Blog > Category Post > Posted: 2021-Apr-26, Updated: 2021-May-03

Vinyl vs Aluminum vs Wood vs Composite vs Clads

window materials comparison
So, you want to buy replacement or new construction windows. Should you buy vinyl, aluminium, wood, or composite? Or is there something else? Phew, where to start?

The evolving window

Several years back, when my wife and I bought our first new home, the builder offered us a choice of wood or aluminium windows. We chose wood, it was less expensive, looked more traditional, and was more pleasing to the eye. The exterior was stained grey and the interior was painted white.

Our windows looked great for about four years, then the grey stain began to fade as it was replaced by a chalky-white film, and 4 seasons of condensation on the interior side of the window had left a permanent yellow residue on the white paint - nothing that a little sanding and refinishing wouldn’t fix, or so I thought. After many hours of sanding and refinishing (it was never-ending), the windows looked better, but not quite brand new.

Seven years later we were in the market for a new house again, this time the builder did not offer wooden windows as an option, it was vinyl or aluminium - I was perplexed, I had never even heard of vinyl windows, and I certainly wasn’t going to buy “plastic” windows for our new home! After persistent requests, I finally got a price for wooden windows - almost triple the cost of vinyl. Suffice-it-to-say, we chose vinyl and never looked back.

To my surprise, the vinyl windows held up fairly well over the years (especially considering they were builders grade). After 20 years we just replaced our older vinyl windows with new vinyl windows, not because they looked old and ugly, but because today’s vinyl windows dramatically outperform(twenty-year-old vinyl windows) in energy efficiency.

The moral of the story

Window products are constantly changing, there are more choices than ever - one thing for sure, depending on the choice you make, there will always be trade-offs. Hopefully, this article will help you find the right material to match your budget, discerning taste, and physical maintenance requirements. Our conclusion (skip the details).

The good the bad and the ugly

To give you a better picture of the differences between Vinyl, Aluminum, Wood and clad windows we looked at products being offered in the Ottawa area - from various suppliers and installers. We have tried to give the reader an unbiased comparison of a range of products so that they can make informed decisions. Note: We have not factored window hardware glazing, and glass options into the comparisons.

Vinyl/fibreglass Windows

Vinyl windows were first introduced in the 1950s, but didn’t really begin to catch on in here until the 1990s. Quality, energy efficiency improvements and lower costs over the last 20 years have increased vinyl window popularity in Canada dramatically.

Vinyl Window

Cost

  • Vinyl is the least expensive window manufacturing material.

Energy-efficiency

  • A well-constructed, properly installed (air leak-free) fit vinyl window offers excellent energy-efficiency.

Aesthetics

  • Vinyl windows look very much like traditional windows, the design will vary from manufacturer to manufacturer.
  • If you are looking for white windows inside and out, some manufacturers will use a bright white (slight blue tinge) and others use warmer friendlier whites (slight red tinge - creamy).
  • Exterior colour - available in many standard and custom colours. Manufacturers can use a spray or laminate process to apply colour.
  • Window Interiors - typically white, faux wood and paintable interiors are available.

Maintenance

  • One of the nicest features in most - not all vinyl windows is the lack of maintenance that is required.
  • Vinyl is durable, cleanable and holds up well under cold and hot conditions.
  • Vinyl is somewhat resistant to the effects of UV exposure (white only - some vinyl paint processes may not be as durable as others).

Warranty

  • Vinyl windows typically have the best warranties when compared to other materials.

Aluminium Windows

Aluminium windows were developed in the early 1900s for railroad cars, buses and streetcars, but they didn’t really make the jump to residential homes until the 1930s. Aluminium windows are less energy-efficient than wood or vinyl.

Aluminium is a stronger and more durable material than vinyl and offers structural advantages that allow for larger sheets of glass - it is the number one choice for apartment and office buildings.

aluminium windows

Cost

  • Aluminium windows are typically more expensive than vinyl, but less expensive than wood - but not always.

Energy-efficiency

  • Aluminium windows are known for conducting (transferring) hot and cold, which make them less energy efficient than both vinyl and wood windows, however, some manufacturers build thermal breaks inside the frame and sash to separate interior and exterior surfaces to reduce heat transfer.
  • Aluminium windows are practical in rainy, humid climates, and they typically meet or exceed stringent building codes.

