Tom Shafer

Guide to window frame materials

April 21, 2014

Originally, window frames and sashes were all made of wood. That's certainly not true anymore! There are numerous materials in a variety of colors and energy-efficient options to choose from. The need for painting has been reduced or eliminated, longevity has been increased, and the insulating values of frame materials are greatly enhanced. Just take a look at your options below. Price has been ranked on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the priciest.

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  1. Wood is, of course, still available. In many markets, wood is still the preferred material, especially in more expensive homes or where architectural restoration and preservation is required. Wood can be painted and stained. Interior stains can match the architectural moldings used in the home. Price: 8
  2. Vinyl is the most popular frame material. Over 70% of windows sold are made of vinyl. Vinyl is usually guaranteed not to chalk or crack, never needs painting, and has excellent weathering and thermal properties. Price: 1-2
  3. Aluminum, now used mostly in commercial buildings and in more southern climates, was most popular for housing in the late 70s and early 80s. Aluminum is a very poor insulator and has been almost been phased out as a residential window material. Price: 2-5
  4. Aluminum clad wood is exactly what it sounds like. The frame is made of wood but has aluminum on the exterior, which can be painted a variety of colors. Price: 5-7
  5. Vinyl clad wood is a similar concept, but has lost popularity recently. The vinyl was to eliminate painting, but it cannot be made in too many colors because the heat distortion impacts the material. Price: 5-6
  6. Fiberglass is a relatively new material for windows. The fiberglass strands are pulled through a die and injected with a resin that hardens. Fiberglass can be colored and it's also a very hard material. However, most do not have a smooth surface. Price: 10
  7. Fibrex is a material made by Andersen. It consists of wood fiber (40%) and a polymer resin (60%). Fibrex is a very sustainable material, is twice as strong as vinyl, and it does not expand and contract, keeping it very airtight. Fibrex is not harmed by weather extremes and does not need painting. Price: 8-9

Wondering how to choose the best material for your window frames? First find your climate on the Energy Star zone map. From there, you can evaluate the criteria of each frame to make you are not over-selecting or under-selecting (by buying a frame with too much or too littler insulation, for instance) for your region.

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