New windows are surprisingly expensive, with an average cost between $300 and $1,500 each. Depending on how many windows you have, the total cost of new windows can easily exceed $15,000 — making it essential to choose the right windows for your home to avoid buyer’s remorse.
This article covers the similarities and differences between vinyl and aluminum windows, comparing each type of window based on cost, appearance, durability, and more. We discuss the situations where each type of window makes sense and explore the pros and cons of each in detail to help you make the right choice.
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What Are Vinyl Windows?
Vinyl windows are made from a low-cost material, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), that’s easy to clean and maintain. Compared to a more traditional wood window frame, vinyl windows are more resilient, easier to care for, and more affordable, making them far more popular in modern homes. Vinyl windows also maintain the look of traditional windows, and some brands even offer wood-like textures.
The popularity of vinyl windows is well-deserved, and we have no qualms about stating that they’re the right choice for most homeowners. However, there are certain circumstances where aluminum windows are the better choice.
What Are Aluminum Windows?
Aluminum windows are stronger than vinyl ones, making them a good choice for larger window installations. Their increased strength also makes them a better choice in areas with extreme weather, such as hurricanes and tornadoes. However, they’re expensive, prone to dents and scratches, and require extensive maintenance to keep them clean and in good working order.
Aluminum windows come in various colors but don’t have the same level of customization as vinyl windows. If you opt for aluminum windows, you won’t find the same selection of styles and textures as you would with vinyl.
Differences Between Vinyl and Aluminum
Vinyl and aluminum windows couldn’t be more different. The following sections explore the differences between vinyl and aluminum windows to help you decide which is right for your home.
Appearance and Aesthetics
Vinyl windows offer more style options than aluminum windows, making them the better choice if you care about aesthetics. Vinyl windows come in various looks, with smooth textures, matte finishes, faux wood-grain designs, and countless other styles. This flexibility makes vinyl windows easy to fit into an existing style and won’t hold you back if you design a new home from the ground up.
Aluminum windows are much more limited in terms of customization. You can get aluminum windows in virtually any color, but your options are otherwise lacking. Aluminum windows will always look like aluminum windows, which will fit in certain styles but look out of place in others. If you’re going for a modern or industrial aesthetic, aluminum windows are worth a look.
|Window Type||Aesthetic Pro||Aesthetic Con|
|Aluminum||Looks great in a modern industrial design scheme.||Customization is limited to color.|
|Vinyl||Tons of color and texture options, including attractive faux wood.||Looks out of place in many modern homes.|
Vinyl windows are more energy efficient than aluminum windows. A window’s ability to resist heat flow is measured by a statistic called the R-Value. Higher R-values indicate greater thermal resistance and better energy efficiency. Vinyl windows typically have R-Values of 4–6. Aluminum windows, on the other hand, usually have lower R-Values between 0.5 and 1.5, indicating poorer thermal resistance and lower energy efficiency.
If you want aluminum windows but care about keeping your home’s energy usage low, consider aluminum windows with built-in thermal insulation or thermal breaks. Windows are also rated by Energy Star, which can help guide you toward a more energy-efficient window.
|Window Type||Efficiency Pro||Efficiency Con|
|Vinyl||Outstanding thermal resistance and high energy efficiency keep your home’s temperature stable.||You can lose some efficiency if you don’t purchase high-quality, insulating glass.|
Installing new windows is a big home improvement project even for experienced DIY-ers — regardless of whether you choose vinyl or aluminum. That said, vinyl tends to be easier to work with since it’s the more pliable frame material. Aluminum windows are rigid and unforgiving, and you will have difficulty getting them to sit properly if your work isn’t extremely precise.
Unless you already know how to replace windows, we recommend hiring a professional contractor to install your new windows. Your installation will go faster if you hire a pro, and you won’t have to worry about running into issues down the road if you don’t install them correctly.
|Window Type||Installation Pro||Installation Con|
|Aluminum||More durable and resistant to structural changes once they’re installed.||Hard to work with and easy to install incorrectly if you’re not careful.|
|Vinyl||Quick and easy to install due to its greater pliability.||Susceptible to weather changes and may need to be tweaked over time.|
Aluminum is a metal, and metals generally conduct heat very efficiently — which means more heat lost through your windows in the winter and higher heating bills overall. Vinyl has a much lower heat conductivity, meaning it takes longer to lose the same amount of heat through a vinyl window than an aluminum one.
Heat transfer through aluminum windows can significantly affect your heating and cooling bills, so consider aluminum windows carefully if you live somewhere with extreme temperature changes between seasons. Unless you’re married to the look of aluminum windows, vinyl windows are almost always the better choice since they’re more energy efficient and save you significant amounts of money on your heating and cooling bills.
You might have to add some caulk to your vinyl windows if they’re not installed correctly. Once you have them sealed, you’ll notice an immediate improvement in your home’s energy efficiency compared to aluminum windows. Vinyl windows are the better option if your home is exposed to extreme temperatures since their better insulating capacity will strain your home’s HVAC system less.
|Window Type||Insulation Pro||Insulation Con|
|Aluminum||You can improve aluminum’s thermal properties with in-frame insulation.||Doesn’t provide great insulation out of the box.|
|Vinyl||Excellent insulation characteristics even from more affordable options.||May need to caulk your windows to fill in gaps due to vinyl’s flexibility.|
Maintenance and Cleaning
Both vinyl and aluminum windows are fairly low-maintenance, but vinyl windows win by a hair. Vinyl windows require virtually zero maintenance, making them the best option for homeowners who never want to think about their windows once installed.
