A Beginner’s Guide to Clad Windows

Clad windows consist of a wooden frame and sash with an exterior cover called cladding. The three types of cladding are aluminum, vinyl, and fiberglass.

There are many advantages to choosing a clad option – like improved energy efficiency, a wood interior, and a low-maintenance exterior. But like anything else, there are some disadvantages, too.

Wood Clad Window FramesView in gallery

If you’re considering clad windows for your home, here’s what you need to know.


Types of Clad Windows

There are three types of clad windows: aluminum, vinyl, and fiberglass. 

1. Aluminum Clad Window

Aluminum-clad windows are among the most popular. They feature a wood frame and sash with exterior portions wrapped in aluminum. These windows are ideal for areas with harsh winters or lots of rain. Aluminum is low maintenance, only needing to be cleaned a few times per year, and will protect the wood frame from the elements.

2. Vinyl Clad Windows

Vinyl-clad windows consist of a wood frame and sash with a thin piece of vinyl wrapped around the exterior. Vinyl-clad windows provide homeowners with a maintenance-free exterior – a big difference from the continuous refinishing and repainting an all-wood window needs.

3. Fiberglass Clad Windows

Fiberglass is the strongest window frame and one of the most energy efficient. A fiberglass-clad window will have a wooden frame and interior, with the exterior coated in a thin, protective fiberglass layer.


Are Clad Windows Expensive?

Clad windows are more expensive than vinyl but are of a similar cost to an all-wood window, depending on the brand. In general, aluminum-clad windows are more costly than vinyl-clad or fiberglass clad, but this varies among brands and window styles.


The Pros and Cons of Clad Windows

If you’re interested in clad windows, here’s what to expect.

Pros:

  • Low maintenance – The biggest issue with wood windows is continuous maintenance. Wood cladding solves this problem.
  • Protection – Aluminum, fiberglass, and vinyl all stand up to the elements well. They’ll protect the wood from rain, snow, and moisture in the air.
  • Aesthetics – Both fiberglass and aluminum-clad windows can give your home a modern look.
  • Wood interior – A wood-clad window gives you an interior wood frame that you can stain or paint.

Cons:

  • Hard to see damaged wood – With cladding on the exterior of a window, it’s impossible to see if the wood underneath is damaged or rotting.
  • Can’t reclad a window – If the cladding on your window goes bad, recladding them might not be an option. Instead, you’ll need to replace the damaged section or the entire window.

What are the Problems with Vinyl Clad Windows?

There are many advantages of vinyl-clad windows, the biggest being that they’re maintenance-free. The most common problem with vinyl-clad windows is that you can’t paint the exterior. And, in extreme climates, the vinyl could crack, warp, or peel away from the frame.

What are the problems with Aluminum Clad Windows?

The biggest problem with aluminum-clad windows is they can rust if not cleaned at least a few times per year. The not-so-common problem is that aluminum conducts heat and can lower energy efficiency. But most of today’s aluminum and aluminum-clad products are specially treated to prevent this.


Which Brands Offer Clad Windows?

If you want a clad window, you’re in luck. Most brands offer them. Here’s where to find the best clad windows:


Fiberglass Clad vs. Aluminum Clad Wood Windows

Choosing between fiberglass cladding and aluminum cladding is tough. Both options are durable, have high-energy efficiency, and protect the wood underneath. The decision comes down to price and looks.

In general, aluminum clad costs slightly more than fiberglass. But, there are also many more aluminum-clad window options. Both materials are long-lasting and high-end, so either choice is good.

Clad Windows vs. Vinyl: Which is Better?

Clad and vinyl both give homeowners one sought-after feature: low maintenance. Vinyl windows are maintenance-free – you don’t have to seal them, repaint them, or clean them in any particular way. While most clad windows are low maintenance, they aren’t all no maintenance.

While vinyl and fiberglass-clad windows don’t require special treatments, homeowners must wash aluminum cladding with an appropriate cleaner a few times per year. Failure to do this can lead to a window frame that rusts.

But one of the biggest differences between a clad window and vinyl is the interior. 

The interior of a clad window is wood – you can paint or stain it any color you’d like. And, if you’re a homeowner who enjoys changing the look of your home, wood is easy to refinish. Vinyl, on the other hand, does not take paint well.

Vinyl windows have a vinyl interior. Since vinyl is hard to paint, you’re stuck with whatever interior color you choose.

Aside from aesthetics, there’s lifespan, energy efficiency, and cost to consider:

  • Vinyl and clad windows can last 20+ years depending on make, brand, and climate
  • Clad is much more expensive
  • Both windows have high energy efficiency, depending on the brand, added insulators, and glass type

What’s the Difference Between Vinyl and Vinyl Clad?

A standard vinyl window is vinyl (PVC) throughout the entire frame. The vinyl combines with pigment and additives to help the window resist fading and stand up to the elements. It has a vinyl interior and exterior.

A vinyl-clad window starts with a wooden frame. The exterior is wrapped in a thin layer of vinyl to protect the wood and offer low maintenance. The interior is wood, allowing the homeowner to stain or paint it however they want.

Vinyl-clad windows are more expensive than standard vinyl and harder to find.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)FAQ

Can you paint aluminum-clad windows?

The interior of aluminum-clad windows is wood, which you can paint or stain. The exterior is aluminum which you can paint but might not want to. Check with the manufacturer first. Painting the aluminum may void your warranty.

What are metal-clad windows?

A metal-clad window is another name for an aluminum-clad window. These windows feature wood frames and sashes with the exterior wrapped in a thin coat of aluminum.

Who makes vinyl-clad windows?

It’s harder to find vinyl-clad windows than it is to find aluminum or fiberglass options. You can find vinyl-clad options from Andersen and JELD WEN.

Can you replace cladding on windows?

Most manufacturers don’t offer replacement cladding. Instead, you’ll need to replace sections of the window or the entire unit.

Can you paint vinyl-clad windows?

Vinyl does not take paint well. So while it’s possible to paint vinyl-clad windows, you’ll risk the paint peeling off or cracking.

Will dark vinyl-clad windows fade?

Most vinyl windows are treated with additives to help them resist fading. It’s unlikely that a vinyl-clad window will fade, but check with the manufacturer to see if the warranty covers fading.

Final Thoughts

Clad windows offer the beauty of natural wood on the interior with a protective aluminum, fiberglass, or vinyl coating on the exterior. These windows are low-maintenance, especially in comparison to all-wood.

The most significant disadvantage to clad windows is that you can’t see the wood underneath, so it won’t be obvious if it’s damaged. Also, most manufacturers don’t offer recladding to fix windows. Instead, once the cladding deteriorates, you’ll need replacements.