All windows are made of glass and, regardless of your frame, you can use whichever type of glass you want. However, your choice of frame can determine the lifespan, security, aesthetics, and the overall energy efficiency of your windows and building. During new construction projects, for example, without proper communication, the exterior windows, walls, and doors could have entirely different appearances.

We would like to help clarify some of the most common choices in commercial window frames and what factors you should consider when choosing commercial window frames. Based on your needs, one factor may dominate another.

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Most Common Types of Frames

When some says they offer “commercial aluminum windows”, they are referring to the type of frame. The type of frame is directly based on the materials used to create the frame. Here are the most common types of commercial window frames:

  • Aluminum
  • Glass
  • Steel
  • Vinyl
  • Wood

Each of these frame types has its own benefits and downfalls in respect to aesthetics, energy efficiency, strength and security, and affordability. Note that the word “commercial” includes a large variety of buildings, including (but not limited to):

  • Apartments
  • High-rises and Mid-rises
  • Industrial Buildings
  • Schools/Colleges/Universities
  • Stores (Small and Large)

Aesthetics

It’s no surprise that one frame differs from the rest in terms of its appearance. Aluminum frames look significantly different than wooden frames. On top of this, there are different types of windows that provide a different appearance, even with the same frame. For example, an aluminum window looks much different depending on whether it is a sliding window or not. Here is a project we’ve completed in the past in Falls Church, Virginia where we installed new commercial aluminum windows:

commercial aluminum windows

(You can find all of our projects here.)

These are standard aluminum windows meant to provide natural light throughout the face of the building.

When choosing your frame, be sure to consider the overall appearance of your building as well as the appearance of the individual windows. All of the following affect the overall aesthetics of your building:

  • Frame designs
  • Length of the window
  • Width of the window
  • Coloring of the aluminum

Energy Efficiency

One major factor you should consider when purchasing new commercial windows is the efficiency of each frame. The more energy efficient your windows are, the more money you’ll save on your monthly energy bills. The energy efficiency rating is the deciding factor for many property managers. The Department of Energy has come up with an energy efficiency rating called a U-factor. The U-factor rating is a formula which defines the rate of heat flow through windows, doors, and skylights. The lower the U-factor, the more energy efficient the window.

  • Aluminum – All metals have a tendency to conduct heat, making aluminum frames not the ideal choice in energy efficiency. However, this can be counteracted by installing a thermal break for the windows, which is essentially the insulation missing from the original aluminum window.
  • Glass – Windows made of entirely glass with no definitive frame are limited in their energy efficiency capabilities. Glass windows are a common choice if you plan to keep the windows permanently closed and use blinds and/or shades to keep out sunlight.
  • Vinyl – Vinyl windows are naturally resistant to the sun’s heat. This can lead to many benefits, and in terms of energy efficiency, vinyl windows are naturally energy efficient and receive the lowest, and therefore the best, U-factor ratings. Another benefit to vinyl windows is the easy method of insulating the windows. Unlike most other frames, vinyl frames are hollow. This space is most often filled with insulation, which significantly increases the efficiency of the window. Vinyl windows with installation are the most energy efficient on the market to date.
  • Wood – Similar to vinyl frames, wood frames are naturally energy efficient. The U-factor rating on wood windows are close in comparison to vinyl. Some wood frames are more efficient than vinyl. However, wood also expands and contracts in the heat and cold, making it a bit unreliable. When the wood expands and contracts, it could mean less efficiency.

Life Expectancy

The life expectancy of a window is the average time a window lasts before it should be replaced. Most property managers do not replace the windows at the end of a window’s life until it is cracked or broken in some other way. A window’s life expectancy is based on average wear-and-tear of windows in a year. The climate and weather changes throughout the year can affect the life expectancy as well. Windows with high resilience to natural damages and moisture have the highest life expectancy, but, depending on how heavily the window is used, the frame of choice could change significantly.

  • Aluminum – All aluminum frames are strong and can hold up against severe weather and everyday use. Aluminum windows have an average life expectancy of about 15 years. With a professional installation and good care, these windows could last up to 20 years. After this point, you may begin to see rust, dents, holes, and other damage.
  • Vinyl – Vinyl windows are surprisingly strong and durable. Because vinyl does not rot as fast as metal rusts, it can last significantly longer in severe weather conditions. Vinyl windows are naturally moisture-resistant and can easily last 20 years. With maintenance and great care, these windows can last up to 40 years. No other window compares in terms of life expectancy.
  • Wood – If you’ve ever seen a wood cabin after 30 years and compare it to one made of brick, you’ll see wood also lasts a surprisingly long time. Wood windows last at least 30 years. In most cases, wood windows are installed in historic buildings specifically because of their life expectancy. If maintained properly, wood windows can last as long as (or even longer) than all other parts of the building.

Of course, all windows are not made equally and can be made of varying qualities. Not all wood lasts over 50 years, but some can. Ask your installer for a list of choices in materials and be sure to ask for life expectancy estimates, pricing, and examples from previous projects. A higher quality material will last longer than a poor, cheaper-quality material.

Summary

All commercial windows are not the same. Depending on what you’re looking for in your project, you will most likely focus on one factor over another. Remember that if there was a “best” type of window, there would only be one type of window available. They all have their pros and cons.

  • If you’re primarily interested in the appearance of your windows, then browse around some of our work and see which project you think looks best. Aluminum is a popular choice because of its clean and sleek appearance, but it doesn’t match every building.
  • If you’re more focused on energy efficiency, then vinyl windows with insulation are the go-to frame of choice, followed by wood, aluminum, and finally glass windows.
  • A wood window can last longer than any other type of window with proper maintenance. Without any maintenance, an aluminum window will far surpass the rest. However, a vinyl window (with maintenance) comes in second in terms of life expectancy.
  • If you’re on a set budget like most companies then you’re more focused on what you can afford. The cheapest of the frames is an aluminum frame, followed by wood, and lastly vinyl.

Contact us if you have any questions about your commercial window project.