What are better windows – Aluminium or PVCu?

Photo of author

Nick Dardalis

Updated on

Aluminium or PVCu? Which is the better material for your new windows or doors? The reality is both PVCu and aluminium today create secure, energy-efficient and long-lasting windows. Aluminium windows are better for slimmer sightlines, a bigger choice of frame styles and far superior for contemporary patio doors. PVCu is fantastic for a lower price point, creating more authentic timber-look windows and sash windows with the advantage of woodgrain foils and colours.

Price plays a part in choosing aluminium or PVCu, but some plastic windows are at the same price point as aluminium, so don’t assume PVCu windows are always cheaper. Overall, aluminium gives you a more modern, premium and luxury window option compared to plastic, and is instantly regarded as more environmentally friendly and sustainable. Aluminium is also regarded as the go-to material for wow-factor patio doors and when creating a forever home or grand design. This article explains features you only get with aluminium and never with PVCu and where PVCu can be better than aluminium for certain projects.

Choosing between aluminium or PVCu and why it matters.

aluminium or pvcu

The decision to choose between aluminium or PVCu should not be influenced by performance. Both materials are secure, having passed the latest and, in many cases, the same security tests. It is the same for energy efficiency – both aluminium and PVCu windows meet the current requirements for U-Values and Window Energy Ratings. And again, both materials will protect your home from the weather, again subjected to similar air, wind and water tests. Therefore, keeping your home secure, insulated and protected from the weather is something both aluminium and PVCu provide.

To further reinforce where plastic or aluminium windows are similar are the quality controls. Both materials are subject to strict material standards in how they are created and that materials are fit for purpose. Even the colour – foils and paints on pvcu, the powder coated finishes on aluminium are all applied by professional companies operating to strict performance requirements. Of course, the same quality and material conformity applies to the locks, hinges, glass and handles.

All of these similarities now let you compare the technical or aesthetic differences between choosing aluminium or PVCu windows and doors.

Much of the dominance of PVCu came about because the vast majority of home improvement companies only sold plastic and never offered aluminium. Additionally, early-generation aluminium products, when compared to PVCu, simply weren’t as affordable or as appealing.  This is no longer the case today. In the last 15 years, where the customer would have previously been more aware of PVCu windows as the best for their projects, aluminium is now equally in their mindset.

Today, thanks to the internet, a different marketing approach and a more professional industry, homeowners are better informed and products more transparent.   There are also more aluminium providers than before.

the Products available in PVCu and aluminium.

For many years, PVCu was the dominant material for residential windows. As the table below shows, PVCu predominantly focused on residential windows and doors where aluminium concentrated on commercial buildings and high-value residential work.

Whilst the type of installation can vary, our table below broadly explains the types of products available in both aluminium or PVCu.

FunctionAluminiumPVCu
Shopfronts and Commercial Doors 
Commercial Windows and Glazing 
Commercial Buildings (not dwellings) 
Residential Front Doors ✓
Residential Windows ✓
Residential Conservatories ✓
Residential Porches ✓
High-End Building Projects 
Architect-designed homes 
Soffits and Fascias ✓

This explains why for many years, aluminium was considered and sold as a commercial system that was not suitable for homes.  Today we know that this is not the case. Here is where aluminium is used today.

What you can buy in PVCu and aluminium today.

FunctionAluminiumPVCu
Shopfronts and Commercial Doors 
Bifolding Doors
Sliding Patio Doors
Timber Look Windows
Sliding Sash Windows
Commercial Windows and Glazing
Commercial Doors (not dwellings) 
Residential Front Doors
Residential Windows
Residential Conservatories
Residential Porches
High-End Building Projects 
Architect-designed homes 
Soffits and Fascias

Quality differences between aluminium and PVCu.

origin aluminium windows

Homeowners contact us with questions asking what is the best aluminium window or what products to avoid.  There is no bad aluminium window on the market.  There’s no bad PVCu window on the market either.

If you’ve ever had issues with a double glazing firm before, bad manufacturing and bad installation is usually the cause.  Systems companies do not design sub-standard or bad products. The investment that goes into making sure all windows and doors are fit-for-purpose is huge.

Aluminium and PVCu systems companies invest substantial sums of money in designing and bringing to market a suite of windows and doors.  These are accompanied by substantial technical and fabrication manuals.  In addition, systems companies assist their fabricators with tooling, training and product support.  Furthermore, aluminium windows today all meet or exceed established industry standards for quality, weather performance and security.

