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Wood, Aluminum Or Steel? A Guide To Choosing The Right Doors & Windows For Your New Home

Wood, Aluminum Or Steel? A Guide To Choosing The Right Doors & Windows For Your New Home 1200 1799 White Sands Design/Build

When you’re custom-building your home, you need to make a lot of decisions. You may find yourself thinking about things, such as materials and building products, that you’ve never considered before. Do you know what type of doors are in your current home? Are your window frames solid wood, wood clad or aluminum? What material best matches your architectural style? These are questions that most can’t answer, but when you’re building your dream home, these questions will come up.

Three key factors come into play when deciding which windows and doors to use: budget, style of architecture and type of door. Certain materials, such as wood-clad, are more affordable than others, such as aluminum. Wood doors are much more style-appropriate for a Mediterranean home than aluminum or steel, while metal doors work well for contemporary or industrial design. If your home will have many specialty doors (Dutch, barn, pocket or glass), you probably want to choose certain manufacturers over others.

Soliciting advice from experts is always the best plan, but I put together a quick guide to materials and manufacturers to help you make the best decision.

Wood-Clad Doors & Windows—An Affordable Option

Wood-clad windows and doors are one of the most affordable options, while still being energy-efficient and aesthetically-pleasing. Wood-clad products have a tough fiberglass exterior and a wooden interior frame that can be painted any color. They are lower maintenance and less susceptible to rot than a full-wood door. They generally come with a 20-year warranty.

We use two key manufacturers of wood-clad doors and windows. Sierra Pacific products are made in California, from sustainably-grown California timber. If you need a quick turnaround, they’re one of the fastest suppliers we’ve found. Our other favorite wood-clad manufacturer, Weather Shield, offers products that rival Sierra Pacific’s in terms of quality, but come in more style and color options.

Wood-clad is a great look for traditional homes, such as Plantation style, Colonial, Cape Cod, Cottage, Craftsman, etc. Sierra Pacific and Weather Shield give you high return on your investment, dollar for dollar. However, you may sacrifice customization with these brands, since higher-priced options offer more flexibility and specific features.

Solid Wood Doors & Windows

Usually we go with solid wood, custom-designed front doors for their heft and aesthetic advantage. But using solid wood for every door and window in your home is a pricey option that requires upkeep.

The key reason to choose solid wood would be architectural fidelity. If you are restoring a Spanish bungalow or building a Mediterranean home that hews absolutely true to authentic style and materials, you may choose solid wood for its Old World charm. Otherwise, you will probably want to choose wood-clad.

Solid wood needs to be checked for rot and warping every six months. If your wood-door is south-facing, it will be highly susceptible to sun-fading. A beach climate presents environmentally-specific challenges for wood, because of the corrosive nature of salt. Even if you pressure-wash regularly, you’ll need to touch up your paint or stain at least once a year.

Aluminum Doors & Windows—An Attractive, Low-Maintenance Option

Aluminum doors and windows are highly durable and require less maintenance than wood or steel products. They come in a wide range of finishes and glazes, and have a lighter, more seamless appearance than wood products. They are lightweight but can be strengthened with alloys (mixing with other metals) to hold up large, heavy pieces of glass. 

Aluminum doors are more expensive than wood-clad doors, but they don’t require touch-up painting and staining, or really any ongoing maintenance, beyond an annual professional cleaning and a bi-annual pressure washing. They look great on contemporary and industrial homes but are more challenging to incorporate into traditional-style homes.

At White Sands, we usually choose one of three aluminum door manufacturers. Fleetwood is the flagship manufacturer of aluminum doors and window-frames. They were the first company to bring these products to market, and their name has a certain cache. Fleetwood offers a lot of variety for specialty door systems, such as oversized doors, pocket doors, sliding doors and folding doors. 

Another brand we use a lot, Kolbe, has also been making aluminum products (as well as wood-clad products) for a long time. They have plenty of style options and a good modern line, making them one of the most versatile door and window suppliers out there. Western aluminum products may be more affordable than Fleetwood or Kolbe but are also a great option that we use often.

Steel Doors & Windows—Our Top Choice, If You Can Afford It

Steel doors and windows are the most minimalistic option, meaning they blend more seamlessly with the exterior of your home than other materials. In part, this is because steel is so strong that a very thin piece can hold a lot of weight. Steel has low sightlines. Sightlines are the amount of the frame that is visible around the glass from the exterior of your home, and with steel, this border is more narrow than in other styles.

Like aluminum, steel doors work best on contemporary styles. They are a great option for floor-to-ceiling windows or oversized sliding glass doors, since they are stronger than aluminum. But most clients find using steel for every door and window to be cost-prohibitive. Often we use steel for very prominent doors and windows, and we use an aluminum option for the rest of the home. 

Steel is somewhat high-maintenance when used near the ocean. If you don’t clean the salt from steel regularly, your frames may start to pit and corrode.

Euroline is our top choice for steel products, particularly if you are using steel for specialty doors. Torrance Steel, a local product manufactured in the South Bay, is a more budget-friendly option.

Keep In Mind

For a window facing a busy street, we recommend triple-paned glass to help with sound-proofing.

If security is a major concern, you may consider going with steel doors for the exterior of your home. 

Thicker interior doors help protect against sound transfer, but there are other ways to deal with that, as well. We can help you figure out sound issues via drywall and insulation, if you want to go with a thinner door option. 

Want to protect your furnishings from UV-rays? If the door and windows manufacturer that you choose doesn’t offer a protective film, we can have a third-party apply an anti-UV coating, to keep your rugs, art and furniture in excellent condition.

The Nitty-Gritty

For traditional homes, the most budget-friendly, low-maintenance option for doors and windows is wood-clad. The high-end (but also high-maintenance!) option is solid wood. 

For contemporary homes, the budget-friendly, low-maintenance option is aluminum doors and window frames. The high-end, higher-maintenance option is steel. 

If you need to know more or have specific questions, please get in touch. White Sands Design Build has built a variety of traditional and contemporary homes in a beach climate. As the premier custom home builders in Manhattan Beach, we know a lot about how different materials work and would be happy to talk with you about custom-building your South Bay beach home.

Thanks for reading,

Mike Capobianco

Michael Capobianco is a founding partner and the head of construction at White Sands Coastal Development. He’s a jack of many trades (finance, brokerage, property management) and a master contractor, with a keen eye for design. In his downtime, you can catch him strolling Manhattan Beach with his dogs.