Window shopping: 5 frame materials for your home

July 17, 2011

Are you lacking a frame of reference for choosing new window frames? You're not alone. Who knew that you had so many choices for such a seemingly small part of your home? In reality, your window frames do more than just, well, frame. The right material can help you conserve energy and, therefore, save money on your utility bills. But how do your options compare?

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There are style and substance benefits to choosing wooden frames. Wood can be stained or painted to suit your taste and is very energy efficient, keeping your home well insulated. However, wood requires a lot of maintenance, and because it expands or contracts based on the weather (especially in humid weather), wooden frames can cause your windows to stick open or shut.


Though lightweight, aluminum is very durable. Aluminum window frames are inexpensive, require little maintenance, and are generally available in a wide range of colors. The downside? Aluminum conducts heat very quickly, which means that hot and cold air will move in and out of your home like unwanted guests. Installing quality weather stripping on the inside of the frame and sash can help with this issue.


Vinyl is inexpensive, highly energy efficient, requires little maintenance, and is extremely durable. So what's not to love? If appearances are important to you, keep in mind that colored vinyl can fade quickly after prolonged exposure to sunlight. If you live in an area that's subject to extreme weather, vinyl isn't a great choice; it can expand and warp in high temperatures and crack if it's consistently very cold outside.


Fiberglass window frames are relatively new to the market. On paper, they seem like the perfect match for any home: They are durable, can withstand extreme temperatures, are highly energy efficient, and their hollow cavities can be filled with insulation, making your home nearly air-tight. However, fiberglass frames are among the most expensive on the market, and because they are a recent innovation, there isn't much information about their long-term performance.


Composites are essentially hybrids of wood and vinyl. Though every manufacturer defines "composite" a little differently, these frames are generally some kind of laminated wood. These frames are moisture and air resistant and are especially eco-friendly because they are often made from leftover or recycled materials. Composite frames can be quite expensive, which can mean that your window replacement cost can climb quickly.

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