A Contractor’s Guide to Windows: Fiberglass Vs. Vinyl Vs. Aluminum

Many homeowners don’t give a lot of thought to choosing their window material. If you ask them, they may say they’ve heard wooden windows look great but require more upkeep than other types. But if you ask them which they prefer when it comes to fiberglass vs. vinyl vs. aluminum, many won’t know the difference.

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But there is a difference. Every option—wood included—help fill a home with natural light, and each material has its own pros and cons. Some bring extra durability, while others are better suited for the cost-conscious homeowner. And depending on your region, not all window materials are well-suited to regional weather conditions.

From cost and energy efficiency to overall aesthetic appeal, there is a window for every project. You just have to help your client figure out what’s best for them.

Cost Considerations

Vinyl windows have about a 66% market share when it comes to residential installations and with good reason. They are the most cost-effective option among vinyl, fiberglass and aluminum windows. When all other factors are equal, vinyl is the most affordable choice.

If a homeowner is willing to pay a bit more, the next most affordable option is fiberglass, which typically comes in about 12-15% higher than vinyl windows, while aluminum is the most expensive, costing as much as 40% than vinyl.

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Durability & Maintenance

In general, all vinyl, fiberglass and aluminum windows are more durable and require less upkeep than wood windows. Fiberglass windows need to be painted periodically to stay looking good, and vinyl windows can be painted if a homeowner wants to update their look, but shouldn’t fade in the sun. Aluminum windows cannot be painted but, generally, have great durability.

While vinyl windows are durable, they tend to fall short in extreme temperatures. As a plastic, they can warp in extended high temperatures or crack in very cold weather. In these conditions, homeowners would be better advised to choose aluminum or fiberglass windows if they want to keep the home low maintenance in the long term.

On the other hand, as a metal, aluminum windows have the potential to corrode. In very wet climates, particularly in areas close to the ocean and with a lot of salt in the air, aluminum can become susceptible to corrosion. Homeowners in these areas should either coat their aluminum windows with an anti-corrosion coating or choose vinyl or fiberglass windows.

While all of these options are relatively low maintenance in the right conditions, homeowners will want to consider their design choices with regard to general maintenance, as well. Double-hung windows are the easiest to clean and maintain since the sashes can be removed one at a time and cleaned, while casement windows may need ladders to be cleaned from the outside.

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Considering Aesthetics

Overall, homeowners are more likely to be concerned with window aesthetic questions like whether they should choose simple casement windows, instead of double-hung sash windows, a slider or swing window. But aluminum, fiberglass and vinyl windows do have subtle differences in their appearance which homeowners may appreciate.

Vinyl windows tend to have thicker frames than aluminum or fiberglass. Homeowners looking for a cleaner, more modern look may appreciate having more glass showing in aluminum or fiberglass window frames, while those looking to match more traditional styles would do well with vinyl windows.

However, far from being a limited option, as a plastic, vinyl windows can come in a variety of colors to suit almost any design, both new and existing. On the other hand, fiberglass and aluminum frames may come in more limited color options and may not be suitable renovations.

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Energy Efficiency Needs

When working with remodels, homeowners typically undertake home window replacement for one of three reasons:

  • The existing windows are old and damaged.
  • They’re looking to update the look of their home.
  • They want to improve the energy efficiency of their home.

When it comes to energy efficiency, vinyl has been a popular choice for decades. Plastic is a good insulator, making vinyl a good option for homeowners looking to manage energy costs.

By contrast, aluminum has not historically had a great reputation for managing heat loss in homes. Metal is a conductor, rather than an insulator, and older style aluminum windows have not been a great choice for homes and regions with wide temperature swings throughout the day and the year.

However, modern aluminum windows are often built with “thermal breaks,” which are insulated pieces built into the frame that are not visible from the outside. This feature is made to literally “break” the flow of thermal energy and keep warm air where it’s supposed to be.

Fiberglass windows are also a great choice when it comes to energy efficiency. They insulate a home well and don’t need any additional design features to help homeowners manage their utility bills.

Of course, the bigger factor in managing energy loss around windows is the glass itself. A fiberglass window with a single pane of glass may still lose more heat than an old aluminum window retrofitted with low-E or triple-pane glass. Make sure homeowners know what type of glass they need to get the energy savings they want when choosing a window.

Fiberglass, Vinyl or Aluminum: Ready to Choose?

Once you’ve discussed issues like cost, durability, aesthetics and energy efficiency, homeowners should be ready to make a decision. Spahn & Rose has a wide variety of window choices in vinyl, aluminum and fiberglass, available from 24 retail locations in Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin. Contact the store nearest you to schedule a consultation today.