If there was an award for the strongest fenestration sector comeback over the past five to ten years then it would most certainly go to the residential aluminium sector. It has had, and is still undergoing, a renaissance that is performing like no other sector.
Long gone are the days of timber outer frames with dull primer grey aluminium that used to pour with condensation during the Winter. Residential aluminium is in fact of one of my top five areas of the industry to watch out for this year.
But why has it become so popular once again in the residential sector? And where could it go in the next five to ten years?
All down to bi-folds
If we were to trace the success of residential aluminium back all the way, it would probably lie at the feet of aluminium bi-folding doors. Architecturally minded TV and other forms of media began to showcase bi-folding doors on the grander side of their business, and home owners very quickly bought into the idea of opening up huge swathes of their home to the outside. This is despite the British climate. A few aluminium bi-fold doors on Grand designs later and we had the makings of a powerful new sector.
We suddenly had this burgeoning new sector, with home owner demand increasing quickly for bi-folding doors. The industry at this point fairly quickly decided that aluminium was the best option for this new demand. There were PVCu options out there, but the early versions were very clunky and aesthetically came nowhere near to their aluminium counterparts.
It’s worth remembering that the aluminium bi-fold sector was developing right through the recession years. This was a very premium product with a very premium price tag. Yet it still managed to grow at the rate it did, and they remain one of the most aspirational home improvement products on offer.
Now that the aluminium bi-fold had become established, we can probably thank it for opening the proverbial door to residential doors and windows to installers and by extension the geenral public.
Why the rise?
I think a lot of the reason for aluminium’s storming comeback in the residential part of the market is down to it’s aesthetic overhaul. As I mentioned at the start, long gone are the days where aluminium was a dark grey primer colour encased in a timber outer frame that needed maintaining. you could run a tap from the amount of condensation that used to form on the old generation patio sliders!
Aluminium windows and residential doors in 2017 are a solar system away from their 1970’s brethren. Sleek, clean, thin lines that maximise the glazed area. An unlimited colour range. A variety of wood grain finishes. true contemporary hardware options. Aluminium windows and doors are a sexy home improvement purchase.
The industry knows this. We see more and more installers turn to aluminium to expand their offering to home owners and work to steal market share away from their competitors. Increasing numbers of fabricators are turning to aluminium to sit alongside their PVCu offerings to give their installers more choice and to hopefully win new installation business.
There have also been major improvements when it comes to energy efficiency and security. Old aluminium was infamous for horrendous condensation. 2017’s thermally broken, highly engineered next generation products easily achieve some of the industry’s higher energy ratings. On the security front, there are cases where some aluminium is now seen as some of the most secure options on the market. Remember how you could lift the old aluminium sliders off the runners from the outside? Not now. But primarily, it is the vastly improved looks of aluminium windows and doors that have helped drive sales in the past few years.
If a home owner is looking for maximum glass, minimal frame with sleek lines, clean edges and an architectural flare it is aluminium that ticks all those boxes and more. PVCu and even timber cannot replicate the same look.
How far can the comeback go?
The way I see it at the moment, there is nothing coming from any other part of the industry that could knock the energy out of the aluminium comeback for at least five years, maybe ten.
It’s also worth taking a look at the past five year trends via Google Trends:
Key: Red – PVC windows | Yellow – timber windows | Blue – aluminium windows
The above chart is a five year Google Trends chart showing the search term performance for each major glazing material. You’ll see how timber, represented in Yellow, stays fairly stable over the past five years. But you can also see the steady decline in PVC window search performance, indicated in red. In stark contrast, the blue line, representing aluminium windows, is on a nice steady rise over a five year period.
As the residential aluminium market continues to improve further on the aesthetics, energy efficiency and security fronts, I can only see that blue line marching steadily north. I think we ought not to get carried away too much. In the world of residential it is PVCu that still holds the most market share by a very wide margin. Aluminium, and timber too, only ever eek away a few percent per year from PVCu. I doubt very much that we’ll ever see a scenario where residential aluminium becomes top of the pile. The PVCu market is far too diversified and evolved in it’s own right to ever give that position up any time soon.
The one big risk I see for aluminium is if the sector descends into an undercutting spiral, as seems to be creeping in to the bi-fold part of the market. This is the premium end of the fenestration market. It would be ludicrous for the sector to allow itself to get into a situation where installers and fabricators begin to undercut each other, eroding margins and product quality, in a bid to gain business and market share. PVCu has been through that. It’s not pretty.
If UK aluminium can keep cool heads and focus on doing the right things, it can be a very lucrative sector for many of us for a long time to come.
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