Aluminum vs Vinyl Windows

jeichlerSeptember 18, 2006

Please forgive my rather lengthy post.

We have home that was built in the late 70s. It has T-111 (plywood) siding. The existing windows are single pane aluminum framed windows. Our house is somewhat "modern" in that there are some clerestory windows and some triangle shaped windows that mimic the peak of the roof. The interior side of the windows do not include any mouldings, just sheetrock to the aluminum window frame. The exterior side of the windows does have wood trim surrounding the windows.

We are in Northern California, so rarely it might get below freezing in the winter. Summer can get into the 100s. But, we are pretty much in a temperate environment.

We are researching replacing the windows because they are single pane, because some of the seals around the glass are failing, and because the sliding glass doors are getting increasingly difficult to open and close.

We have had a few window replacement companies come out and give us quotes on new windows. None are interested in quoting for replacing the aluminum windows with new aluminum windows, but instead are suggesting that we go with replacement vinyl windows.

They say that the vinyl windows are so much better than the aluminum. The aluminum transfers the heat and cold more readily than the vinyl. Nobody says how much better the vinyl is than the aluminum.

We do see that the construction of the vinyl window includes metal (I assume aluminum) to separate the panes of glass, and in a more expensive window model, was within the vinyl channel that forms the window frame.

We see that the replacement vinyl windows would make the glass area smaller and would create additional detail around the interior window openings, with the white vinyl frame showing. We do not think that this would be appropriate for our house, as there is no moulding or detailing around the interiors of the windows now.

We think that it would not be too difficult to remove the existing exterior window trim, remove the existing window, replace the window with a new construction aluminum double pane, and replace the exterior trim, but no one seems to be willing to do that.

Also, we think that if we go with new aluminum windows, we would not need to replace all the windows, but only replace select operable windows, and not the fixed clerestory windows and other fixed windows that have odd shapes. If we went with vinyl, all the windows would have to be replaced because any that were not replaced would stick out because they would not match the new windows.

So, my questions are:

Is vinyl that much better than aluminum, if so, how much better?

Why are the contractors so hard sell with the vinyl windows? Are they that much easier to install? Is there a greater profit margin?

Has anyone else replaced their windows with new aluminum frame windows, and if so, how has that worked out? Do you regret your decision?

Any information anyone could post would be most appreciated. Thank you.

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We are in SF Bay Area. Please check out the informative link:

Most new businesses and office buildings use modern Aluminum windows. Modern high quality Aluminum work very well and are reasonably energy efficient. Even Milgard offers an Aluminum line with low-E.

Those contractors who steered you to vinyl likely have established relationships with vinyl window shops. Vinyl is still the most popular amongst home owners so many more shops sell them.

You may have to locate a shop that sells high quality Aluminum windows to get a contractor who will speak your language.

Good luck.

    Bookmark   September 18, 2006 at 4:40PM
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Okey...vinyl is plastic and plastic like all else is not perfect. I think we all know that, none of the materials are, however there are clear advantages to plastic listed all over the web. Does anyone know of more advantages of aluminium besides that it can be bend to unusual shapes of windows? not interested in that, really.
I am in the middle of making a decision plastic vs aluminium and am leaning towards plastic, does anyone have any other pro aluminium information that should possibly be taken into consideration?

    Bookmark   November 6, 2007 at 2:23PM
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We also live in N Cal and are planning a remodel/expansion of our house. Our house was built in the 1950s, and in a sort of mid-century modern style. It still has a lot of single pane, steel frame, casement windows. With this style, one wants aluminum frames - with the frames as thin/narrow as possible. And also as black as possible (e.g., dark bronze).

Our contractor leans towards Milgard. And our interior designer has suggested Blomberg (small family run company in Sacramento, very high quality, no web site...) Today we looked at Fleetwood and were very impressed. Pricewise, Fleetwood appears to be between Milgard and Blomberg.

If energy efficiency of the frames is a huge issue, Fleetwood offers a 'split' frame with a layer of urethane rubber between the front and back halves. I think Milgard offers something similar. Blomberg also claims good energy efficiency.

We have to make a decision Very Soon. So if anyone has opinions on these (or others) I am all ears!


