The rise of aluminium
Synseal’s group sales and marketing director Andy Jones takes a look at the progress that has been made in recent years to revitalise the aluminium market and make it fit for the needs of today’s consumers.
The surge in popularity for aluminium products being specified for both commercial and residential applications last year will have gone unnoticed by very few in the construction industry.
We all know that aluminium is set for a 17-year high by 2020, and in our sector it was the dominant building material at industry shows in 2017. Once the first choice product in the 1970s and 80s, aluminium has really seen a resurgence in the residential market over the past five years or so as bifolding doors have become more popular, and many are now opting for aluminium windows to match.
It’s only recently that aluminium systems have been designed with thermal efficiency in mind and there are still very few systems that can offer thermal performance on par with PVCU products while still meeting customers’ needs in terms of price and availability.
The introduction of WarmCore in 2014 was perfectly timed to match the booming bifold door market and has since been developed to offer a full suite of thermally efficient aluminium products available in short lead times. WarmCore’s attraction stems from its composite structure, with a full-width, thermal PVCU core to prevent the cold bridging and condensation often associated with aluminium windows and doors.
WarmCore isn’t the only aluminium product designed with a composite structure, and the approach varies from product to product. Some manufacture PVCU profile as standard and apply an aluminium cladding onto finished windows or doors. This creates the visual appearance of aluminium but the product is still very much a PVCU one. Instead, we adopt an integrated approach where the aluminium and PVCU materials are combined during the manufacturing process, giving the product more rigidity and making it more inherently an aluminium product, rather than an overclad plastic solution.
We’ve adopted this approach to ensure that we’re offering customers a high finish aluminium product with the U-values needed to meet Part L requirements for replacement doors. When we first introduced WarmCore, some of the most highly specified aluminium products available advertised U-values between 1.76W/m²K and 1.94W/m²K when using standard double glazing – meaning that many systems weren’t meeting the 1.8W/m²K needed to meet regulations.
Over the years, PVCU product development has been driven by strict building regulations and marketing strategies that focus on A+ energy ratings and below 1.0W/m²K U-values being the norm. In contrast, if you look at the advertising strategies for aluminium suppliers, they’ve tended to focus much more on slimmer sightlines, structural rigidity and Grand Design style aesthetics. It’s only recently that thermally efficient aluminium has become an affordable middle ground for those looking to marry aluminium aesthetics with the thermal performance expected of PVCU products.
As aluminium has become more prevalent in retrofit applications, consumer demand for thermally efficient aluminium has grown too. This has opened up space in the market for niche products like WarmCore, which entered the market with U-values of 1.4W/m²K double glazed and 1.0W/m²K triple glazed for folding sliding doors, followed soon after with a WarmCore window with thermal performance as low as 0.8W/m²K with triple glazing.
There are very few downsides to working with warm aluminium – for all concerned in the supply chain. For installers and builders, the PVCU core in a warm aluminium system makes installation very simple because along the jambs where fixings are applied, the material is the same. Aluminium is also intrinsically stronger and more rigid than PVCU products, which provides additional security for homeowners. And perhaps most importantly, the composite structure of products like WarmCore has enabled faster lead times because dual colour can be achieved at the point of manufacture, without the need for an off-time operation which typically adds weeks to product turnarounds. This makes life easier for our fabricators, and gives them an advantage over their competitors.
These developments have made aluminium products an indispensable part of fabricator and installers’ product portfolios, thanks to the redesign of aluminium products to combat poor thermal efficiency and to meet consumer demand for beautiful, clean lines and wider colour selection.