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:
|Thermal Break Aluminum
|Very durable, lasts 40-50 years
|Prone to warping and bowing over time
|Withstands elements very well
|Starts to degrade after 30-40 years
|Very good with multi-chamber frames
|Excellent, inherently good insulator
|Excellent noise reduction
|Very good noise reduction
|More modern, sleek appearance
|Thicker frames, not as sleek-looking
|Resists impact, bending, denting
|Can crack or dent with hard impact
|Low maintenance, may need occasional caulking
|More expensive upfront
|Typically most affordable option
|Easier to repair frames
|Not easily repaired, may need replacement
|Not recyclable, some sustainability concerns
|Many finishes and colors
|Moderate 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:
- 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:
- 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:
- 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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.