Vinyl vs. Aluminum Windows
If you are comparing vinyl vs. aluminum windows, here are some of the most important factors to consider before making your purchase. See our window pricing estimator for costs and estimates.
Aluminum window frames are by far the strongest material available - it's the principal reason that aluminum frames are almost always found in commercial buildings. Of the five main frame materials in the replacement market (wood, aluminum, vinyl, fiberglass, composite), only aluminum is commerically rated - it is some 8 times stronger than vinyl. Aluminum frames are a good candidate for very warm climate due to their strength (conversely vinyl can begin to warp at temperatures over 110 degrees). Vinyl frames are a bit all over the board when it comes to strength. Low grade extrusions made for builder grade purposes are not going to fairly weak. Well made extrusions with foam fills and several chambers are going to be plenty strong for most homeowners and will hold up for a good 30 to 50 years. Mid range vinyl windows should last 30 years or more.
If you like the more industrial style of aluminum windows, then certainly they will get the nod in this category. Aluminum windows are often preferred for modern or loft buildings as they offer a more commercial or modern look. These windows generally have thin frames, perfect for a picture window where you want an abundance of light. However, there are far less manufacturers of aluminum windows as compared to vinyl. Therefore, vinyl windows offer a wide array of frame colors and finishes, they may come in a wood or faux wood interior, have more hardware options and features etc.
Vinyl replacement windows will offer better energy efficiency over aluminum. Modern aluminum windows are thermally broken, which has significantly improved their energy efficiency compared to aluminum frames of old. However, they still aren't a match for a decent vinyl window. Vinyl windows have good numbers when it comes to the "R Values," which means they can save you money in the long run when it comes to your utility bills. R values rate the windows performance when it comes to insulation. Higher values mean good insulation. Aluminum windows shouldn't be used in cold climates due to how they transfer cold (even if they are thermally broken, which all aluminum window manufacturers now use) - they are good for very hot climates.
Cost & Value
Well made vinyl windows should offer a really good investment and fall into the price range of $200 and $750 installed, with a mid range window costing $425 installed. Aluminum windows are not as popular as vinyl, therefore there are more limited options available, which in turn increases the price. Aluminum windows can cost anywhere from $350 to $950 per window installed, with a mid range option costing $650 installed. Are aluminum replacements worth the extra cost? For homeowners living in extremely hot climates or those who absolutely love the more industrial look, aluminum is a great option. For most other homeowners, a well made vinyl window is probably the way to go.
Thermal Barrier Aluminum vs. Vinyl
Dane, I am currently researching new windows to replace 30 1988 era aluminum windows. I don’t know much about vinyl other than staying away from “builder-grade”. I read your comments on how aluminum is not as efficient as vinyl. On a comparison level, how much difference is there between Thermal Barrier Aluminum and vinyl if both have Argon filled dual pane construction with Low-E366 glass?
[Site Editor's Answer]
Steve, if you want to experience aluminum vs. vinyl windows, go to your local starbucks and take a seat by the window — they use a commercial grade thermally broken aluminum window. Feel the frame in the morning, it's cold to the touch. Go at 1 in the afternoon and feel a window with direct sun on it — its hot.
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