What's the Difference Between Vinyl and Aluminum Windows?

Angela Brown
Written by Angela Brown
Updated July 29, 2021
Clouds reflect in striking black vinyl windows
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Vinyl and aluminum are both affordable window options, but there are a few key differences that could sway your decision

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Replacing your home’s windows doesn’t have to be overwhelming or super expensive. Two of the most popular types of window frames are vinyl and aluminum. Both are affordable options that offer different benefits. Vinyl offers more protection against air leakage, but aluminum will outlast even the toughest pet stains or toddler tantrums. Keep reading to decide which window type is right for you.

What’s the Difference Between Vinyl and Aluminum Windows?

The clearest difference between vinyl windows and aluminum is the material from which the window frames are made. 

Aluminum windows are made from, well, aluminum. It’s not quite the same type of aluminum you’d use to wrap your leftovers. Some aluminum windows are actually wood frames with aluminum covering. 

Vinyl windows are made from PVC (polyvinyl chloride), which is the same material used to create pipes, trim, and siding. Like aluminum windows, there are variations, including vinyl-clad windows.

Aluminum vs. Vinyl: Which Is Better for Your Budget?

White Vinyl windows with latch handle
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When replacing your windows, expect to pay between $85 and $2,500 per window, depending on the material, brand, and service provider you choose. 

Aluminum windows are sturdy and can last between 20 and 25 years. The average aluminum frame costs between $400 and $1,200. A single vinyl window will set you back between $250 and $600, depending on the size. You’ll also need to budget an additional $100 to $300 for labor, no matter which window type you choose.

Aluminum window frames can last between 20 and 25 years, depending on the brand and the quality of the installation. Vinyl windows have a lifespan of between 15 and 20 years. If you’re unsure about the age of your windows, you can talk to a local expert to determine how much it will cost to replace your windows

What About Window Resale and Repairs?

While the upfront cost might be a sticking point for you, it’s not the only time you’ll spend money on your windows. When considering the cost to repair damaged windows, the material can make a difference too. Vinyl windows rarely need maintenance, while Aluminum frames are susceptible to corrosion. Aluminum windows may need to be repainted or otherwise maintained.

When you’re ready to sell your home, opting for vinyl window replacements could pay off. According to a 2021 Cost vs. Value report from Remodeling Magazine, you could recoup as much as 68% of your window replacement cost if you opt for vinyl window frames or 67% if you choose wood frames. Aluminum windows were not mentioned in this report, but generally, vinyl is seen to have a higher resale value.

Aluminum or Vinyl Windows: Which Is More Environmentally Sustainable?

A mother and son play in a window.
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One major reason you may be considering replacing your window frames is energy savings. Replacing your windows can lower your utility bills and keep your home more comfortable. 

While aluminum windows are typically stronger and last longer, the metal frames conduct heat. This means your home will hold more heat in the summer and cause your HVAC system to work harder. In the winter, the aluminum won’t insulate against the cold as well, either. However, some companies offer “enhanced” aluminum window frames that are more energy efficient. Vinyl still offers much better energy efficiency. 

In terms of environmental impact, aluminum is biodegradable, while vinyl is not. You can recycle both vinyl and aluminum.

Are Vinyl or Aluminum Windows More Attractive?

Both aluminum and vinyl windows can provide attractive window frame options. While aluminum windows are more common in commercial properties, many companies offer various finishing options. Aluminum windows have thinner frames and allow for a more modern aesthetic. 

You cannot paint vinyl windows, but many companies offer colored frames. You won’t be able to customize the shade to your home, though. Vinyl frames are thicker and may work better on more traditional-styled homes.

What Other Materials Should I Consider for Windows?

In addition to vinyl and aluminum, there are other window frame options that might suit your needs better. If you want a more traditional look, wood frames are stunning options that can make your home look more established. Alternatively, fiberglass provides a similar look to vinyl and can withstand weather fluctuations much better than other materials. 

If you’re considering replacing your windows, make sure to contact a local window replacement company for quotes. If you find that replacing all of your windows is too expensive, consider working on half of your home at a time to reduce costs.

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