Something that people often ask us is “what material is best for doors and windows?” The problem with this question is that the word ‘best’ needs to be defined, as each material has certain pros and cons depending on a number of factors. Hopefully this brief guide should help you decide which is best for your project.
Before we get started, a full disclaimer; I am biased towards aluminium! Our product range is made up almost entirely by high quality aluminium products, and there is a reason we have chosen to do this which I will delve a little deeper into further on. I’m going to try and remain as impartial as possible but bear in mind; I’m just an Ali kind of guy.
Timber is slightly odd in that it occupies pretty much the entire price range of what windows and doors can cost. Off-the-shelf mass produced budget windows and doors are very low cost (and low-quality), whereas bespoke engineered hardwood products are sturdy, beautiful, long lasting and come with a price tag to match. For this article I am going to concentrate mainly on the higher-end timber products as I do not have much faith in cheap softwood doors or windows so would not recommend them.
There are a few circumstances where timber is the only option available, either due to very strict conservation or planning restrictions, or if the end goal is to make a building as thermally efficient as possible. When engineered to be as insulated as possible and equipped with premium triple glazing, timber is still the most thermally efficient material for doors and windows. If you are trying to achieve passive-house status on your project, then you will need to choose a high quality engineered timber product.
Timber is natural and can be very attractive. The main downside is that ongoing maintenance is an absolute necessity, more so than uPVC and much more so than aluminium. Most high quality modern timber windows will come with a durable finish, either natural or painted, but this finish can naturally crack or break down over time. If any imperfections are not treated immediately it can risk moisture ingress which in turn could risk rot starting to set in – this could ultimately ruin the entire frame.
Another thing to take into account when choosing a good quality timber window or door is manufacturing times. Most manufacturers (large or small) will work to a 10+ week lead time which can cause delays to your project.
PROS: attractive, natural, thermally efficient, compliant with almost all planning or conservation restrictions
CONS: quality products can be expensive, will require ongoing maintenance
Ever since manufacturing of uPVC became viable in the 80’s it has dominated the glazing industry. It offers a very cost effective means of replacing worn-out old steel, iron and timber windows with fresh looking, relatively thermally efficient double glazing and remains by far the most common type of door and window to this day.
The biggest draw for most people to fit uPVC is simple – it’s cheap. A decent quality uPVC window or door is usually less than half that of its aluminium or timber counterpart and if you’re on a budget or trying to renovate or build a property in order to run a quick profit, it’s pretty much the only option for you.
uPVC can look quite smart, too. There are loads of suppliers out there now who can offer painted or foiled uPVC so if you’re desperate for the premium look from a colour like anthracite grey then it can offer a cost effective way of achieving this. Relatively thermally efficient and able to take double or triple glazing, it’s a good all-round material that offers great value for money.
The main downside to uPVC is that it’s not particularly durable. It flexes and expands and contracts depending on heat. This doesn’t cause an immediate problem but over time with opening, closing, expanding, contracting and flexing (even a minute amount) frames can become misshapen and start to become creaky, stiff or difficult to operate. We’ve all had to use a knackered old uPVC door in our time!
Keeping your hinges and handles greased and maintained properly can combat this to some degree, but when the overall structure of a frame is compromised there’s not an awful lot that can be done to remedy it, so when it really becomes too difficult or frustrating to use it’s time to replace it I’m afraid.
For a simple window this isn’t usually much of an issue, and sliding patio doors don’t suffer much from this either due to the 1 dimensional movement, but from our experience uPVC bifold doors are a bad move, regardless of cost or apparent quality. The two dimensional movement and the forces exerted on the hinges and frames are just too strong for the material and almost always end up in quickly becoming stiff, squeaky, and difficult to use.
PROS – cheap cheap cheap! Relatively thermally efficient, short lead times, readily available.
CONS – not very durable, can discolour over time, will flex and become difficult to operate over time.
Aluminium doors and windows have come a long way since the clunky, drafty and ugly frames that were the norm in the 70’s and 80’s. These days premium aluminium glazing products are all thermally broken and achieve the same if not better thermal efficiency as uPVC with the added benefits of structural rigidity and an attractive, contemporary design.
Aluminium does not absorb moisture like timber, nor does it flex anywhere near as much as uPVC. This means that it is by far the most durable, reliable and trouble-free material out there by quite some margin. The downside is that as with most things, you have to pay for quality and a good quality aluminium door or window will be considerably more expensive than uPVC, and usually a similar price to a premium timber item.
Lead times are usually a bit longer than uPVC with most suppliers quoting 4 – 8 weeks, but there are certain systems which can be available sooner. *SHAMELESS PLUG ALERT* most of our systems are available in 3 weeks, with the fantastic Origin door and windows system available from Instadoor in just 1 week in a selection of standard colours. That’s hard to beat, even in uPVC.
Aluminium has recently become a byword for high quality, and installing a premium aluminium door or window will offer the perfect finishing touch to your project and in most cases will provide a return on your investment when it comes to valuing or selling your property.
PROS – durable, little to no maintenance required, attractive, contemporary look
CONS – more expensive than uPVC alternatives, can have a longer lead time depending on supplier/manufacturer
Instadoor Ltd is an online supplier of premium aluminium doors, windows and roof glazing which strives to offer good value, fast lead times and a great customer service – a stark contrast to most other double glazing companies! For more information on their range of products please visit www.instadoor.co.uk