Thermal Break Aluminum Windows Vs. Vinyl Windows

When it comes to choosing new windows for your home, two popular options are thermal break aluminum windows and vinyl windows. Both have their advantages and disadvantages when it comes to performance, durability, appearance, and cost.

This comprehensive guide will compare thermal break aluminum and vinyl windows to help you decide which is the better option for your home.

A Brief Comparison Table

Now that you know the pros and cons of each material, here is a side-by-side comparison of thermal break aluminum and vinyl windows:

CategoryThermal Break AluminumVinyl (PVC)
DurabilityVery durable, lasts 40-50 yearsProne to warping and bowing over time
LongevityWithstands elements very wellStarts to degrade after 30-40 years
Energy EfficiencyVery good with multi-chamber framesExcellent, inherently good insulator
Sound InsulationExcellent noise reductionVery good noise reduction
AppearanceMore modern, sleek appearanceThicker frames, not as sleek-looking
Frame StrengthResists impact, bending, dentingCan crack or dent with hard impact
MaintenanceLow maintenanceLow maintenance, may need occasional caulking
CostMore expensive upfrontTypically most affordable option
RepairabilityEasier to repair framesNot easily repaired, may need replacement
SustainabilityFully recyclableNot recyclable, some sustainability concerns
Color OptionsMany finishes and colorsModerate color selection

As you can see, thermal break aluminum and vinyl windows have comparable performance in most categories. The main differences come down to durability, appearance, sustainability, and cost.

Aluminum is more durable and holds up better over decades of use. Vinyl can become brittle and degraded by sunlight over long periods of time. But vinyl has a cost advantage, offering excellent performance for the most affordable price.

Thermal Break Aluminum Windows Overview

Aluminum windows have been around for decades and are known for their sleek, modern look and narrow frame design. Plain aluminum conducts heat very easily, which results in energy loss.

So most aluminum windows now have a “thermal break” – an insulating layer of plastic or composite material that separates the inner and outer aluminum to prevent heat transfer through the frame.

Pros of Thermal Break Aluminum Windows:

Thermal Break Aluminum Windows
  • Very durable and long-lasting, with a life expectancy of 40-50 years
  • Low maintenance
  • Resistant to warping, rotting, rusting, and scratches
  • Excellent at blocking noise
  • Frames allow for larger glass areas and slim sightlines
  • Large variety of colors and finishes available
  • Easier to repair than vinyl

Cons of Thermal Break Aluminum Windows:

  • More expensive upfront cost than vinyl
  • Can still conduct some heat without advanced thermal breaks
  • Susceptible to condensation and fogging
  • Can dent, crack, or bend if subjected to strong impact
  • Not as good of insulators as wood or vinyl

Vinyl (PVC) Windows Overview

Vinyl, also known as PVC (polyvinyl chloride), is a plastic polymer that has become popular for window frames over the past 25 years. Pure vinyl is a poor heat conductor itself, making it a natural thermal insulator. The material is inexpensive, require little maintenance, and has good performance.

Pros of Vinyl Windows:

Vinyl Windows
  • Tend to be the most affordable type of window
  • Excellent thermal insulation properties
  • Resistant to rotting, rusting, cracking, and warping
  • Low maintenance requirements
  • Available in many colors and finishes
  • Good acoustic insulation for blocking sound

Cons of Vinyl Windows:

  • More prone to expansion and contraction with temperature changes
  • Can warp, bow, or discolor over time with sun exposure
  • Less durable over the very long-term compared to aluminum
  • Not as easily repaired as metal windows
  • Fewer color choices than aluminum
  • Thicker frames than metal windows

Key Factors To Consider In Your Decision

With this overview of the pros and cons, here are some key factors to keep in mind as you decide between thermal break aluminum and vinyl windows:

  • Durability and Longevity

If you plan to stay in your home for decades, aluminum offers very long-lasting performance. For a more temporary upgrade or if you plan to move sooner, vinyl provides good quality for less.

  • Energy Efficiency

Both window types provide excellent insulation, especially when using advanced frame materials and coated, low-E glass panels. Multiple glass panes with gas fills provide the best efficiency.

  • Appearance and Views

If maximizing views and aesthetics are important, aluminum offers the most modern, streamlined look. Vinyl frames tend to be chunkier. But appearance is subjective, choose frames you find most appealing.