Aesthetics

  • Because aluminium windows provide superior strength, the frames can be made thinner to maximize a viewing area and minimize the appearance of the window frame (narrow sightlines). Typically used in more modern residential building designs.
  • Exterior colours - Although manufacturers usually specify standard colours, some manufacturers offer custom colours as well. Frames are typically available in standard baked-on long-lasting colours and anodized for long life. Some manufacturers also offer a choice between glossy, mat and textured finishes.
  • Interior colours will typically mirror the exterior colour, however, there are many manufacturers that offer a choice of a different colour for the inside of the window. You’ll have to shop around to find a solution that’s right for you.

Maintenance

  • Not maintenance-free, they should be inspected for grime and potential corrosion.
  • Should be cleaned on a regular basis with non-abrasive mild soap and water.
  • The corners will stay square and the frames will not warp over time.
  • They will withstand all kinds of weather conditions.

Warranty

  • Aluminium windows will typically outlive (30-40years) both vinyl and wood windows.
  • Length of warranty is typically different from one manufacturer to another.
  • Lifetime warranty on the frames and sash.

Wood Windows

In today’s market, wooden windows represent custom craftsmanship, superior quality, outstanding energy performance, and usually a hefty price. What was once the norm has now become a trendy niche carved out to homeowners with large pockets.

Wooden Window

Cost

  • Generally speaking, wooden windows are much more expensive than vinyl or aluminium products, however, some manufacturers often offer value and premier lines of products.
  • Prices reflect the craftsmanship and detail.
  • Wood windows also take longer to install than vinyl or aluminium windows (reflected in the installation price).

Energy-efficiency

  • Wood windows are still the most energy-efficient and sound filtering windows on the market.

Aesthetics

  • Wood windows are beautiful inside and out.
  • Flawless lines and traditional details make them the most attractive and colour adaptable window products available on the market today.
  • Products are available in a variety of different woods - cherry, oak, mahogany, maple, walnut, jarrah, cherry.

Maintenance

  • Maintenance is the key to the long life of a wooden window. Wood windows will require more maintenance than vinyl or aluminum.
  • They are more susceptible to rot, bug infestation, and warping or cracking or due to sun and rain exposure.
  • Wood offers great value and a stunning look as long as you are alright with the extra effort it takes to maintain it.
  • If taken care of, wood windows will last longer than vinyl windows (over 40 years).

Warranty

  • Wood being a natural product is more susceptible to paint peeling, warping, and cracking and thus warranties may be more specific and for shorter warranty periods.
  • Each manufacturer is different and will have different warranties and conditions to be met to ensure warranty coverage.

Vinyl-Clad Wood Windows

Vinyl-clad wood windows offer the best of two worlds: an encased temperature-transfer-resistant wood interior, and a low maintenance exterior. But remember, not all window brands are the same so when shopping for clad windows be sure to look for an exceptional warranty period, a good base wood material, and ask how the wood interior is protected from water penetration that could lead to potential rot.

Vinyl Window

Cost

  • Vinyl-clad windows are somewhat less expensive than full wood or Aluminium clad windows.
  • The encapsulated wood does not need to be highly detailed or finished and is generally a less expensive type of wood than is used for full wood windows.

Energy-efficiency

  • Wood is an excellent insulator, so you can expect a high energy rating.

Aesthetics

  • The base of the window frame is manufactured with wood and then vinyl is wrapped around or extruded from the exterior of the window.
  • Depending on the manufacturer and the colour process they use, the exterior can be one of a set of standard colours or custom colours.
  • Vinyl-clad wood windows, typically allow for wood interiors that can be painted or stained.
  • Window Interior Different timber choices can help capture the desired stain colour, grain or finish to the interior frame, sash, casement, mullions and muntins.
  • Trim of the same timber type can also be added to provide a consistent total window finish.

Maintenance

  • Vinyl is durable, cleanable and holds up well under cold and hot conditions.
  • It also somewhat resistant to the effects of UV exposure (white only - some vinyl paint processes may not be as durable as others).
  • Regular inspections and minor maintenance will keep vinyl-clad wood windows in good condition.

Warranty

  • If you’re in the market for vinyl-clad wood windows, you should expect that they come along with a lifetime warranty.
  • Make sure you read the warranty for details.

Aluminium-Clad Wood Windows

Vinyl Window

Aluminium-clad wood combines wooden frames with a protective aluminium shell on the outside and natural wood on the inside. They are a great choice for people who want low maintenance, high insulation values, flexible finishing on the inside, and the strength features offered by aluminium on the outside of the window.