Therefore, it is not the aluminium or PVCu system that is ‘bad’. It is errors and not following the procedures set down by the designers.

Both aluminium and PVCu windows will be fitted with the correct specification glass, fit for purpose hardware and will carry their respective guarantees for manufacturing, installation, colour fastness and general finish.

Quality PVCu windows come with many different features such as timber look mitres or authentic period features on sash windows.  Whilst aluminium isn’t as good on these kinds of features yet, what it can provide is neater mitres and joints compared to a basic welded PVCu corner. 

The welded corners on pvcu windows can at times look unsightly and inconsistent.  Where reverse butt welds are used on PVCu windows to join the mullions and transoms, you will often see a cruciform where the two or three components are welded together.  Mechanical joints are available on PVCu windows, but the majority choose the welded option.

The differences you will get when choosing between aluminium or PVCu.

Aluminium PVCu 
More expensive than PVCuCheaper than aluminium although luxury, top-end windows are available 
Ideal for heavy use such as doors in bars, shops and restaurantsPVCu doors acknowledged as not suitable for heavy traffic/high use
Less energy-efficient than PVCu using standard glass.A-Rated windows are more widely available in PVCu
Aluminium is much slimmer than PVCu Unlikely to find a PVCu window with the proportions of aluminium
The best for colour choicesColour choices consistently improving and more coloured foil options
Woodgrain colours somewhat availableBetter for woodgrain colour choices
As secure and weather-resistant as PVCu As secure and weather-resistant as aluminium
Better for creating bespoke, customised or one-off designs PVCu is harder to truly customise due to its sightlines
Regarded as the better product for contemporary sightlines and general aesthetics Better for timber-look. Modern frames are also now available
Comes with respectable guaranteesComes with respectable guarantees
Better for swimming pools, exposed or city centre environmentsBetter suited to standard and less harsh environments

Where aluminium windows are better than PVCu.

The choice between aluminium or PVCu windows is made much easier where aluminium provides features, benefits and functional requirements, not available with PVCu.

Always slimmer sightlines with aluminium

steel replacement doors

No PVCu window can come close to the frame sightlines of aluminium. There is no credible option with PVCu for slimline windows and doors. Therefore, if more glass, less visible frame lines and a more minimal look is required from your new windows and doors, PVCu cannot be considered because it does not offer these options.

Presented with the correct facts about the sightlines and styling of both products correctly, customers always prefer aluminium. You can contact us for more information about the styling of aluminium frames, compared to PVCu.

Always bigger window sizes with aluminium

architectural glazing

You don’t need to to to extreme sizes to appreciate how no PVCu window or door can give you the larger window or door sizes of aluminium.

Top and side hung opening sashes are larger with aluminium with some products going up to 1.5m or even 1.8m tall. It’s the same for doors. PVCu cannot give you the larger panels of bifold or sliding doors and French doors. Aluminium at the bigger sizes removes the need for side or top panels, you often need with PVCu.

Therefore if larger opening elements are important in your window or door design and property project, aluminium is always better than PVCu and will meet your design requirements. PVCu won’t.

Contemporary style and premium perception.

image supporting aluminium or pvcu article of a modern kitchen

Whilst several quality PVCu systems do have a range of contemporary windows, the reality is aluminium does it better for the sightline and styling reasons mentioned. Another reason why aluminium looks more modern between aluminium or PVCu windows is that they are technically better. Frameless doors and windows, structural glazing, substantially thin frame mullions and the lowest possible tracks and thresholds on patio doors. All of these you will not find in PVCu anywhere near as good as aluminium.

Even with luxury PVCu brands, the reality is a plastic window will never have the brand or product perception as a contemporary or luxury window. This is precisely why you will rarely, if ever, see PVCu windows featured in property renovation case studies, television home renovation programmes such as Grand Designs or George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces. Plastic by definition struggles to identify as premium quality.

Only aluminium for Steel-look and Crittall® style glazing

aluco steel-look glazing

For specific products such as contemporary frameless glazing, slimline sliding doors or Crittall® style and steel replacement systems nothing compares to aluminium or can beat it. For steel-look windows, the authentic Crittall® window is always the best choice.  For a cheaper product (although not exactly like the genuine brand) aluminium provides a lower-cost option.

There’s no PVCu alternative for steel-look and any attempt to replicate it just doesn’t work and arguably ruins the look of the property. Choose with care.

Commercial doors, safer and better in aluminium

aluminium or pvcu picture of aluminium commercial doors by maxium doors

When it comes to providing doors that are safe, secure, reliable in an emergency and provide effective access control it has to be aluminium.

