It may seem like there are many choices to me made when choosing your new patio doors, but only a few main material options. This guide compares timber and plastic patio frames based on style, maintenance, security, and even environmental impact. As you’ll see, while timber patio doors might be more expensive than uPVC, their lifetime value can be far higher.
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Timber vs uPVC overview
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Why do patio door frame materials matter?
When undertaking an extension or renovation, patio doors are one of the first things people think about when wanting to open up space in their home. They are a focal point of a room and help bring the outdoors in. Therefore, it is very important when deciding which patio doors to pick that you consider the material they are made from as it is the foundation of the door itself.
The differences between materials fall into two main categories:
Presentation. The exterior and interior appearance of the patio door, including:
- How the patio door fits with the style of the property
Performance. How well the patio door does its job and for how long, including:
- Life expectancy
- Smoothness of operation
- Maintenance requirements
Wood has been used for hundreds of years in the construction of window frames and more recently in patio door frames. It’s a natural, renewable material that is strong and long lasting.
One of the main benefits of timber patio doors is that they have character and charm. They add style and warmth to a property, whereas plastic patio doors risk detracting from it
uPVC (also known as PVC-U or vinyl) patio doors are made from a robust, lightweight form of plastic. Because they’re made from an artificial material, they don’t decompose and require little maintenance to keep them in working order.
Plastic patio doors are generally lower cost than timber patio doors but are unlikely to add as much value to a home as timber.
Both uPVC and timber patio doors are available in a wide range of styles, including French, Folding Sliding or Sliding. uPVC used to be limited to a white plastic look but now allows for a wide range of colours, including (at extra cost) a wood grain imitation effect. While to a keen eye the wood grain effect pales in comparison to real timber frames, it helps those on a budget get closer to a traditional look.
Although it is possible to repaint uPVC patio doors, it’s not a simple job. However, timber is incredibly customisable. They can be manufactured in a wide range of paint finishes, as well as timber stains. You can also easily sand and repaint wooden patio doors when you fancy a change.
Browse our full range of timber patio doors to see which style is perfect for your home.
For heritage, conservation or listed properties, there’s no comparison. Timber patio doors win on aesthetics every time.
Timber patio doors are also a building requirement in many conservation areas. This means that plastic-framed patio doors aren’t allowed because they detract from the heritage and appearance of the property and local area.
Perhaps because plastic seems more ‘modern’ than timber, it is sometimes assumed that uPVC patio doors would perform better thermally than timber counterparts. However, this isn’t the case.
All of patio doors are available double glazed as standard, with the option for some of our ranges to be manufactured with triple glazing for optimal thermal, acoustic and security efficiency.
There is nothing performance wise different between uPVC and Timber Patio Door glazing options.
Patio doors are large panes of glass that allow light to flood your home, but it is sometimes assumed that because they are so large, they could be bad for the energy efficiency of a property.
Our patio doors are designed to stop this from happening because they are energy-efficient and therefore better for reducing energy bills and better for the environment.The double or triple glass panes are designed to prevent heat escaping from your home.
Another other important factor in energy efficiency is what the frames are made of and how well they’re constructed and fitted. Wood has natural thermal insulation properties, making it ideal for keeping in the heat. And while uPVC has come a long way in recent years, it doesn’t outperform timber on energy performance.
While it’s possible to find uPVC and timber patio doors that are equally efficient in conserving heat, energy performance doesn’t tell the whole story. We also need to consider the resources and processes involved in the manufacture and disposal/recycling of the frame’s materials.
There’s lots of evidence, including research compiled by the Wood Window Alliance, that plastic windows are worse for the environment than wooden windows. The same applies for patio doors.
The main concerns involved in the manufacture of uPVC frames are:
- Fossil fuels used to produce the plastic.
- Human toxicity. Burning PVC emits toxins that can cause respiratory diseases.
- Energy and emissions. Chlorine, used to make PVC, requires massive amounts of energy.
- Difficult to recycle. Although efforts have been made to increase recycling rates of uPVC, toxic chemicals still make their way into recycled plastic.
On the other hand, when sourced from credibly-certified, well-managed forests, timber frames are:
- Naturally renewable, providing environmental and economic benefits for the long-term.
- Healthy, with coatings that are friendly to people and the environment.
- Biodegradable, able to be recycled for new uses or burned for energy.
- Low-carbon, by storing carbon and encouraging its uptake through forests.
Due to these reasons, timber is generally seen as more sustainable material choice than uPVC.
All external joinery needs some level of maintenance to keep them in good working order. uPVC frames require very little upkeep – a wipe down now and then is sufficient.
Wooden patio doors used to require more attention, but with the quality of today’s engineered wood and finishes, timber doesn’t demand much more time or effort than plastic.
If finished timber patio doors are kept clean, they shouldn’t require sanding and repainting for at least 10 years. This depends on exposure location and assumes that you’ll conduct an annual inspection and repair any minor damage.
If your patio door faces significant damage, it’s much easier to repair if it’s timber than uPVC. Significant damage to a plastic frame could require a total replacement.
How long do timber patio doors last compared to uPVC?
High-quality, well-maintained timber patio doors are no less secure than uPVC patio doors. In fact, they may even offer higher security if, like most of our range, Secured by Design (SBD) is specified.
SBD is the official police security initiative aimed at improving buildings’ integrity through recognised standards for all security products. SBD has led to 87% fewer burglaries in new homes.
Our DreamVu patio doorset comes with SBD as standard, and the accredited is optional on most of our other ranges.
You may find that uPVC patio doors come with 10- or 20-year warranties, but not much longer due to their shorter lifespan compared to timber patio doors.
Our Darwin, DreamVu, Canberra and Farndale patio doors come with the following leading guarantees:
✔ 6-10 year paint
✔ 6-year stain
✔ 30-40-year rot and fungal attack
✔ 10-year glazing
✔ 10-year manufacturing defects
To find out more, check out our Guarantees and Maintenance page.
Timber patio doors are generally more expensive than uPVC, which is why plastic frames have exploded in popularity over the last few decades. uPVC could be up to half the initial cost of timber patio doors.
However, because timber patio doors offer many advantages over uPVC and have different features, it makes sense to weigh up their lifetime value instead of considering just the purchase price.
- uPVC is cheaper initially, but timber patio doors last up to twice as long
- uPVC is easy to maintain, but timber is easier to repair
- Timber patio doors can add value to a home, whereas plastic could detract value
- Timber patio doors offer equal or better energy performance than uPVC
- Wooden patio doors require zero compromises on style, colour or finish
Ultimately, the choice between uPVC and timber patio doors comes down to personal preference and how important the various aspects of presentation, sustainability and performance are to you.