A mainstream proposition

By Prefix

Without question, aluminium in the fenestration sector has made it back seemingly from the abyss, and is now very much a mainstream proposition, challenging the default of PVCU for being the low maintenance building material of choice. In the commercial sector the big aluminium systems houses dominate, while in the trade channels to consumers, it’s now part of everyone’s broader sales portfolio.

But what’s driven demand and taken a niche material to the masses seemingly overnight?

Aluminium has always dominated the commercial sector thanks to its inherent strength and the ability to paint, powder coat or anodise the surface finish and the result is RAL options and other derivatives literally in the hundreds. It is ultimately the architect’s go-to choice of material.

The architectural-led TV programmes such as Grand Designs have focussed on building projects devised by architects, along with aspirational self-builders keen to make a stamp on their plot and location, and it has inspired a generation of homeowners from all parts of society. Many of the projects featured offer far greater expanses of light and space and so consumers began to look at the options for opening up their respective homes to the world outside with bifolding doors.

Arguably it’s been the bifolding door market that has really helped take aluminium as a product material from architect to consumer en-masse via the trade and forward-thinking installation companies. The 2016 statistics from Palmer Market Research show the market size at 42,700 doorsets, which equates to around £150 million in installed value with strong growth forecast for the immediate future.

So, while the likes of Grand Designs have had a significant influence, we can’t forget our desire and near obsession with the world outside and three-season living. This has also had an impact on the emergence of the outdoor living market in recent years and our Verandah has been a hugely successful addition to our product range for this emerging sector.

Verandah also takes account of aluminium throughout the design including an ornate structural gallows bracket and decorative feet and tall collar. It’s quick and easy install, yet a hugely practical addition to many homes and for our customers with show sites, has generated considerable interest as something that balances traditional canopy design with usability and practicality.

We also cannot forget the fact that aluminium ticks the sustainability box with estimates suggesting that 75% of the almost one billion tonnes of aluminium ever produced is still in productive use, some having been through countless loops of its lifecycle. Today, recycling of post-consumer aluminium products saves over 90 million tonnes of CO2 and over 100,000 GWh of electrical energy, equivalent to the annual power consumption of the Netherlands, according to Aluminium for Future Generations.

Many of the bifolding door installations are on the back of kitchen extensions, but there are also opportunities to replace patio doors and French doors with a new material, and with a new colour palette at hand. While the catalyst for aluminium adoption can be firmly pointed at bifolding doors, some consumers have felt that a patio door is a better solution and often more cost effective, while retaining the designer chic of an architectural metal.

These people like the look, feel and slimmer sightlines of aluminium, and so a patio door with double or even a triple track is a preferred option and very much a statement piece on the rear elevation of a property. More recently, we have experienced a substantial increase in demand for aluminium windows as consumers look to match their existing bifolding or patio doors. Consumers are no longer engaged with me-too products, as the market for near limitless options for some composite doors has shown.

Sightlines in aluminium are getting ever slimmer while developments in PVCU systems have pretty much reached their potential. Let’s face it, the primary role of a sash profile is to carry the glass and people are looking to maximise their respective glazed area.

The demand for a greater passage of light has also spurned the development of a slimline lift and slide patio door capable of 6m with just two sashes. Other developments from our own aluminium systems partners, Smart Systems, has included the Alitherm 47 window which replicates the sightlines of traditional steel windows, yet with the modern performance of thermally broken profiles and the VS 600.

The fact that the VS 600 vertical sliding sash window with sash horn options is now within our portfolio, fully reflects the fact that in aluminium we can create and replace over 95% of the windows and doors within the UK residential housing stock. Aluminium systems are now far more than just a passing fad, it’s a formidable part of the fenestration industry in the eyes of the trade and consumers.

But aluminium window and door manufacturing is different to PVCU from a handling perspective to begin with and throughout the fabrication process, yet we’ve been fortunate enough to have experience in other building materials for over 20 years.

In addition, since 2010 we have invested heavily in a dedicated aluminium manufacturing plant in south Wales, with the infrastructure, capital equipment and experience to manufacture a very wide range of windows and doors in aluminium and supporting our other three manufacturing sites, which serve the entire UK. We’ve extensive stocks, operational processes and procedures that also to help drive down lead times.

We have one of the broadest products ranges in the fenestration sector with a history in roofing that still serves us very well today. We still manufacture over 150 glazed roofs per week, supported by our tiled Warmroof and more recently have launched Urbanroom, a contemporary twist on the humble conservatory and notable for the use of aluminium throughout.

Urbanroom benefits from a design-led stylish gutter shroud and aluminium cappings on the roof and can offer this as a complete kit with aluminium door and windows. The latest trend is for full height glazing and so from floor to ceiling we can provide a single solution, carefully colour matched and delivered with our award-winning service. We very much see full room kits as the future for the trade sector with aluminium the preferred material of choice in frames.

The desirability of aluminium can also be seen with our enhanced Opus range of composite windows, doors, roofs and lanterns, benefitting from the longevity of this material to the outside with the sheer luxury of hardwood to the inside. This makes great use of aluminium as a structural material and also one that has impressive, elegant looks. With the unrivalled 3-Star Ultion cylinders and Sold Secure Lock Lock handles available across our aluminium range, we are not only satisfying consumers needs in terms of design, but security too.

Like a lot of the industry we are promoting aluminium as a building material, yet added to this is the Prefix know-how, experience and levels of customer service that’s made us an award-winning business. We are supporting our customers as much as possible to generate new business, as our new 52-page aluminium brochure shows. Aluminium is an aspirational, hero material at present inspired by Grand Designs and other social factors, and will remain so well into the long-term, as demand for architectural inspired product design continues.