    Bookmark   November 17, 2007 at 8:04PM
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I like your handle, Eichler. We have a 1952 ranch that is slowly becoming "modern". We chose the Milgard dark anodized aluminum. Frankly, it was an aesthetic issue: the slim profile and "invisibleness" of the aluminum just looks better. Vinyl fits some styles of houses just fine, but I have yet to see it used nicely in any modern home, mid-century or other. Since your house has lots of glass, your energy issues are greater than mine, but I vote for aluminum.

    Bookmark   November 28, 2007 at 5:10PM
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There are places for both vinyl and aluminum. Both have pros and cons. People should do there homework and see what works for them the best. Dont just pick something because a saleman told you too.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2008 at 12:09AM
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Updating this thread for others considering aluminum frames:

We did install the Milgard aluminum windows. They are really neat looking! My one regret is that there are a few windows where the old had a fixed pane and a casement. I ordered double casements instead, and probably should have stayed with the original layout. This because the double casements have a lot more 'frame' showing than we originally had.

A few other things:

1.) We had some problems making casements work in some bedroom locations - due to emergency egress requirements. Basically a Milgard casement must be 30" wide for egress. Narrower and it won't meet code - even though the hinges are on the jamb. Wider and it becomes too heavy to work right. So we had to use sliders instead.

2.) Energy-wise, Milgard offers 'thermally broken' aluminum frames, but, strangely, not in California. I did order our windows with Milgards "Suncoat Max" upgrade though. It is interesting to place ones hand on the frame and then place it on the glass. Big difference in temperature. However, combined with other things in the construction (e.g., IB Systems membrane roof, and Techshield radiant barrier decking), the house is staying suprisingly cool during the current heat wave. (Got up to 100° yesterday.) And the insulation and drywall have yet to be installed!

So in our case the aluminum frames don't seem to be a big problem. But if one were to insist on thermally broken aluminum, then Fleetwood seems to be a better way to go. (FWIW, I gave the local Milgard area rep a hard time about not being able to order thermally broken in California. Seems silly that you can order them in other states, but not here.)

3.) Milgard delivery was *fast*. Like less than two weeks from order to delivery.

4.) A nit: Our frames are dark bronze color, almost black. For some reason the screws mounting the casement lock handles are bright colored. Yet other screws, such as the ones holding the screens, are black. I need to call Milgard to see if they can provide some black screws to make the bright ones 'disappear'.

5.) For the master bath, I ordered reeded obscure glass, on the thought that it kinda carried the theme of the reeded obscure glass in the sidelight of my front door. (Of course a workman accidently broke the original 1950s sidelight a couple weeks ago, so now I get to match the sidelight with the master bath instead...)

    Bookmark   May 17, 2008 at 10:51AM
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I live in the northwest and have been around Milgard products for years. Thier once great reputation for both quality and service/warranty issues is gone. They are now owned by a national corporation and everything has changed. We recently fitted a high-end home with thier aluminum thermal break line of windows and a slider, over 20K. They have given us the run around for nearly a year over shoddy worksmanship and factory miss-build issues, with no intention of correcting anything. I cannot see them being refered to as high-end no longer.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2008 at 10:11AM
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Here's my two cents worth. I have 30 year old aluminum and I will be finding replacement sealed units. Sure vinyl is better thermally - but I suspect it will take a lot of years to save enough to pay for the difference. I'll bet nobody has researched this adequstely for the simple reason there is way less money to be made by recommending the low cost alternative of just replacing the selaed units.

If any one has seen research please let me know.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2009 at 1:07PM
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As a follow up to the follow up and resurrection of the necro-thread:

I have no regrets on ordering low-E glass in our aluminum windows. They have been performing very well for us over the past three years. Remember that with aluminum, there is a much higher ratio of glass to exposed frame than with other materials. Still wish we could have gotten the thermally broken frames in California though.

And if I owned a Model A, I probably would put radial tires on it... :)

    Bookmark   July 21, 2011 at 10:33PM
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I am updating a 1987 home in Oklahoma. I have been researching vinyl windows versus thermal aluminum. Our summers can reach triple digits while the winters can drop below zero. Which window would be the best replacement for our current aluminum windows?

    Bookmark   July 31, 2011 at 2:02PM
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