Aluminum Windows, Are They Really That Bad?

If you’re in the market for replacement windows or if you are comparing different home improvement projects and currently have aluminum windows and you’ve done any research regarding aluminum windows surely you’ve come across some information at least a little bit of information. It seems that the only information out there is about how bad they are. In fact you would be hard pressed to find any positive information about aluminum windows on the web, and the question I get most from my home improvement clients is, “Are they really as bad as they make them out to be?”

Unfortunately the answer is, “It depends.” I know you were hoping for a quick and easy answer but the fact remains that it really does depend on what’s important to you. If you want a quick answer so you can move on to a more interesting topic then, no, aluminum windows aren’t as bad as most people make them out to be, in fact, there are a lot of pro’s when it comes to aluminum windows and depending on your situation, they may outweigh the cons.

Pro #1 – Structurally, aluminum is the sturdiest compound to make windows out of. If you leave a piece of white aluminum window frame material out in the sun in Death Valley for 20 years, other than some dust and debris, wipe it down and it is going to look exactly the same as it did 20 years ago. I doubt you can say that about vinyl windows and you definitely can’t say that about wood. PVC Vinyl windows are getting better and better all the time but no matter how many UV inhibitors they put it the resin, there is only so much abuse a vinyl window can take.

Pro#2 – Big windows are a possibility with aluminum. Due to the structural soundness of aluminum, virtually the sky is the limit when it comes to window sizes. That’s why skyscrapers are made with aluminum windows; you see there is no such thing as vinyl or wood windows in skyscrapers. So if you’re building a large custom home or are remodeling your home and want some big expansive windows, you will most likely be pushed towards aluminum otherwise your sizes will be limited. With a very few minor exceptions almost all commercial building is done with aluminum windows or storefronts. Very rarely will you walk in to a 7-11 or grocery store and see a wood or vinyl entry door. They are aluminum because aluminum is proven to last the longest of all available choices. You will see fiberglass entry doors in some commercial buildings and yes fiberglass is almost as impervious to the elements as aluminum, however, in most designers opinions, aluminum has a nicer finish and fiberglass still needs maintenance such as painting or staining.

Pro#3 – Aluminum windows are the more cost effective choice, at least as an initial investment is concerned. Of course there are varying quality levels and yes Brand A window may cost more than Brand B Vinyl window, however for comparable levels of quality, aluminum windows will be the more cost effective. For example, Milgard Windows, lowest price window line is their aluminum window. The glass which makes up most of the window is the same across all products, but the aluminum window is the cheapest window they offer.

Pro#4 – You usually have more color choices with aluminum. Colored vinyl windows are not quite ready for mass production yet, especially in extreme climates like southern Nevada, Arizona and the California desert. Many window manufacturers refuse to sell their white or tan vinyl in the desert let alone a colored version. With wood windows you get many color choices, but once again it is the aluminum on the exterior that is a different color. Aluminum windows are pretty much the only window I would trust in a black or dark brown color in high temperature regions. Aluminum can be easily painted to match any color you like at a reasonable cost. This is why you still see them in large custom homes, because they are the only window that gives you the color and size options often needed when designing a large custom home.

So as you can see, there are a lot of positives, so why do they get such a bad rap? Well there is only one real negative when it comes to aluminum windows and it’s a big one especially nowadays.

Con#1 – They are extremely inefficient when it comes to thermal energy protection. Energy efficiency is a major topic these days and if you want to sell a product you had better make sure that it is energy efficient or else it is doomed. Therefore all competing products continuously tout how inefficient they are and how energy efficient, vinyl, wood and fiberglass are. So there is nothing to say about that, the fact is yes, aluminum windows aren’t as energy efficient as the other alternatives.

Metal conducts heat. If its hot outside and you’re on the inside of your home and feel the frame of the aluminum window then it is going to feel hot. Same holds true in the winter, the frames are going to be cold and the aluminum will transfer that temperature difference into your home. There’s nothing you can do about it. So you have to decide if energy efficiency is your main concern. If it is, I wouldn’t recommend purchasing aluminum windows.

However if you are dead set on aluminum windows but are disheartened about the whole energy efficiency thing I have some good news for you. There is a way you can get the best of both worlds. There is a product called “Thermal Break Windows.” These are aluminum windows that are actually energy efficient as well. In layman’s terms the aluminum is basically “broken” up by a filament that prevents heat transfer through the window frame. Therefore the exterior portion of the frame is separated from the interior frame by a rubber energy efficient compound that allows you to have an the sturdiness and reliability of aluminum, while still maintaining energy efficiency.