Looking forward, and back

By Sioned Roberts, marketing director at Aluk.

There was a time in the early 1970s – before the oil crisis and long before Part L – when energy efficiency was right at the bottom of the agenda for domestic windows and doors.

In those days single glazed aluminium windows were made from just one section of extrusion with no thermal break at all, and the fact that they were strong, lightweight and weatherproof outweighed the fact that they provided very poor insulation from either the cold or the sun.

Surprisingly, it took a number of years for the accepted wisdom to become that the aluminium sections should be split into two and a polyurethane resin inserted to create a thermal barrier that would prevent cold or heat bridging from the outside in.

Now of course, we use an advanced engineered polyamide thermal break rolled between two separately extruded sections to achieve levels of thermal efficiency that would have been unthinkable even 20 years ago. The polyamide is effectively jointed to the aluminium as well, ensuring that the frame’s performance and integrity is always maintained.

Aluk has long been at the forefront of this technology and we are immensely proud of the fact that it was our 58BW ST aluminium window that was the very first aluminium window to achieve a WER A rating way back in 2008. This represented a huge breakthrough at the time – not just in its design but in its manufacture, and it continues to be a popular product even today.

Improving energy efficiency is about more than just the thermal break though. The inherent strength of aluminium obviously means slim sightlines, more insulating glass and no requirement for any kind of steel reinforcement, which can reduce thermal performance. And, once you add in double or triple glazing and draft resistant seals, you start to see how U-values of less than 1.0W/m2K are becoming more common.

Looking ahead, I feel as though the next advances in energy efficiency in aluminium will come about through the smart technologies that are currently being applied so successfully to window and door security. Being able to open and close windows automatically to maximise solar gain could eventually enable a window to make a positive contribution to the energy performance of a building.

We’ve shown ourselves to be a truly innovative and adaptable industry, so I have no doubt that we will be able to harness the Internet of Things (IoT) very effectively to deliver radical change.

Arguably though it is the industry itself rather than governmental legislation that is now driving future improvements in energy efficiency. The last major review of Part L of the Building Regulations came into force in 2010, and while we have seen some significant changes since then, the actual energy efficiency targets are still advancing fairly slowly.

Our challenge, as I see it, is to persuade the wider procurement industry to embrace the innovation, which we know we are already capable of. All too often we see specifications being altered or watered down to suit the requirements of the contractor and that continues to undermine all of our best efforts.

To me, energy efficiency shouldn’t be all about cost cutting. It should be about harnessing our natural resources to reduce energy wastage. We all have exactly the same stake in the future of our planet after all, and a collective responsibility to reduce our carbon footprint.