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.
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.
|Shopfronts and Commercial Doors||✓|
|Commercial Windows and Glazing||✓|
|Commercial Buildings (not dwellings)||✓|
|Residential Front Doors||✓||✓|
|High-End Building Projects||✓|
|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.
|Shopfronts and Commercial Doors||✓|
|Sliding Patio Doors||✓||✓|
|Timber Look Windows||✓||✓|
|Sliding Sash Windows||✓||✓|
|Commercial Windows and Glazing||✓||✓|
|Commercial Doors (not dwellings)||✓|
|Residential Front Doors||✓||✓|
|High-End Building Projects||✓|
|Soffits and Fascias||✓||✓|
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.
|More expensive than PVCu||Cheaper than aluminium although luxury, top-end windows are available|
|Ideal for heavy use such as doors in bars, shops and restaurants||PVCu 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 choices||Colour choices consistently improving and more coloured foil options|
|Woodgrain colours somewhat available||Better 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 guarantees||Comes with respectable guarantees|
|Better for swimming pools, exposed or city centre environments||Better 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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
- Energy efficiency
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.