  • Noise Reduction

Both thermal break aluminum and vinyl effectively reduce outside noise when using thick glazing and tight sealing. Vinyl may have a slight edge in absorbing sound.

  • Sustainability and Recycling

Aluminum is one of the most fully recyclable materials. Vinyl is not very recyclable and has some environmental concerns. Keep eco-friendliness in mind.

  • Budget and Cost

Vinyl is generally the most budget-friendly option in upfront cost. But aluminum windows may save more on energy bills long-term and need fewer repairs or replacements.

  • Ease of Installation

Aluminum windows are lightweight yet very rigid, making installation easier. Vinyl is flexible but can be heavy and sag over time. Proper installation is key.

By weighing these factors and considering the pros and cons that matter most for your home, you can zero in on the better window type for your needs and preferences. And both materials can provide excellent performance when new windows are properly installed.

Cost Comparison of Window Types

Here is an overview of average costs for thermal break aluminum and vinyl windows:

  • Thermal break aluminum: $600 – $1200 per window installed
  • Vinyl: $300 – $800 per window installed

Vinyl is the more affordable option overall. But many factors affect window costs, including:

Thermal Break Aluminium Windows
Thermal Break Aluminium Windows
  • Window size and type (double hung, casement, sliding, etc)
  • Frame material and number of thermal breaks
  • Number of glass panes and low-E coatings
  • Additional features like tinting, security layers, gas fills, etc.
  • Whether replacement or new construction installation
  • Contractor rates and labor costs for your area

Get quotes from multiple window suppliers and installers for the specific project scope to compare exact costs.

Quality vinyl with upgraded features can still cost $800 – $1000 per window.

Advanced aluminum with high-end glass can cost up to $1500 per window or more.

Making The Best Choice For Your Home

Here are some final tips for choosing between thermal break aluminum and vinyl windows:

  • For longevity and durability, aluminum is the way to go
  • If budget is the priority, vinyl provides quality for the lowest price
  • Balance upfront cost vs total long term cost, including efficiency savings
  • Make sure to get reliable brands with durable frames and high-performance glass
  • Consult with installers to determine the best type for your home’s needs
  • Look for energy-efficient features like multiple panes, thermal breaks, gas fills
  • Choose frames you find visually appealing for your home’s style
  • Consider sustainability – aluminum is the most eco-friendly option

Replacing outdated windows provides many benefits like improved insulation, comfort, aesthetics and increased home value. By understanding the differences between thermal break aluminum and vinyl windows, you can make the ideal choice for your home improvement needs.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Is thermally broken aluminum better than vinyl?

Thermally broken aluminum and vinyl windows have comparable performance in energy efficiency and insulation. Aluminum with an effective thermal break can match vinyl’s inherent insulating properties. Overall, aluminum is more durable and vinyl is more affordable. It comes down to your specific needs and priorities.

What lasts longer vinyl or aluminum windows?

Aluminum windows are extremely durable and can last 40-50 years with minimal maintenance. Vinyl windows start to degrade after 30-40 years and may need replacing sooner than properly maintained aluminum. However, modern vinyl compounds are becoming more resilient compared to products from decades ago.

Can vinyl windows be thermally broken?

Vinyl (PVC) is already a poor conductor of heat and doesn’t require an additional thermal break. The vinyl frames themselves act as thermal insulation between interior and exterior temperatures. Advanced vinyl compounds with multi-chamber profiles provide excellent thermal performance.

Are vinyl impact windows better than aluminum?

For hurricane-prone coastal areas, impact-resistant windows are recommended. Both vinyl and aluminum windows can meet impact codes with laminated or tempered glass. Vinyl impact windows have a slight advantage in flexibility, which allows the frame to give on hard impacts without cracking. But aluminum reinforcements can also provide impact resistance when properly engineered.

Wrapping Up

Thermal break aluminum and vinyl are both great options for energy-efficient and durable replacement windows. Each material has its own strengths. Aluminum excels in long-term durability and performance, while vinyl provides quality at the most affordable price point.

By learning the pros, cons and differences between the two types, you can determine which is better suited for your home. Factors like appearance, noise, energy savings, eco-friendliness, and budget will also come into play.

With high quality modern windows properly installed, both aluminum and vinyl can provide exceptional comfort, performance, and curb appeal for your home.

Ralph Wade

Hey...Ralph is here! So, did you find this article useful? If so, please leave a comment and let me know. If not, please tell me how I can improve this article. Your feedback is always appreciated. Take love :)

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