What are better windows – Aluminium or PVCu?

Aluminium or PVCu? Which is the better window or door? The reality is both PVCu and aluminium today create secure, energy-efficient and long-lasting windows. However, when comparing aluminium or PVCu, aluminium is slimmer, more modern, has a more luxurious perception and is 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.

In the market for new windows or doors? One of the things you may be considering is what is the best material – aluminium or PVCu/upvc. The “what is better, aluminium or PVC” debate has no real answer.   The decision process will largely depend on the information presented to you and it also needs to be accurate and relevant. It’s also true that certain window products are actually better in PVCu than aluminium as we explain later in this article.

Choosing between aluminium or PVCu and why it matters.

aluminium or pvcu

The home improvement industry is diverse, multi-tiered and multi-faceted.  Unlike other consumer products, information on windows and doors is broad-ranging.  For many years we relied on the information given to us by showrooms and double glazing salespeople.  Often these sales messages were biased towards selling us any window, not the right window.  As a result, many people were sold PVCu thinking it was the only option or the best option.

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.

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.  Aluminium windows and doors are as thermally efficient, as secure and with some brands, also very affordable.

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.

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

As a result of the substantial investment in products and design, you have never had as much choice in windows and doors as you do today. Modern windows and doors serve virtually every design and customer requirement.

The companies behind aluminium and PVCu windows and doors.

One of the differences between PVCu and aluminium windows is the supply chain. Both aluminium and PVCu products are designed, tested and brought to market by systems companies.   The network of manufacturers then make the windows and supply them to the consumer as follows:

  • Trade Manufacturers supplying installers only.
  • Manufacturers that also install direct such as Anglian, Everest, Safestyle and others.
  • Trade counters supplying buildings and home improvement companies.
  • Installers buying in ready-made windows and doors.

Therefore as a homeowner, your new windows will come from one of these sources. PVCu windows and door manufacturers are substantially bigger businesses than aluminium manufacturers.  There are companies set up to produce thousands of windows a week. As a result of these ‘super fabricators,’ many of the smaller plastic manufacturers have ceased making windows, finding it much cheaper to buy them in.

We believe our website to be the only one of its kind covering all the major systems and helping you understand aluminium doors and windows for homes and commercial buildings.  In the construction sector organisations such as the Council For Aluminium in Building work with Government and the entire supply chain. Many of the best aluminium providers, material suppliers and related businesses are members.

Understanding where aluminium windows come from.

The aluminium supply chain is much smaller.  Super fabricators of aluminium do not exist although substantial manufacturers are supplying the trade.  The main reason for this is the more hand-made nature of aluminium windows and that they now often come in so many colours.

Therefore when comparing aluminium or PVCu windows, you are arguably getting a more bespoke product with aluminium from a more short supply chain.  There are also many smaller manufacturers of aluminium as well.

Because aluminium windows and doors are today such a favourite material, colour choices are better and lead times are significantly reduced.

Where previously PVCu sold on its ready availability, it is now possible to get white, grey or black aluminium windows as fast as you can get PVCu.

Choosing the right window company for your aluminium windows and doors

Safestyle is an excellent example of a company focused on selling mostly PVCu. The only aluminium product they sell is bifolding doors. Everything else is PVCu or versions of it such as composite front doors.

Therefore, do your research carefully around good installers of windows and doors. For aluminium, you’ll find companies selling only aluminium. These businesses tend to specialise in a specific installation and customer type and particular projects and homes.

Then you’ll find installers offering both PVCu and aluminium including some high-end PVCu brands. These installers even provide timber or hybrid glazing systems, demonstrating their ability and expertise across all materials.

How double glazing is sold to you, the consumer.

Much of what you read or hear about aluminium and PVCu windows will largely depend on the window firm and the double glazing salesman. There are many websites to be found comparing the various window materials but, many of these still provide incorrect information about aluminium as well as pvcu.

A company that only specialises in pvcu windows may discredit another product citing reasons why it should not be considered. A company that is experienced in all door and window materials will be able to give accurate and balanced information about the advantages and disadvantages of each and its suitability for your home, individual requirements and budget.

The reality is that most professional window companies will offer you a choice of materials.  However, a professional window company will admit to not offering a product rather than trying to discredit it.

Some things you may be told from those wanting to steer you towards PVCu windows include the following statements. Ask any professional and they’ll tell you these are all incorrect:

  • That aluminium windows condensate
  • Aluminium doors and windows are only used commercially
  • You need to constantly maintain aluminium windows
  • Aluminium windows are not energy efficient
  • Externally beaded aluminium windows are not secure
  • Aluminium windows need hardwood subframes.

If you hear any of the above as part of a sales pitch, we recommend you seek an alternative window company to quote for your new windows and doors.

origin aluminium windows

Quality differences between aluminium and PVCu.

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 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 if your property has a requirement for any of the following products the PVCu option may be better. Such products include:

Sliding Sash Windows

The availability of sash windows in aluminium is limited, and especially the case when replacing or replicating period sash windows. Here the PVCu alternatives such as Masterframe, Roseview Windows, Synseal and others provide a significantly 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. 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.

steel replacement doors

Where aluminium windows are better than PVCu.

There are a great many excellent window companies that specialise in selling both PVCu and aluminium windows, and they do this brilliantly.  Speak to most of these window companies and cost issue aside, it is aesthetics that generally convince a customer to go with aluminium over pvcu.

There is no doubt that the customer will always prefer the slimmer sightlines of aluminium.  Presented with the correct facts about both products again, price issue aside, the customer will usually choose aluminium.

Contemporary style and premium perception.

Whilst several quality PVCu systems do have a range of contemporary windows, the reality is aluminium does it better.

PVCu does not have the brand or product perception as a ‘contemporary’ product not a luxurious one. Whilst this isn’t entirely true and you can buy very modern plastic windows and with products like Residence 9, luxury pvcu, it’s the material perception – a plastic – that by definition struggles to identify as modern or premium.

Steel-look and Crittall® style 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.

Commercial 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.

Slimline or minimal windows and doors

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.

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.

 Benefit from our expert advice

  • Help finding a competent supplier/installer
  • Get Expert Product Advice
  • Guidance for a Specific project

Since 2010, we’ve helped thousands of homeowners, glazing and construction trades get the right aluminium windows and doors from the proper suppliers.