Even though their basic purpose is more to be looked through than to be seen, windows nevertheless have a substantial impact on the appearance of a home. And because their purpose includes admitting light into the home while at the same time providing a barrier against the outside elements, windows have an important functional element in terms of prevention of heat loss from the home in the winter and loss of cooled air in the summer. In short, their duties are equal parts aesthetic and practical.
While the available range of window pane choices provides a number of effective techniques for increased energy efficiency -- multiple panes, low-emissivity glass glazing, and inert gas filling between panes to name just a few -- it is the choice of the window frame that effects both energy conservation and appearance. And the need for window maintenance, if any, will depend almost entirely on the choice of frame. The choice of a frame must be broken down to considerations of several factors: appearance, energy efficiency and the need for maintenance. All of this is in addition to factoring in the variations in price among the several available window frame materials.
Wood Window Frames
Wood is the window frame material that has been used the longest, and in terms of beauty it has no equal. Wood is extremely durable, with the ability to last decades, but only when properly maintained. Wood frame windows require regular maintenance, more so than other window frame types. Wood frames do not conduct heat or cold well, and hence are good insulators. Wood frames are in the moderate price range.
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Solid Vinyl Window Frames
Solid vinyl frames are typically the most affordable choice. They are available in a wide range of size and shape, but their energy efficiency properties are less than ideal, since they tend to become leaky with age after being exposed to repeated extremes in temperature. They lack the aesthetic appeal of wood, and cannot be stained or painted to match decor. The purchaser of vinyl frames must also be aware that quality can vary dramatically among manufacturers. If the need arises, vinyl replacement windows are easy to get and often low in price.
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Fiberglass Window Frames
Fiberglass window frames are a popular choice for a number of reasons. They have an advantage over vinyl as fiberglass windows do not have a tendency to distort when exposed to temperature extremes, and therefore have better energy conservation qualities. Their ability to hold paint as well as their availability in a choice of colors makes them more adaptable for purposes of appearance. They are durable, but typically cost up to one-third more than vinyl.
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Aluminum Window Frames
Aluminum windows are a good choice for strength, durability and low maintenance. They need to be treated, such as with a powder coating, to reduce the effects of exposure to the elements. However, even with treatment, they are prone to corrosion over time. As an insulator, aluminum leaves a good deal to be desired, and so a special insulating strip called a thermal break must be built into the frame.
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Composite Window Frames
Some of the more popular composite window frames are aluminum-clad and vinyl-clad wood. On these, the window surface facing the outdoors is covered by either aluminum or vinyl. These hybrid window frames combine the best features of each material. They reduce maintenance needs, since the outside surface of frames for composite windows is not prone to deterioration associated with wood windows while the interior retains the beauty attainable in wood frames.
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uPVC Window Frames
Unplasticised polyvinyl chloride, commonly known as uPVC, is the material used to construct frames for PVC windows. This type of PVC increases the window frame durability, since it is stabilized against UV rays, making the frames resistant to damage that would otherwise occur due to exposure to the sun. uPVC Windows frames are constructed with a thermal break, similar to what is found in aluminum frames, and are therefore excellent insulators. They come in a moderate range of colors, but most typically are white or cream-colored.
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