Myth-Busting; Is Aluminium Expensive?
The biggest cost associated with extracting aluminium is energy – as an indication, it takes the same amount of energy to light up a hundred 100-watt lightbulbs as it does to produce 1kg of aluminium. A look at the top 11 countries where aluminium is smelted shows that it’s still dominated by the big industrial nations such as China, India, Russia and the USA. Unsurprisingly though, the others on the list are nations where power costs are also relatively low. Bahrain, UAE and Saudi Arabia, for example, obviously have low oil costs, Iceland has low geothermal energy costs and Norway low hydro-electric costs. Worldwide in fact, 55% of all aluminium extraction is now via renewable hydroelectricity.
However, this is only a tiny part of the picture. The aluminium used in fenestration is almost certainly not new. It is one of the most sustainable resources on the planet and can be recycled over and over again with absolutely no deterioration in quality. Compared to around 70% of the aluminium in drinks cans, more than 90% of aluminium used in all areas of construction will have been recycled at least once, using only a fraction of the energy used to extract it in the first place. It is perfectly possible to specify 100% recycled aluminium windows, doors or curtain walling on any project if required and then relax, safe in the knowledge that at the end of a 40-year lifespan, those products can be recycled all over again.
The sustainability factor helps to ensure that aluminium remains an attractive and affordable option for fenestration in particular. But, added to that is the fact that the life cycle costs of aluminium compare very favourably with PVC-U and timber because of the low maintenance and long-term performance of the material. It may be more expensive than PVC-U and on a par with timber at the outset, but it is an investment which pays off in the long term.
When it comes to maintenance, the aluminium used in fenestration is almost uniquely weather resistant. Unlike timber or PVC-U, it won’t deteriorate over the years and won’t corrode because, even in its untreated state, it will form a natural protective layer of aluminium oxide as soon as it comes into contact with air. And, unlike other organic materials, it needs no protection from ultra-violet light.
Of course, most aluminium used in fenestration is anodised and/or powder coated to guarantee the durability even further and to provide a vast choice of colours and finishes. It can be specified to resist the harshest weather and polluting environments and still requires nothing more than an occasional clean to keep it looking good.
Standard estimates are that aluminium windows and doors have a life span in excess of 40 years, before they can be fully recycled. That compares very favourably with the 40 years for timber which is much higher maintenance and only around 25 years for PVC-U.
Our team have all the detailed facts and figures customers and specifiers need to make an informed choice about lifetime costs of aluminium vs timber and PVC-U, maintenance requirements and, crucially, payback. You can contact them here.