window frame types mentioned and are very easy to maintain. Composite replacement windows 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 a new window frame, 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 home improvement project. Replacing home windows can be a big project and you will want to budget accordingly, use our Modernize window cost calculator to help you get an estimate.
Consider 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.
Window Frame Warranty
It is common for a manufacturer to offer a “lifetime” warranty with their window and frame, but that warranty can mean one thing at one manufacturer and something completely different at another. It is important to read the fine print and find out how long the warranty covers the windows and which conditions are covered so you know which manufacturers stand behind their products.