Cost

  • Aluminium-clad wood windows are probably the most expensive material type of window available.
  • They can be as much as or more than twice the cost of a vinyl window.

Energy-efficiency

  • Energy performance rivals that of solid wood windows.

Aesthetics

  • Aluminium-clad wood windows can be made to mimic traditional window frames for older home restorations.
  • They are not as low profile as non-clad aluminium windows so the sash and frame will be more visible.

Maintenance

  • Aluminium-clad wood windows are great in harsh environments,
  • they are not easily dented and because the paint is baked onto the aluminium, it will last longer than paint or colour film pressed onto vinyl windows, or stain on wooden windows.

Warranty

  • If you’re in the market for aluminium-clad wood windows, you should expect that they come with a lifetime warranty.
  • Make sure you read the warranty for details.

Aluminium-Clad Vinyl Windows

Aluminium-clad combines vinyl frames with a protective aluminium shell on the outside and vinyl on the inside. They are a great choice for people who want a great balance of price and performance and low maintenance.

Vinyl Window

Cost

  • Aluminium-clad vinyl windows are probably the most expensive material type of clad window available.

Energy-efficiency

  • Energy performance rivals vinyl windows, however, glass configuration is always a final determinant on energy efficiency - that is to say, a plane vinyl window can be as energy efficient with the right glass configuration.

Aesthetics

  • Aluminium-clad vinyl windows can be made to mimic traditional window frames for older home restorations
  • They are not as low profile as non-clad aluminium windows so the sash and frame will be more visible.

Maintenance

  • Aluminium-clad vinyl windows are great in harsh environments, they are not easily dented and because the paint is baked onto the aluminium, it will last longer than paint or colour film pressed onto vinyl windows, or stain on wooden windows.

Warranty

  • If you’re in the market for aluminium-clad vinyl windows, you should expect that they come along with a lifetime warranty.
  • Make sure you read the warranty for details.

Composite Windows

Composite windows are made from a combination of materials, such as wood, metals, vinyl or other plastics. Composite windows are the most recent addition to the lineup of window materials. They have been met with mixed reviews on performance and overall look by industry experts. Made from fully recycled and natural products, These products have a green stamp on them, and they are expected to be long lasting.

Vinyl Window

Cost

  • Composite windows are still more expensive than vinyl windows, but less expensive than wood, aluminium and class. If you are interested in pricing, there are fewer composite window manufacturers, and price and quality may vary from one to another.

Energy-efficiency

  • Composite windows are made of a solid material that is a good thermal insulator, they can be as much as 2 times more efficient than hollow chamber vinyl but comparable to solid wood and clad windows.

Aesthetics

  • Interior in some designs offers wood on the inside that can be stained or painted.
  • Exteriors come in a variety of colours and some manufactures apply colour to vinyl or aluminium cladding.

Maintenance

  • These windows combine the strength of wood with the rot-resistance and low maintenance of vinyl and aluminium. Because Composit windows are relatively new, they can be very different looking, and perform differently from one manufacturer to another.
  • Good composite windows won’t rot, fade, blister or peel.
  • Many products feature advanced craftsmanship, seamless lines.
  • Be sure to shop around and check official ratings.

Warranty

  • If you’re in the market for composite windows, you should expect that they will come with a lifetime warranty.
  • Make sure you read the warranty for details.

Conclusion

Choosing the right window material is mostly a matter of personal preference. Overall performance based on the qualities we considered in this article shows that there are tradeoffs depending on your purchasing goals.

  • Vinyl is probably the best all-around choice if you are looking for the lowest cost, lowest maintenance requirement and best warranty. Exterior colours may fade depending on the process used and warranties may vary dramatically from one manufacture to another.
  • Aluminium is the best choice if you are looking for durability, weather resistance, and a low profile. but it is more expensive and less energy-efficient than wor or vinyl.
  • Wood is natural, beautiful, has great insulation properties, but it will cost more, it will require more inspection and maintenance.
  • Both vinyl and aluminium clad windows offer the best of all worlds, but they would be your most expensive solution.

window materials comparison scores

Note: The table above is our general interpretation of how we think window materials could be scored.

Got more questions?

If you would like to know more about what window material is best for your window replacement requirements, give us a call or send us a request for more information. We’d be happy to address all of your questions or concerns. Contact Us.