For many people, all windows seem the same but they’re not and if you’ve already started exploring options for your home you probably know this. When it comes to deciding on what windows you want for your replacement window project you should first consider what material the existing windows are and whether those make sense for your home. You might find that there are other materials that work better for your home and climate.
In this article, we’ll explain some of the differences between two popular window materials - wood and aluminum. Let’s start with some obvious and maybe not so obvious similarities and we’ll wrap up with cost.
Similarities between wood and aluminum windows
Wood windows and aluminum windows, like all windows, serve the serve two primary purposes:
- Allow natural light into an enclosed space
- Create a barrier to protect the interior from outside elements
You can find fixed (non-operable) windows and operable window styles in both materials. As you can see there’s really not much else that’s the same between wood and aluminum windows. The reality is they are complete opposites outside of their primary purposes. Let’s get into how they differ in terms of durability, efficiency, and aesthetic function.
Milgard Aluminum Windows
Sierra Pacific Wood Windows
Which windows are more durable, aluminum or wood?
In terms of durability, a high-quality and well-installed aluminum window is more likely to last longer than a high-quality and well-installed wood window.
Aluminum is a durable, lightweight, and highly versatile metal. Used as a material for window frames it can be molded to create unique window shapes and the finished product is maintenance free. Wood windows are heavier and less malleable which limits the types of custom shape options available compared to aluminum windows but it is still a highly customizable building product especially with respect to hand craftsmanship and paint colors.
Wood windows require more maintenance than aluminum windows which can also make aluminum windows a more appealing option to some homeowners. All windows require regular cleaning, at least an annual wash to remove built-up debris and to identify any irregularities.
After a couple of years, homeowners with wood windows may need to start repainting or refinishing the windows to protect the wood from outdoor elements. An alternative option to windows made entirely of wood is to choose cladded wood windows. All the manufacturers we work with who sell wood windows sell cladded wood to give the exterior an additional layer of protection. Aluminum windows can be considered maintenance-free but if the protective finish is broken down by airborne abrasives or extended periods of high humidity the window becomes susceptible to corrosion.
Which windows are more energy efficient, aluminum or wood?
By far, wood windows are more energy efficient than aluminum windows. Aluminum is a conductor which means heat transfers easily through the material. Wood is a bad conductor meaning heat is less likely to transfer through the material. What all this means is aluminum window frames make your home susceptible to heat loss in the winter and heat gain in the summer, with wood window frames you won't have the same concerns.
Manufacturers try to combat high thermal transfer of aluminum windows by using a thermal break which adds an insulating material to the frame, unfortunately, it doesn’t eliminate heat transfer.
Another point to consider regarding energy efficiency is how the material affects your window glass. The glass package in the window frame is the most important part of the window when it comes to efficiency so it's important to know that window frames expand and contract in different weather. Wood materials expand less than aluminum materials.
The material each window is made of effects how much the frame and sash expand or contract. This is important to note because this process affects the glass that is sealed in the window sash. Expansion and contraction can ultimately cause the window seal to break or fail and if you have gas-filled double- or triple-pane windows, seal failure (sometimes called 'glass failure') will cause the window to lose the gas quickly and thus the extra insulation the gas is intended to provide. We'll explain how non-toxic, odorless gas is used in windows in another article.
It can be difficult to tell when your window has lost the insulating gas because it is invisible and non-toxic. You might also see fog or condensation between the glass panes if the window seal has failed.
Learn more about double pane windows or triple pane windows.
Which windows look better, aluminum or wood?
Asking which window looks better is too subjective of a question, the answer to that will vary depending on who you ask. The look of the window does affect how people decide on what to buy. If this is more important to you than the energy efficiency you'll want to also consider the style of your home, the houses in your neighborhood, and what kind of views you're hoping to create. The material can determine what shapes or styles are available and how much of a view you get through your window frame.
Wood is a classic, warm, and beautiful choice for windows. Wood windows are available in all of your traditional styles but they don’t have the same flexibility in the fabrication stage that aluminum windows have so they have fewer custom shape designs. Wood is a heavy and thick material and people are often steered away because of its cost (we’ll get into this soon) and maintenance. As a natural and handcrafted material, each window has a unique grain pattern that manufacturers often try to replicate with other materials like vinyl. Imitations don’t do justice to real wood windows.
A benefit of aluminum is that it is more flexible than wood as well as other materials like fiberglass and vinyl. More flexibility makes it is easier to mold this material into custom shapes for windows. Aluminum is light yet strong and can hold large panes of glass with slim window profiles. If maximizing your views is important and you like modern design this could be a good option.
Wood windows are an excellent fit for traditional and high-end homes because of their look and their cost while aluminum windows are a good fit for contemporary homes with narrow line designs.
Which windows cost more, aluminum or wood?
Wood windows typically cost more than aluminum windows.
Wood windows are a big expense but if you already have wood windows in your home you might want to consider making the investment to maintain and increase the curb appeal of your home. Wood (or timber) is a natural resource but it's also a scarce resource because it takes time to grow and replant. Making wood windows involves more manual labor than other materials that can be crafted more easily and faster by automated or machine labor.
Aluminum is relatively inexpensive and goes through a different fabrication process than wood. Aluminum is a mineral but in windows, it's actually a composite of aluminum mixed with other materials that when bonded together create the material that is used in modern aluminum extrusions. Aluminum frames are made through an extrusion process that presses the materials through a profile or die.
Recommended reading: Should I Buy Wood Windows?
Looking for more details on wood windows or aluminum windows? Check out our related articles at the bottom of this page or take some time to explore our window selection.
If you live in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and you're ready to talk to someone about getting a quote for your window replacement project give us a call at 817-860-9767 to schedule a free in-home estimate.