A new battleground in aluminium?

By Russell Yates, managing director of Aluk.

At the FIT Show, Aluk launched two new doors in our premium Luminia range: the F82 bifold and the SC156 slider. These struck an immediate chord with visitors because they are beautifully designed and impeccably stylish; customers told us that if they installed either of these in their showrooms, they could almost guarantee enquiries from consumers.

That was obviously exactly what we were hoping for. We’ve put a huge amount of work into making sure that the doors satisfy every requirement on aesthetics, operation and of course security.

What we also focused on though, throughout the design process, was achieving class leading thermal performance for these doors, because we recognise that energy efficiency is becoming a key battleground in an increasingly competitive retail door market. The F82 can achieve U-values of 1.34W/m²K with a double glazed unit, and the SC156 can boast 1.0W/m²K in the triple glazed option.

These performance figures not only set a benchmark for premium aluminium doors but compare very favourably with the hybrid alternatives too and, as I see it, eliminate any meaningful advantage which hybrid doors might have had over aluminium. We’ve made sure that buyers don’t need to compromise and choose between aesthetics or efficiency any more; with these new doors, they can simply have both.

When it comes to marketing the thermal advantages of our new Luminia doors, the challenge we face is that retail buyers are very much more familiar with WER ratings that apply only to windows, than they are with U-values that apply to windows and glazed doors. After all, they see the rainbow labels on everything from dishwashers to fridges and might only come across U-values on Grand Design type property shows. However, I do think there’s a fairly widespread understanding of the basic principle that, when it comes to U-values, the lower the better.

More work does perhaps need to be done though in communicating the fact that U-values and WERs are not interchangeable. U-values simply show how much thermal energy is flowing through a construction element, while WERs measure solar heat gain and air leakage rates alongside that. U-values are a more appropriate measure for glazed doors because, in many circumstances, solar heat gain is not always desirable. Moving forward, our Experts in Aluminium will be working hard to help installers communicate that important difference to retail buyers.

That doesn’t mean that we are not supportive of the WER scheme as it applies to windows in the retail sector, and we certainly do recognise its value. In fact, it was Aluk that developed the very first WER A-rated aluminium window way several years ago and, since then, our entire window range has been officially rated from A to C in line with Document L, including our popular 58BW series.

I think there has long been a perception that aluminium can’t compete on energy efficiency with PVCU or hybrid windows and doors, but I think Aluk in particular continues to demonstrate that isn’t the case.

The huge potential that now exists for aluminium in the retail sector has pushed energy efficiency right to the top of the design agenda. Retail buyers are very used to PVCU windows being sold as A or even A+ rated as standard so they are naturally very demanding of the alternatives.

If aluminium is to achieve the growth which is currently being predicted, I think the whole sector will need to focus on energy performance and invest in both the products to meet the standards and in the sales and marketing support required to help our customers sell them.