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Vinyl vs. Wood vs. Fiberglass vs. Aluminum Windows (Comparison)

Windows with breathtaking view

Getting your house some windows but not sure which one to get? Let us help you decide among vinyl, wood, fiberglass and aluminum windows with our gallery of their differences and advantages and see the best fit according to your needs.

Picking windows can be a real challenge, as I know from my own experience. The last time I picked out windows, I had my heart set on wood windows. I’ve always loved the look of real wood, and I thought that wood windows would match my home’s decor. However, I decided to do a little research before going to the store. I found out that while wood windows are beautiful, they are also relatively expensive. Also, some other types of windows are more durable. I ended up going with vinyl windows after considering my options.

If you find yourself in this situation, read on to learn everything you need to know about vinyl, wood, fiberglass, and aluminum windows.

What Are Vinyl Windows?

Vinyl windows

Vinyl is an affordable, plastic-like material that is often used for window frames. Vinyl has become extremely popular for windows because of its durability and low cost. Vinyl windows are most commonly white but are available in all colors and styles.

What Are Wood Windows?

Wood windows

Wood is the classic material that has been used for windows for centuries. Many people like the look of wood and natural-grain wood windows are especially popular. However, wood is fairly expensive and it is not as durable as some other types of windows.

What Are Fiberglass Windows?

Fiberglass windows

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Fiberglass windows are also popular. They are very durable and come in many different colors and shapes. Fiberglass windows are also great insulators. The main disadvantage of fiberglass windows is their cost, as they are relatively expensive.

What Are Aluminum Windows?

Aluminum windows

Aluminum windows have many benefits. They are very strong, which allows for thinner frames and thus larger windows. Aluminum windows, however, do have their disadvantages. They are more expensive than vinyl windows. Also, aluminum windows are not very good insulators. If you live in a cold climate and you want to get aluminum windows, you need to go for models with a thermal break.

A Brief History Of Vinyl Windows

Vinyl windows fitted on wood plank walls.

Vinyl windows are extremely popular these days. Most of the houses and apartment buildings being constructed these days utilize vinyl windows. If you see a building with vinyl windows, there’s a good chance that it was built sometime from the 1990s to the present day.

A Brief History Of Wood Windows

Wood window with shutters

Wood was the material of choice for windows for hundreds of years. However, it has gradually decreased in popularity since the mid 20th century. Wood has several disadvantages relative to more modern materials like vinyl. The biggest disadvantage that wood windows have is that they are quite expensive. Also, wood windows are not as durable as windows made from man-made materials like fiberglass. Most of the “wood” windows that you might see these days are actually vinyl windows that are made to look like wood.

A Brief History Of Fiberglass Windows

Fiberglass windows overlooking the lush green yard.

Fiberglass is a man-made material that has been popular for windows since the turn of the 20th century. To put it simply, fiberglass windows are like a much stronger and more durable alternative to vinyl, which is much cheaper. Fiberglass windows are popular among modern homeowners who have the budget to look at options other than vinyl. Fiberglass is also a popular alternative to wood, as it can be made to look very much like real wood.

A Brief History Of Aluminum Windows

Full height aluminum windows on a modern house.

Aluminum windows have made a comeback recently after not being popular for several decades. There was a massive boom in the population of America and a directly related boom in the construction of houses in the years after World War II. Many of the houses that were built around this time had aluminum windows. These aluminum windows can still be seen in many houses from this era, which should give you a good idea about how durable aluminum windows really are. These days, the modern and modern contemporary styles are utilizing aluminum windows in large numbers, so it is more and more common for new houses to have aluminum windows.

Features Of Wood, Vinyl, Aluminum, & Fiberglass Windows

No type of window is necessarily better than another type. Wood, vinyl, fiberglass, and aluminum windows all have advantages and disadvantages. Read on to learn more about the features of these different types of windows so that you can learn all you need to know to make an informed buying decision.

Materials

Arched window on a brick wall with expansive views.

Wood

Wood is much less popular for window frames than it used to be, but it still hasn’t lost its classic allure. The beauty of wood is its main benefit as a window material. Wood windows are usually only exposed on the inside because the outside is protected from the elements with materials like PVC, aluminum, or fiberglass. The two most popular types of wood windows are pine and Douglas fir, although other types of wood windows are available. Wood windows are relatively high-maintenance. They must be painted and sealed regularly. However, you have to be careful when painting them because the paint can cause them to stick and become difficult to open.

Vinyl

Vinyl windows are by far the most popular in this day and age primarily because vinyl is a very cheap material. Vinyl is a type of plastic, so it can be manufactured quickly and easily. It should be noted that vinyl windows are usually white or tan. This is because vinyl tends to fade over time, especially in sunny climates. More colors are available, but they come at a premium. Vinyl provides good insulation. It is a better insulator than aluminum, but not as good as wood. Vinyl windows are very low-maintenance.

Fiberglass

Fiberglass is the second most popular material for windows these days, behind only vinyl. Fiberglass is created by impregnating glass mats with polyester resin. This creates a light yet strong material. Fiberglass windows were created to address the shortcomings in vinyl windows, especially longevity and durability. As a result, fiberglass windows are longer-lasting than vinyl windows. Fiberglass is also stronger than vinyl, which allows thinner frames. Finally, fiberglass can also be made to look almost exactly like wood, which is a desirable style for many homeowners.

Aluminum

Aluminum is an increasingly popular material for windows. Aluminum’s main advantage as a material is that it is very light, yet very strong. This allows for big panes and thin window frames. Many people also like the look of aluminum windows. Aluminum windows are more costly than vinyl but less costly than wood. Aluminum’s main weakness as a window material is that it is a poor insulator. Aluminum is essentially unusable as window material in cold climates unless it includes a thermal break. Some aluminum windows actually have wood inside aluminum cladding to act as a thermal break.