Vinyl windows need to be cleaned, but you won’t have to worry about them growing mold or algae — so they only need to be cleaned for aesthetic purposes.
Aluminum windows require less maintenance than traditional wooden windows, but they take a bit more work to care for than vinyl windows. Aluminum windows are prone to rust and mold accumulation over time if you don’t clean them regularly. This is especially annoying if you live somewhere with high humidity or regular rainfall since you’ll frequently have to clean your aluminum in such climates.
Another point against aluminum is that it needs to be repainted to cover scratches and dings over time. Vinyl windows might show a bit of discoloration from exposure to the elements, but their appearance doesn’t change much as they age. Aluminum windows show wear readily — most homeowners wind up repainting them a few times.
|Window Type||Maintenance Pro||Maintenance Con|
|Aluminum||Aluminum windows generally require less maintenance than traditional wood windows.||Requires frequent repainting to maintain an appealing look.|
|Vinyl||Vinyl windows look great for years with very little care and attention.||Needs to be cleaned occasionally; it isn’t 100% maintenance-free.|
Strength and Damage Probability
Aluminum is significantly stronger than vinyl, making it the better choice if you live somewhere prone to extreme weather or earthquakes. However, aluminum is also quite soft despite its strength, which means it dents and scratches easily.
Damage to aluminum windows is much more obvious than damage to vinyl windows, so they age less gracefully. Scratches are easy to cover with a fresh coat of paint, but dents are harder to manage.
Vinyl provides less overall structural support than aluminum, but it resists most kinds of superficial damage. Vinyl windows will look better than aluminum windows for longer, even if you give them very little care and attention.
|Window Type||Durability Pro||Durability Con|
|Aluminum||Incredibly strong and resists structural damage from earthquakes and other extreme weather.||If they do incur damage, you won’t be able to hide it or repair it as easily.|
|Vinyl||Resists superficial damage like dings and dents and is easier to repair when they get damaged.||Prone to damage from extreme weather; less strength overall.|
Vinyl vs. Aluminum Windows Cost
Vinyl windows are much more affordable than aluminum, making them the go-to choice for homeowners on a budget. On average, vinyl windows cost between $200 and $500 per window before labor costs — making them more affordable than aluminum, composite, fiberglass, and wood frames. From a cost perspective, vinyl windows can’t be beaten.
Aluminum windows cost between 30% and 50% more than vinyl windows, so they’re not a great option if money is tight. Specifically, you should expect to pay between $300 and $700 per window for aluminum windows. The bigger issue than up-front cost is that aluminum windows will cost you more throughout their lives by being less energy efficient.
Luckily, most window contractors charge a similar rate to install new windows regardless of the window material. The installation cost will vary depending on where you live, your home’s accessibility, and seasonal demand, but the typical price for installing new windows is around $60 to $80 per window.
Final Thoughts: Are Vinyl or Aluminum Windows Better?
For most homeowners, vinyl windows are the better choice by far. They’re more affordable, easier to maintain, and more insulating — making them better in the categories that matter more to most people. Vinyl windows are also more customizable and come in many colors, textures, and styles.
Aluminum windows have their place, but they’re more expensive, more difficult to clean, and a headache to maintain. The primary advantage of aluminum windows is their strength, which makes them well-suited for areas subject to tornados, hurricanes, and earthquakes. Aluminum windows also fit certain styles better, which can be the deciding factor if you care more about aesthetics than anything else.
FAQs About Vinyl vs. Aluminum Windows
What is the downside of vinyl windows?
The primary downside of vinyl windows is their durability. Vinyl is prone to cracking, so it’s not a great material for window frames in extreme weather areas. Vinyl’s weakness relative to aluminum also makes it unsuitable for larger installations where the added support provided by aluminum is necessary to guarantee structural integrity.
What are the disadvantages of aluminum windows?
Aluminum windows are more expensive, harder to maintain and offer fewer design choices than vinyl windows. They’re prone to scratches and dents and require regular repainting to keep them looking fresh — as well as routine cleaning to prevent rust and corrosion, especially in more humid environments. Aluminum replacement windows are also much more expensive, making them a greater risk if you’re not sure you’ll be able to keep up with the maintenance aluminum windows require.
What lasts longer: vinyl or aluminum windows?
Aluminum windows last up to 40–50 years, significantly longer than the 25-year average lifespan of vinyl windows. However, aluminum windows require much more upkeep than vinyl windows, and they won’t last as long if neglected. Vinyl windows are more cost-effective overall, even though they require more window replacements than aluminum ones.
What is the difference between aluminum and vinyl windows?
The primary differences between aluminum and vinyl windows are cost, durability, and maintenance requirements. Aluminum window frames are stronger than vinyl window frames, but they also show wear and tear more easily. Vinyl window frames aren’t as supportive as aluminum, but they’re cheaper, virtually maintenance-free, and come in a wider variety of colors and styles.