Yes, you’ll see PVCu doors in shops such as take-aways or industrial units, but no expert installer specialising in non-dwellings and the wider commercial market fits PVCu for doors. They’re not designed for any high-traffic application. They’re unreliable, the hardware frequently fails and they can’t meet many regulations relating to doors in commercial buildings.

Only aluminium for Slimline or minimal windows and doors

how to choose best patio doors showing slim doors in a luxury home

There isn’t a PVCu product on the market getting anywhere near the sightlines and aesthetics of contemporary slimline sliding doors, windows and screens.

PVCu isn’t strong enough or technically suitable for large span patio doors, slimline modern glazing and minimalist styling. Aluminium is the only solution here.

Environmental perception

From a young age, we are brought up to know that aluminium is recyclable. The sustainability of doors and windows generally is a complex topic given the massive supply chain and materials used in the construction of any door or window.

However, being a ‘plastic’, consumer perception of PVCu as an environmentally friendly product is an issue for the plastic window sector.

Where PVCu windows are better than aluminium

You are reading this article on an aluminium website, but that does not mean that we do not possess knowledge of where PVCu windows can, in fact, be better than aluminium. And what’s true today is PVCu systems are getting better and better with compelling reasons to buy them.

It is fair to say PVCu is aesthetically superior to aluminium for traditional looking windows, timber-look windows and creating the look of joinery. PVCu lends itself better where things like run through sash horns, antique or period looking hardware on sash windows, corners replicating the joints on traditional wood joinery and moulded panels on doors.

The PVCu replacement window market is diverse with a wide variety of products in the marketplace. There are a number of areas where PVCu can provide a better product for specific aesthetic reasons. Therefore, the deciding between aluminium or PVCu, if your property needs any of the following products, the PVCu option may be better. Such products include:

Sliding Sash Windows

Products like Roseview Windows, Masterframe Sash windows today deliver some of the most authentic products, replicating the styling and features of original timber sash windows. We would never recommend these PVCu sash windows in areas renowned for their period houses. Bath, Stratford-upon-Avon or Cheltenham are good examples where the owners of period homes would never entertain putting a plastic window in, regardless of how ‘authentic’ it may look.

The availability of sash windows in aluminium is limited, and especially the case when replacing or replicating period sash windows. Here the PVCu alternatives mentioned usually provide a better product than aluminium.

Timber and Timber-Look Windows

Replacing existing timber windows with a like-for-like alternative again points to better products in PVCu than aluminium. If you’re looking at the period features of old wood windows, products by Residence 9 as one example are far superior. Deceuninck is another excellent plastic window with very good styling like old wood windows. The styling, mechanical timber-like joints, coloured foils, hardware and other fine details aren’t yet possible with aluminium.

Panelled Front Doors

Aluminium front doors come in hundreds of styles and colour options. And you can also find traditionally styled doors.

We think the original timber product looks and feels the best and it’s worth making the comparison between a genuine timber door and its aluminium alternative. You can then decide which you prefer.

Flush casement windows

Whilst there are good windows in aluminium with a flush casement design, PVCu windows are, right now, arguably doing it better and particularly with matching doors.

How much does aluminium cost compared to PVCu?

Our research shows that the cost of an aluminium window should be no more than 50% to 65% more than PVCu.

We get reports of price differences of over 100% and sometimes even up to 200%.  If your quotation is expensive, contact us for help.  We can put you in touch with companies that can offer aluminium windows at realistic market rates.

It is very important to remember that the price points of PVCu windows vary substantially.  There are very cheap PVCu windows on the market which when compared next to aluminium will make the latter seem much more expensive.  Similarly, there are upper market PVCu windows of exceptional quality that will make the difference seem much less.  Therefore, if your quotes are expensive against PVCu ensure you understand the differences.

Summary

The great thing about the current market when choosing between aluminium or PVCu is quality and standards. Security, product guarantees, product quality and longevity, apply to both materials. There are no substandard products on the market.  Correctly made and properly fitted, both materials will be reliable and dependable.

If you are looking to buy new windows for your home, these five factors will probably influence your decision.

  • Cost
  • Energy efficiency
  • Security
  • Aesthetics
  • Quality.

Therefore both aluminium and PVCu windows and doors serve the market well and will generally meet most customer requirements. However, each product as you can see offers its own set of features and characteristics.

