Even we were surprised at just how prevalent aluminium is for both residential and commercial windows. It’s 74% and 99% respectively, according to the Australian Government’s report Comparative service life assessment of window systems.
So, why are architects, developers and home-renovators reaching for aluminium not wood for their projects? We decided to peer into the issue and explore doors, too.
Should mention that you’ve probably come across the hybrid – aluminium-clad (aka skinned) wooden windows. Yes, they’re out there. But, for the sake of brevity, we’re keeping this blog post simple and pure – comparing timber with aluminium.
Important to know that if cost is an issue, there may not be much difference in price for the same type and size aluminium or timber window or door. Factor in the material and labour costs for the joinery to get the true cost.
It’s all about appearances
Aluminium can be designed to tick the box for aesthetically pleasing. You’ll have plenty of options for finishes, but it still looks like aluminium, there’s no getting away from that. You won’t achieve the depth and warmth of natural wood. It offers so many more design choices including raw, stained, painted. And if the hue doesn’t suit over time, give it a lick of paint in a different colour.
Consider, too, if you’re retrofitting timber doors or windows to a traditional/period character home. Think hardwood timber casement windows or wooden sash windows. Or solid timber doors with bevelled inlays. Timber means you can include authentic period features. As well, when you have your eye on a more contemporary design, wood gives you a greater range of choices to last the distance in the style stakes.
You might think timber frames restrict the expanse of your window design. Actually, no. See how timber has added distinction to the windows in these architecturally designed homes
We’d like to share with you an interesting European design where you’ll see timber transforming this house. When you close the shutters over the doors and windows, they meld into the cladding forming sleek, uncluttered external walls. Because it’s a holiday farmhouse, it allows the owners to easily secure it for long periods when it’s unoccupied. Picture this with aluminium. Doesn’t quite do the same job.
The word from the Comparative service life assessment of window system report is that aluminium framed windows “perform worse” than timber-framed ones. That’s a bold statement that begs some questions.
What kind of job will aluminium do over timber for your architecturally designed doors and windows in terms of sustainability, thermal, acoustic and security features?
Aluminium isn’t renewable – producing it creates a whopping 85 times more greenhouse gases compared with timber. But it can be recycled. As well, you’d know aluminium has poor thermal properties. However, you can source insulated aluminium windows. But for the extra cost over timber windows, is it worth the negative impact on your project’s aesthetics? As well, aluminium is a hard, unforgiving surface where sound echoes. And as for security, aluminium is best suited to low or medium risk locations.
Wood is a renewable resource and a carbon sink. Earn extra green credentials and ensure your custom timber window or door manufacturer sources wood from Chain of Custody forests. That means they’ve been verified against global standards.
Thermally, timber’s a natural insulator and very energy efficient as a building material. Acoustically, you’ll find timber is the choice for so many public buildings and ceilings – think Sydney Opera House. Timber significantly reduces how far sound vibrations can travel. And regarding security, when timber frames are maintained, they’re as strong as the day they were installed. Quality handware such as hinges and multipoint locks are one way to step it up a level, too.
The biggie – upkeep
Aluminium windows and doors are not maintenance free. They need regular cleaning to keep surfaces free of contaminants and to look after the anodised or powder finish. The downside of aluminium frames are that they’re more likely to corrode, fade, scratch and dent (a tap with a hammer will leave a lasting impression). Sure, you can repaint or recoat it with enamel paint, but good luck matching the original finish. As for timber, repainting keeps those frames top notch.
You’d want to check the fine print on the lifetime guarantee of your window or door frames, too. The vagaries of the Australian climate means the life expectancy of these products may vary. Think Jindabyne chill, Darwin’s swelter, Melbourne’s changeability, Sydney’s humidity – we’ve got more climates than you can poke a stick at.
So, if you’re keen for better than average for your building project, you can’t knock wood. We’ve delved into the myths about using timber. And you can check out our gallery of custom timber door and window projects for inspiration for your next design.