The 5 Types of Window Frames and How to Choose

By thewriteDuffy •  Updated: 06/07/24 •  6 min read

Choosing the type of window for your home may seem like the most important decision in the process of replacing or buying new home windows, but making sure you understand all of the materials your window will be made from is also very important.

For example, wood windows that are installed unfinished will need to be painted or stained as soon as possible to protect them from wear and weather. Finishing windows seals the wood from UV rays, preventing them from turning a gray color so that’s not a job you want to be unprepared for.

Most top window brands offer 5 different types of window frame materials:

Each window frame material offers a different style, energy efficiency, and durability. We will discuss these differences below, so keep reading if you’re unsure of which type of window frame to choose.

The 5 Types of Window Frames

Aluminum Window Frames

In demanding commercial and architectural applications, aluminum windows are still the prevailing choice since they’re stronger than vinyl and wood.

Where maximum light is required, aluminum windows can be an excellent option-the strength of aluminum means a thin frame can support a large expanse of glass.

Since aluminum conducts heat well, it’s not the most energy-efficient material and is prone to condensation. Most aluminum windows now feature a “thermal break” to improve their energy efficiency. A thermal break is an insulating material between the exterior and interior aluminum.

Double-glazing may also be required by building regulations to reduce heat loss in aluminum window frames.

Old aluminum windows were prone to rust, but modern versions are coated during manufacturing and are durable and low-maintenance.

Vinyl Window Frames

The frames of vinyl windows are made from PVC (polyvinyl chloride), the same stuff that makes pipes and fittings.

Vinyl window frames offer excellent heat and sound insulation and are a favorite choice when replacing windows throughout a house as vinyl requires little maintenance.

In addition to white, vinyl window frames can be purchased in a number of finishes, such as wood grain.

Fiberglass Window Frames

Fiberglass windows are a less common window frame installation option, but they are increasingly becoming more popular because they’re very durable and relatively simple to maintain.

Fiberglass windows are made from extruded fiberglass sections and have a similar shape to vinyl frames.

Fiberglass, being glass, is so close in composition to the glass panes used to make up windows, that both materials expand and contract about the same amount during temperature changes. Because of this, Fiberglass windows resist weather and temperature changes better than any other material.

Fiberglass is also an excellent insulator making it highly energy efficient.

However, unlike wood or aluminum, fiberglass windows can be a bit dull in appearance.

Fiberglass windows can also be expensive. They cost as much as or more than aluminum or wooden windows, and are much more expensive than vinyl windows despite having a very similar look.

If you do splurge, fiberglass window frames are very long lasting! Fiberglass windows can last up to 80 years with proper maintenance and can be worth the cost.

Wood Window Frames

Windows were traditionally made with wood window frames, and it is still popular because it is so versatile.

Hardwood is fairly expensive compared to other types of window frames, but is durable and only needs the protection of oil. You can also paint hardwood windows or give them a natural finish.

Softwood windows need to be protected by paint or a natural wood finish and regularly maintained as they are susceptible to rot.

If old wooden windows become drafty, you can install weather stripping on them.

Composite Window Frames

Window frames can be made from a combination of materials.

Composite frames, also called clad wood windows, are constructed from a combination of different mediums. Most often, they’re made of wood, plus either a vinyl or aluminum material.

An aluminum window frame, for example, can have a wooden core.

Steel casements can be housed in wooden frames to reduce heat loss.

Frames with decorative real wood on the inside grilles, and maintenance-free fiberglass or vinyl exteriors are also available.

All of these are composite window frames.

Are There Any Other Materials Used for Window Frames?

Some manufacturers may use other materials such as cellular PVC, steel, engineered plastics, thermoplastic alloys, and wood/plastic composites.

But these will be more difficult to source if you’re looking into them as they aren’t the most popular choices.

What Types of Window Frames are the Most Energy Efficient?

You’ll want to replace your current windows with a vinyl window frame or a fiberglass window frame if you want to keep your home comfortable and your energy bills low, as they’re the most energy-efficient options.

Do You Need To Choose the Same Window Frame Type When Replacing Windows?

Commonly, the material of a replacement window frame is chosen to match the originals. Though there are now many more options that help you have modern, energy-efficient window frames with a vintage look such as wood-grain vinyl frames and composite window frames.

Frames may have a sill attached, an optional sill, or none at all. If your old frame has a sill attached, make sure your replacement has one.

If you’re replacing all the windows in your property or building a new home, then take time to consider energy-efficient products such as vinyl windows or fiberglass windows.

Conclusion: Choose the Window Frame That Suits Your Needs and Budget

While in olden times there was only wooden window frames, today new windows come in a ton of options to meet every need and budget.

And since every option comes in multiple looks, it is often possible to mix and match window frames; perhaps using an energy-efficient option on your south-facing windows and a more budget-friendly window style on your other windows.

Once you have your window style, and then your window frame material chosen, it’s time to choose what glass you’d like your window frames made with., so click here to learn the basics about window glass and glazing.

thewriteDuffy

At home, April is a mom, wife, and DIY darling. Among other home projects, she helped her husband Dan renovate their 1986 bungalow and is currently designing and decorating the 2023 custom home they are building themselves. Professionally, April is a writer, author, and online marketer with 15 years of experience writing for newspapers and magazines, building online authority websites, and publishing books.