Professionals like architects and discerning customer consider aluminium superior to PVCu.  Both aluminium and PVCu products today are excellent and have their place in the market.  Ultimately the customer chooses what they like and what they can afford.  But it is important to have accurate and correct information from an unbiased window company if you are considering both materials.

Contact us if you would like our help with where to buy your new aluminium windows and doors.

This article was last updated in June 2021.

Providing expert help to homeowners and trade professionals since 2010

expert

Free

Impartial

Get Free help finding the right products from the best suppliers

Andrew DOBSONAndrew DOBSON
16:42 30 Oct 23
Nick responded incredibly quickly to my enquiry (on a Saturday too!), and was able to offer invaluable advice on both aluminum systems and manufacturer / suppliers. Thanks Nick!
chris steerchris steer
16:18 09 Oct 23
Had a meeting with Nick during the grand designs show. Was extremely helpful and professional would highly recommend
Chris WesthorpChris Westhorp
19:55 13 Sep 23
Extremely helpful with pointing us in the right direction to find the products we required and suggesting firms that could reliably fit them.Nick was quick to reply and very detailed in his advice.Highly recommend reaching out to them.
Cathy GreenwoodCathy Greenwood
07:03 11 Sep 23
Update - A second email to nick for help on bifolds resulted in a detailed informative reply even on a Sunday ! This guy is so knowledgable and helpful .I approached Nick for an independent view on sliding doors v bifold and the different brand options . His reply was extremely detailed and prompt and allowed me to navigate this often confusing world in a much more informed way . Thanks so much Nick
Anthony CraigAnthony Craig
12:45 05 Sep 23
This is a must site for anyone looking for advice. Great service and very quick answers to questions. Nick has been of great help quiding us through the maze of aluminium products. Thank you
Philip DuffieldPhilip Duffield
20:24 26 Jul 23
I contacted Nick @ ATS for guidance on what aluminium sliding door systems would be suitable for an opening in an extension that is going to be both wide and tall. He came back really quickly with very detailed and incredibly helpful advice. He is clearly extremely knowledgeable about the systems on the market and their respective features and capabilities. If you’re feeling a bit lost by the overwhelming range of choices out there, I’d definitely recommend contacting him.
Dariush HekmatDariush Hekmat
17:25 19 Jul 23
Nick's advice is great. He is always quick to respond and spends time on responses, which really help to make an informed decision.
Alan FosterAlan Foster
07:51 12 Jul 23
Absolutely fantastic. Asked for advice about replacing Crittall (?) windows late last night and early this morning received 3 great suggestions and contact information for suppliers
Rachel LauRachel Lau
09:24 16 Jun 23
Fantastic website full of valuable and pragmatic advice about product selection and comparison: no other website gives information like this. Truly written for public interest. Don't hesistate to reach out to Nick via the mailing system. He responds very quickly, is friendly, and has very sound and high knowledgable advice. I have already shared this with my friend planning her own grand design.
guard Charlieguard Charlie
12:28 14 May 23
I emailed this company just on the off chance they could help me with new magnetic sliders for my patio door. They were not able to supply those but were so very helpful providing me with the name of a company who could. I am so very grateful at the great service. Dare say customers must be very happy. thank you so much.
Benjamin LewisBenjamin Lewis
10:06 04 May 23
Nick is very helpful indeed. Extremely knowledgeable on bifolds which was in relation to my query. Great website as well, some very useful articles. Particularly appreciated the article that lists all the major bifold options in order of their sightlines! Thank you!
P JonesP Jones
08:07 15 Apr 23
I asked Nick some questions about an installation we were considering and he replied within hours with some very useful suggestions that will probably lead us to using a different make and supplier. Thanks, Nick. Great work.
Nicholas WallNicholas Wall
13:18 02 Apr 23
Looking for fair and honest expert advice on all aspect of aluminium windows and doors? These guys will arm you with all the information you need to make the RIGHT choice in a highly complex, crowded marketplace. post a question and you will get a very quick professional answer you can rely on being based on fact. Thanks guys!
Giorgia SiriacoGiorgia Siriaco
16:25 21 Mar 23
After a lot of research to find doors that would meet our unusual size requirements and feeling increasingly uncertain about the best way to spend our small budget, I stumbled on the ATS website, and I'm so glad I did! I contacted ATS to request advice and Nick promptly replied with a wealth of information, providing us with options and relevant contact details. I only wish I'd found them sooner!
Carol NortonCarol Norton
10:01 17 Mar 23
