Aluminium, but not as you know it

Garnalex CEO Roger Hartshorn explains what’s driving the growth in residential aluminium windows and doors, and how his team of experts are reinventing aluminium.

Since the 1980s, aluminium windows and doors were virtually confined to the commercial market, and PVC had the residential windows and doors market more or less to itself. Then in the early 2000s house prices began a near 20-year surge, driving up the value of homes and powering the growth of the house-wealthy ‘Haves’.

This group of low or no-mortgage over 55-year old homeowners may have lower incomes than younger homeowners, but they have considerably lower outgoings and commitments, and as the value of their homes has risen their attitudes to home improvements have changed. Any improvement they make is very quickly paid for by the rising value of their home. What they want they buy, and the key factors for them are: looks, performance, long life, convenience and comfort. They may acknowledge the price, but it’s not a key factor.

The Haves buy what pleases them and they’re big buyers of colour, flush sashes and innovative quality hardware. They’re also big buyers of aluminium bifolds and sliders.

The strong growth in the number and wealth of the Haves has driven increasing sales of aluminium doors and windows, and the number of fabricators and installers offering them. Almost half the total number of installers in the UK now offer aluminium. Almost all of the installers targeting the upper end of the market sell it.

Like a lot of these fabricators and installers, I’ve fallen for aluminium too, and after a lifetime in PVC, I’ve set up Garnalex Aluminium Extrusions.

Despite the industry’s growing interest in aluminium, we’ve seen little development or innovation in residential aluminium windows and doors over the past 30 years. Thermal performance has improved, but that’s it. Aluminium products look the same, are made the same, and installed in the same way as they were in the 1980s. That’s in contrast to PVC and timber, which have both been transformed. And it’s not just product. PVC is streets ahead of aluminium in service and lead times.

We aim to transform fabricators’ and installers’ experience of buying aluminium systems and aluminium windows, and make it easier and better to fabricate, install, and sell them.

Over the last year on so, our team of technical experts has looked at every facet of aluminium windows and doors, from performance and looks, to how they’re made and installed, and redesigned the aluminium window and door from scratch. We’re building in all the innovations and improvements you would have expected to have seen over the last 30 years.

The result, we believe, is a beautiful window and a stunning door that’s designed with the fabricator, installer and homeowner in mind, rather than the extruder or systems company.

So far, we’ve invested over £9million in a new, state-of-the-art aluminium extrusion factory in Nether Heage, Derbyshire, and in the best technical brains and the best manufacturing and operational teams in the industry. This summer we completed the installation of our 170-tonne aluminium press. The SMS Hybrex, delivering 35 MN of force using nine-inch aluminium billets, will produce up to four tonnes of extruded aluminium profile an hour.

It’s an unusual investment because for decades there’s been very little capital invested in the industry. Most aluminium systems companies buy in their extrusions and subcontract their finishing and painting to external companies. Garnalex, however, is set up to supply a full end-to-end service that includes trade extrusion and painting. We start trade extrusion in October.

Our residential aluminium window and door systems launch at the end of Q1 2020. Fabricators and installers who’ve seen what we’re creating love it. They see it as their competitive advantage and say Garnalex is aluminium, but not as you know it.

We’ll be running a series of workshops starting this autumn, so fabricators and installers can be the first to carve out new business for their companies with the Garnalex advantage.

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