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The Basics of Common Window Frame Materials

Once you’ve decided to replace your old windows, the next decision you’ll probably face is choosing the frame material.  There are other decisions such as style, number of panes, hardware, etc., but deciding on the type of frame you want will help you narrow down the manufacturers co consider.

Replacement windows come in a variety of frames these days – aluminum, vinyl, fiberglass, wood, composite, and wood clad.  Each material has its pros and cons, and no one material is right for every situation.  For instance, if you’re not planning on remaining in your home for more than a couple of years, keeping the cost down may be your top priority.  On the other hand, if your utility bills are skyrocketing, choosing the best insulating material might be more important.

In order to help you make a more informed choice, here is the basic information of the most common window frame materials:


Though more expensive than vinyl or aluminum, wood window frames have a natural beauty that can’t be matched.  If you have an older or historic home and you’re aiming to match the original windows as closely as possible, wood is probably your best choice.  The downside of wood windows?  They are susceptible to rot from moisture, and they can warp in their openings.   Wood is also not the best material in terms of energy efficiency.  Wood frames need periodic re-staining or re-painting as well as re-caulking. Wood window frames can also be ordered with exterior cladding, usually a durable and low-maintenance finish which cuts down on the need to paint and stain, and the cladding also helps with the moisture rot problem.


Aluminum windows were the original “replacements” marketed as such, and while they are the least expensive choice and were once very popular, they are less common now.  Because aluminum is a good heat conductor, these frames aren’t very energy-efficient, and tend to develop frost and condensation in the in the winter.   However, aluminum window frames can be ordered with what is called a “thermal brake,” which helps increase the insulating value.  Aluminum windows could be a good low-cost option for a summer cabin or an unheated garage where the insulating factor is not an issue.  Aluminum is fairly durable, and it resists damage from moisture and insects.  Today’s aluminum windows are much stronger and sturdier than the flimsy frames made popular in the 70’s.  This material was also used on some buildings constructed in the 1930’s, so if you have a home from that era, it may have aluminum windows.


Vinyl is currently the number-one choice for residential replacement windows.   It is very low maintenance and resists damage from moisture and insects.  If cost is a priority, vinyl is a better option for most homes than aluminum; vinyl windows are very reasonably priced in comparison to other materials.  If you choose an EnergyStar rated product, vinyl window frames can provide great insulating value.  Some vinyl window frames are susceptible to expansion and contraction with extreme temperature variations, and some vinyl window frames have been found to warp when installed on areas that are in bright sunlight for extended periods.  Within the vinyl category there are sub-options – recycled vinyl, prime vinyl, and composite. 


Composite window frames vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, so it is difficult to make generalizations.  However, most frames are made of a mixture of wood and polymers.  Some industry experts believe that composite window frames are the material of the future.   Composite frames are dimensionally stable, resist damage from impact, and are more thermally resistant (provide better insulation) than wood frames.  Overall, composite window frames cost more than vinyl but less than clad wood.  Although composite window frames have only been used in residential applications since the mid 1990s, it is felt that composite window frames provide good long-term durability. 


Fiberglass is the newest entry in the replacement window frame market, and currently it is generally the most expensive option.  Fiberglass window frames have many of the same benefits of vinyl window frames such as being low-maintenance, except that fiberglass does not have problems with expanding and contracting.   They are also very energy efficient and extremely durable.  If you’re planning to remain in your home indefinitely and up-front cost is not an issue, fiberglass windows could be right for you.  In time they will pay for themselves in energy savings as well as increased home value.


Window Outfitters is a premier Window Replacement, doors, siding contractor and installer. As Contractor in the St Paul, Minneapolis, (Twin Cities) Minnesota (MN) metro, we proudly serve, but are not limited to, the following areas: Minneapolis Energy Efficient Vinyl Windows, Replacement Window Contractors Minnesota, Burnsville, Apple Valley, Lakeville, Savage, Bloomington, Edina, Richfield, Eagan, St Paul, Hastings, Minnetonka, Plymouth, Maple Grove, Eden Prairie, Farmington MN, Chaska, Shakopee, Chanhassen, Victoria, Mendota Heights Anderson Windows Minneapolis, Marvin Windows Minneapolis.