If you’re looking for a set of contemporary windows, with all the features, benefits and functionality that modern technology can provide, chances are you will be drawn to two types: aluminium or uPVC windows.
They’ve both proven popular over the last few decades, with people attracted by their easy to maintain and durable finishes, and promises of long lifespans.
Their modern looks and benefits lead a lot of people to lump these window materials together, but are they actually so similar? In this guide, we’ll look at the marked differences between aluminium and uPVC windows, weighing up their individual features to help you decide which would be best for you.
Aluminium vs uPVC windows: style
This will come down to personal preference, but we think it’s a pretty clear contest. When it comes to looks, the sleek, crisp look of aluminium frames has it every time.
uPVC can look bright and fresh when it’s first installed but its aesthetic appeal can dull quickly. Often it can look cheap and low quality, with thick plastic frames getting scratched or yellowing over time with very little possible in the way of repairs. This unsatisfying aesthetic can drag down the look of your home’s whole exterior.
Powder-coated aluminium doesn’t have that plasticy sheen to it. There is more depth and texture to the surface and this creates a much more stylish overall look. It also gives a more subtle appearance which makes them flexible enough to work in period properties, where that undeniably modern, plastic feel of uPVC can stand out unpleasantly and may in fact be banned by conservation regulations. Aluminium windows can also offer slimmer sightlines and a large variety of colour options.
Aluminium vs uPVC windows: strength
When it comes to strength, there is no real competition between uPVC windows and aluminium ones.
The strength of aluminium windows means that many will have narrow profiles, creating a sleeker look and allowing for more glass to feature. It also means they can be used to create very big windows.
In comparison, you will need thick or reinforced uPVC frames to hold heavy glass, which clutters their look. They are suitable for use with big panels (think uPVC sliding doors etc) but they may not last as long, and they often sacrifice appearance to increase strength.
Aluminium vs uPVC windows: cost
Whilst aluminium is the runaway in the contest of strength, uPVC is the winner when it comes to cost.
uPVC is cheaper to manufacture, cheaper to work with and quicker to install. It is cheaper in every way. This means that difference in price can be significant, particularly if you’re looking to replace every window in a home.
This said, aluminium does last longer. This can make aluminium windows a much more cost-effective purchase in the long run. In the short-term, sticking with uPVC windows will save you money. However, when you factor in the quality, longevity and look of the window frames though, the answer gets a little murkier.
Aluminium vs uPVC windows: durability
As we mentioned above, aluminium windows will have a longer lifespan than uPVC. uPVC windows should still last for around 30 years, but with aluminium frames you can expect up to 50 years of use.
Aluminium’s longer lifespan is partly down to its strength. Plastic may not biodegrade for hundreds of years but uPVC frames will still wear, age and degrade. Depending on how well maintained they are, seals can start to fail and frames can start to warp. They will also start to show their age visually, losing their shiny clean sheen and yellowing. Ageing uPVC windows can have a huge impact on the look of your home, inside and out.
In contrast, aluminium windows will look great for their entire lifespan. A high quality powder-coated aluminium frame is robust. It is easy to look after, easy to clean and it should look as lovely after twenty years as it did after one.
Aluminium vs uPVC windows: thermal efficiency
Many people believe that uPVC is the most thermally efficient window frame material. It is indeed a poor conductor of heat, which stops cold travelling in or warmth escaping out. A well-fitting set of uPVC windows with triple glazing will boost your energy efficiency.
Aluminium window insulation traditionally does not have such a strong reputation. This is unfair because modern, high quality aluminium frames can actually be incredibly thermally efficient, easily exceeding building regulation standards, so long as they are built with a ‘thermal break’.
As a metal, aluminium is a strong conductor, so it won’t hold in heat very well. A thermal break refers to an extra layer of insulating material inside the frame. This is covered by metal, so has no impact on aluminium’s great looks, and almost entirely stops heat escaping through the frames. Double glazed aluminium windows with a thermally broken frame are every bit as efficient as uPVC windows are, so there’s not much difference in the choice.
Aluminium vs uPVC windows: environmental impact
Thermal efficiency could be seen as a factor in how eco-friendly windows are. After all, a well-insulated home will use less energy. In turn, it will have a smaller carbon footprint which is always better for the environment. However, when it comes to the environmental impact of windows, there are other factors to consider such as life span which we’ve already covered.
Another factor is what happens to the frames when they are removed. uPVC window frames can be recycled after they’ve come to the end of their life. However, this isn’t as common as recycling other building materials, such as glass, wood or metal, and often old uPVC frames will find their way into landfill.
On the other hand, aluminium is considered among the most recyclable and thus sustainable metals we use today. It can be recycled pretty much endlessly. In fact, it has been suggested that around 75% of the aluminium produced in the last 100 years is still being used. Arrange for your old aluminium frames to be recycled and they could see in the next century as a tin can, a new set of windows or even as part of an aeroplane.
What is best, aluminium or uPVC windows?
There is no clear cut answer over which material is best for windows. If you are constrained by cost, the appeal of uPVC is obvious and you will still get a relatively long life span in a set of easy to maintain windows.
Still, it’s impossible to deny the appeal of aluminium windows. Superior looks, durability and eco-credentials all combine to make an attractive package. These are windows that are built to last and look lovely the whole time, so it’s easy to see why aluminium frames seem to keep growing in popularity.