Design features

White framed windows above a wooden seat nook.

Wood

Wood’s main draw is its look. Many homeowners like the natural wood look, although wood can also be painted various colors. Premium wood windows can come in a variety of different scrolled or embossed designs. These designs are beautiful, but wood windows with such designs are even more expensive.

Vinyl

The main drawback of vinyl is how it looks. The vast majority of vinyl windows are either white or tan. Depending on where you go for window shopping, it may actually be difficult to find other colors. Many people also think that vinyl looks cheap. Frankly, if the design is a high priority and you have the budget for other types of windows, you shouldn’t go for vinyl.

Fiberglass

Fiberglass is usually not chosen for its design, but for its longevity and durability. However, fiberglass windows may actually be a bit underrated when it comes to style. Fiberglass windows can be had in pretty much any color you can imagine. Also, homeowners who are interested in wood windows may want to consider fiberglass windows instead, as wood grain fiberglass windows are very realistic.

Aluminum

Aluminum window frames have a distinctive design that many people find appealing. Aluminum has a distinctive look when it is anodized, which is a process similar to staining wood. Anodization also has a side benefit of protecting the aluminum material. Of course, aluminum also can be painted any color you like. You can even repaint it fairly easily if you remodel your home.

Ease of installation

Windows installation

Wood

Wood windows are not as easy to work with as vinyl, but it is possible to install wood windows yourself. You have to do a lot of research to find detailed instructions and you have to follow these instructions carefully. If you are willing to put in a great deal of time and effort, however, you can install your own beautiful wood windows.

Vinyl

Vinyl windows are known to be the easiest type of window for homeowners to install themselves. Most of the windows available in hardware stores are vinyl. Vinyl does not have the exacting tolerances that make some of the other window materials difficult to work with.

Fiberglass

Fiberglass windows are difficult for non-professionals to work with. In fact, it may be hard for you to get your hands on fiberglass windows if you’re not a pro. Most hardware stores don’t carry them. You may have to order fiberglass windows online if you really have your heart set on them. However, fiberglass windows have to be installed to exacting tolerances that only professionals with experience and specialized equipment can reliably achieve.

Aluminum

Aluminum windows are fairly easy to install. Most homeowners with a bit of patience and mechanical aptitude can manage to install aluminum windows themselves. Aluminum is right up there with vinyl as one of the easiest window materials to work with. Aluminum windows can be obtained easily, unlike fiberglass windows.

Energy Saving Properties

Opened windows overlooking a mountain view.

Wood

Wood is a very good insulator. This helps homeowners save money on energy because the cold or hot air from outside does not affect your home’s temperature. Wood windows also help keep your home’s AC in.

Vinyl

Vinyl is a decent insulator. It falls somewhere in the middle of the pack in terms of energy saving. It isn’t as good as wood, but it’s better than aluminum.

Fiberglass

Fiberglass is also a decent insulator. It is roughly as good an insulator as vinyl. Some fiberglass windows are better insulators than vinyl windows due to their more advanced construction.

Aluminum

As previously mentioned, aluminum’s main problem is that it is a poor insulator. If you live in a temperate climate, this is not that big of a deal. However, there’s a good reason that aluminum windows are rare in cold climates. If you really want to have aluminum windows in a cold climate, you need to get the kind with an insulating material (which is known as a thermal break) inside the frame.

Durability

Three-panel windows in moss green frames.

Wood

Wood windows are not very durable relative to the other types of windows. They have to be covered and recovered with a sealant to protect them against the elements. Even so, wood windows may warp. Also, termites and other bugs love to eat wood windows.

Vinyl

Vinyl windows are slightly more durable than wood, but they are still significantly less durable than aluminum and fiberglass windows. Vinyl windows tend to warp in sunny climates. Also, brightly colored vinyl windows often lose their pigment over time.

Fiberglass

Fiberglass windows are extremely durable. In fact, their durability is one of their main selling points. Fiberglass windows are a good choice in any climate.

Aluminum

Aluminum windows may be the most durable. This is especially true of properly anodized aluminum windows. Aluminum windows that are properly anodized and maintained can last for decades.

Cost differences (ballparks)

Floor to ceiling windows in a spacious lobby.

Wood

Wood windows are the most costly type. The cost varies widely depending on the type of wood and how ornate the windows are. An average of 36 in. x 60 in. wood window can run you $350 or more.

Vinyl

As stated throughout the article, vinyl windows are the cheapest you’ll find. Vinyl windows are made to be affordable, so there really isn’t as much price variation as you’ll see with wood windows. An average of 36 in. x 60 in. vinyl window is about $200 or a little more.

Fiberglass

Fiberglass windows are generally in the middle of the road when it comes to cost. There is some price variation depending on the design of the fiberglass window. The average 36 in. x 60 in. fiberglass window will run you somewhere around $275.

Aluminum

Aluminum windows are also in the middle of the range when it comes to cost. Generally, aluminum windows cost roughly as much as fiberglass windows. Thus, an average of 36 in. x 60 in. aluminum window will cost about $275.

Benefits Of Each

Black framed windows covered in translucent roller shades.

If you’ve made it to this point, you may be experiencing information overload. While all of the information in this article is important, the most important info to many people is each window type’s unique benefits. Here is a quick recap of the benefits of each type of window:

Wood

  • Beautiful
  • Good Insulator

Vinyl

  • Cheap
  • Decent insulator
  • Easy to work with

Fiberglass

  • Very durable
  • Wide range of colors and styles
  • Can be made to imitate wood very closely at a lower price point

Aluminum

  • Very durable
  • Very strong
  • Can be painted many colors or left metallic



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