By Jeanine Smith
November 23rd, 2021
When deciding to replace windows, there are several factors to consider when choosing which windows will be installed. One of the main considerations will be the types of window frames. The frames are important to the initial cost, lifecycle costs, maintenance, lifespan, function, performance and aesthetic. For Part 1 of this Window Replacement series, we are discussing the advantages and disadvantages of wood and aluminum window frames.
Wood frame windows remain a popular choice because of their classic look, historic character, and design flexibility. If you close your eyes and picture a window, the window you are imagining probably has a wood frame. This classic characteristic may be of particular importance to buildings within a landmark historic district, that are on a national register, or are looking to boost the historic character of their building. Wood remains a durable resource with natural insulative properties, resulting in less thermal and aural transfer between outdoors and indoors. Much like concrete, wood gets harder and stronger over time, which results in long-lasting performance. However, not all woods are created equally, so there may be the added complexity of deciding between wood types. Wood windows are also highly versatile in finished aesthetics, as they can be designed and constructed as ornately or simply as desired. Matching a historic profile is typically easier to achieve with wood than any other material. As wood windows are typically finished with paint coatings, they are not limited to a specific manufacturer’s range of colors and typically do not require additional cost to get the desired color and effect. With proper care and maintenance, wood windows can last a person’s lifetime or longer.
However, wood windows do have drawbacks, which is primarily the cost. Wood windows have a higher initial cost than other materials and require the most maintenance. To optimize longevity, wood windows need to be regularly cleaned and require new sealants and sealers every few years. Additionally, wood windows will require repainting or staining every few years to maintain their aesthetic. Installation time and inconvenience can also be a disadvantage of wood windows. Retrofits, the installation of a new window on top of the existing window frames, are not an option for wood windows, which means their installation typically entails more demolition and disruption than other material types. Wood windows may also be vulnerable to rotting and warping due to weather conditions, which may be exacerbated by local weather conditions and direct exposures. Of the main window material types, wood is the most susceptible to insect and pest damage. Maintenance is a requirement to ensure that the wood remains protected from the weather elements and pestilence.
Aluminum windows are a popular choice, particularly for buildings with a more contemporary aesthetic. The properties of aluminum allow for a wide range of fabrication options and can achieve unique shapes and profiles. Aluminum windows are typically more affordable when compared to other material types, due to the price of the base material, the smaller amount of material needed during fabrication, and its ease of installation. In the long term, aluminum windows are often the easiest and least expensive to maintain. The material is durable, the finish does not require repainting, and it is easy to clean.
Of course, this material has its disadvantages. Its metal properties make it a very poor insulator, allowing for thermal transfer between indoor and outdoor temperatures as well as the transfer of noise. Advancement in window replacement technologies have improved their thermal capability, resulting in better energy efficiency when compared to older aluminum windows; however, this is slight among the primary disadvantages. Aluminum windows are prone to corrosion when exposed to saltwater and air, making this material type, less suitable for buildings with coastal exposures.
Aside from wood and aluminum, some other popular window materials include vinyl, fiberglass, and composites. Like wood and aluminum, each of these materials has its own associated advantages, disadvantages, and best-use cases. These materials will be discussed in part 2 of our Window Replacement series.