Vinyl vs. Aluminum: The Facts
“Windows are thermal holes. Most are 10 times less energy efficient than the wall area they replace. An average home may loose 30% of its heat or air-conditioning energy through its windows. The good news is that window technology is improving by leaps and bounds. There are even some cases where new windows can be net energy gainers. Selecting energy efficient windows is cost effective in any climate. The payback period for selecting energy efficient units ranges from 2 to 10 years. High-tech windows are attractive and getting very easy to choose.”
-Paul Fisette (2003) University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Wood, aluminum, and vinyl are the most common storm window frame materials. There are advantages and disadvantages to all types of frame materials. Although very strong, light, and almost maintenance free, aluminum frames conduct heat very rapidly. Because of this, aluminum makes a very poor insulating material.
Wood frames insulate well, but they weather with age. They also expand and contract according to weather conditions. Wood-frame storm windows installed during the winter may not close easily during the summer, and those installed during the summer may fit loosely in the winter. They can also be quite heavy and thicker than metal frames. This can make storage difficult, reduce the view out the window, and reduce the amount of natural light in the room. Wood frames also require the most maintenance. There are, however, aluminum- or vinyl-clad wood frames that reduce maintenance requirements.
Why waste time and money with aluminum?
The biggest disadvantage of aluminum as a window frame material is its high thermal conductance. It readily conducts heat, greatly raising the overall U-factor of a window unit. In cold climates, a simple aluminum frame can easily become cold enough to condense moisture or frost on the inside surfaces of window frames. Even more than the problem of heat loss, the condensation problem spurred has development of better insulating aluminum frame…