I've been so confused about how to achieve the look I'm after, and going round in circles with various window/door companies, trying to get away from the huge chunks of plastic currently around my windows. I didn't expect an email to a company found through a Google search to really help - but I was desperate, so I tried. I'm SO glad I did. Finally I have clear explanations from ATS of where I've been going wrong, exactly what I'm looking for, and a list of local companies that might be able to provide it! The response has excelled my expectations and I feel as if I'm finally inching closer to a home with which I'll be happy and comfortable: thank you.
David NunnDavid Nunn
20:54 14 Mar 23
It is rare that I write reviews, however after my very positive communication with Nick - enquiring about suitable slim sash aluminium windows for my project, I felt that a review was definitely warranted. I can reinforce the many positive reviews posted so far, Nick was very quick to respond, providing comprehensive detail, with excellent independent advice.In summary, great service, thank you Nick.
Chantal AuerbachChantal Auerbach
13:04 09 Mar 23
Nick from Aluminium Trade Supply was incredibly helpful informative and pleasant to deal with. He responded quickly to emails and was very knowledgeable. Highly recommend being in touch with Nick if you are considering new aluminium windows or doors.
Lee JonesLee Jones
20:21 22 Feb 23
I dropped Nick at Aluminium Trade Supply an email re high security slim sightline bi-folds and their alternatives and he responded that quickly (and so comprehensively) that I felt bad I’d not paid him for his time!Nick Sir your product knowledge is outstanding and you are providing a level of service that goes wayyyy above and beyond expectations. I’ll definitely make sure I mention Aluminium Trade Supply to anyone I encounter looking for a fenestration solution 🙏🏼
G JG J
15:13 13 Feb 23
We are looking to replace some old UPVC patios doors with aluminium ones. The ATS website is a great source of advice in an area where clear information is sorely lacking. Having used the website, I then followed this up with a number of specific questions relating to our search, and Nick came back very quickly with clear, detailed and very useful advice.I have been very impressed with both the website and with Nick's advice. My only regret is that I didn't come across ATS before replacing various windows in 2021 - I'm sure it would have saved me a lot of grief and money! Thanks again Nick.
Azza McCabeAzza McCabe
17:47 01 Feb 23
So impressed with this company.Responded to my query quickly andgave valuable advice. Nick was extremely helpful and we were able to move forward with our project.
Adri LoloçiAdri Loloçi
11:21 08 Jan 23
Nick was super fast to respond and provided some great recommendations. I would recommend this website to anyone looking to find bifold or sliding aluminium doors.
Stephen HoustonStephen Houston
16:16 03 Jan 23
Looking for aluminium crittall style internal door and external patio French doors. Noted good reviews and thought would ask for advice. Comprehensive reply with excellent independent advice and lists of fitters who could provide products and installation. Great service.
Inga GeachInga Geach
08:25 21 Dec 22
Nick from Aluminium Trade Supply has been extremely helpful with navigating the jungle that is aluminium glazing for our upcoming extension project. His advice was prompt, detailed and always impartial. Very grateful for your input, thanks Nick!
Amanda BurtonAmanda Burton
10:54 16 Dec 22
Brilliant website and an excellent service. Nick provided not only detailed advice and supplier contacts, but highlighted the considerations of various products so I could make an informed choice. Our Sunvista minimal sliders were fitted this week and I couldn't be happier, stunning. Thanks once again for your advice and recommendations, invaluable!
Keith BarnesKeith Barnes
17:18 10 Dec 22
Very helpful advice given to my question, including the name of 3 different companies that i could try for the product being enquired about. Many thanks
Munim ChowdhuryMunim Chowdhury
11:45 13 Sep 22
Nick has been very helpful on signposting me to a number of partner organisations for steel/aluminium doors.
SUSAN wallaceSUSAN wallace
17:26 31 Aug 22
My experience with this firm was exceptionally good and this is notalways the case as a female, dipping a toe into technical waters.I was spoken too with courtesy and at a level that helped me consolidate what was needed .On top of that I was given a list of companies and places where I could obtain the type of product I needed.I could not thank them enough and would certainly go there again and reccommend others do too.
Paul SalterPaul Salter
22:39 22 Aug 22
Contacting Aluminium Trade Supply is like contacting the Oracle direct. Advice is always comprehensive and balanced. On multiple occasions they have provided me with options that fully meet our objectives. Many thanks.
Nick McCormackNick McCormack
20:25 14 Aug 22
Really helpful and useful came back to me on a Sunday with some invaluable information. Highly recommended.
ray addisonray addison
13:14 14 Aug 22
received a prompt reply to my query,and helpful information from ATS
js_loader