The drive for more energy-efficient solutions in the
residential door market has left aluminum struggling to grow-or
even maintain-its market share, although the metal's
recyclability and other characteristics make it ideal for
certain niche applications.
"Aluminum is just not one of the greatest performing
materials when it comes to energy efficiency," said Casey Pope,
product manager at Jeld-Wen Windows & Doors, Klamath Falls,
Ore., noting that aluminum is used in residential door
applications mainly in certain warmer climates, such as the
Southwest and in southern Florida, where structural stability
is a big plus. But elsewhere, vinyl has the lion's share of the
John Mitchell, vice president of sales and marketing at
Nichols Aluminum LLC, said that less than 10 million pounds of
aluminum is consumed each year in North America for residential
windows, doors and skylights, with far more aluminum used for
windows than doors.
This is in strong contrast to the commercial door market,
where aluminum is the material of choice, accounting for almost
half of the sector, according to Libby Magliolo, spokeswoman
for the Schaumburg, Ill.-based American Architectural
"Aluminum can be used as part of the solution for
residential doors," said Jerome Lucaes, director of strategic
marketing for North America at Montreal-based Rio Tinto Alcan.
Aluminum brings with it several potential advantages, including
rigidity, thermal efficiency, strength, durability and the
potential for different design solutions, he said.
"While there is heat loss with an aluminum door without the
use of a thermal barrier, with a good thermal break and
glazing, aluminum doors are extremely energy efficient.
Aluminum allows for better indoor quality and an improved
carbon footprint, given its recyclability," Lucaes said, noting
that 95 percent of all aluminum used in building and
construction is recycled.
"It isn't just recyclable, but it gets recycled. The
aluminum ore (bauxite) also is much more abundant, with no risk
of depletion, unlike oil-based materials such as vinyl," he
said. "Also, with aluminum you can provide a thin, nicely
shaped architectural design to the doors. Because of the
stiffness of aluminum you can use a narrow frame around glass,
which allows more space for light to come in."
The range of colors is one major advantage, Magliolo said.
"One of the main advantages to aluminum is the wide range of
colors available. Colors of products can be specially made in
order to match existing architecture or trim. Aluminum products
can be customized with painted finishes, which are available in
either liquid or powder form and come in an almost endless
assortment of color options. Anodized finishes on aluminum
products form a protective coating of aluminum oxide on the
surface of the aluminum profile. Anodizing finishes are one of
the hardest substances known to man-comparable to the hardness
Meanwhile, Mitchell said, "vinyl discolors easily. It
doesn't stand up to ultraviolet rays and tends to have a
cheaper appearance than aluminum."
But how long this will be true remains to be seen. "There
have been some advances in vinyl coatings that would allow
vinyl to catch up on that front," Pope said.
Sliding doors and storm doors represent the two major
applications for aluminum in the residential door market,
according to Lynn Brown, senior vice president of sales and
marketing at Hydro Aluminum North America Inc.'s Linthicum,
Md.-based Extrusion Americas business unit.
Aluminum maintains niche uses in sliding doors despite
having been largely pushed out of that market three to five
years ago by vinyl and aluminum-clad wood. "It has, however,
retained certain niches, such as areas where building codes
require higher hurricane resistance ratings and where there is
a need for noise mitigation," Brown said. "Vinyl is a cheaper
way to comply with certain energy standards that have been
written in a way that favors vinyl and wood."
And aluminum faces further pressure as new national energy
codes from the International Energy Code Council are adopted on
a state-by-state basis.
"In Florida, where structural integrity is very important
because of all the hurricane activity, aluminum is currently a
dominant material for patio sliding and swinging doors," said
Debbie LaPinska, vice president of sales and marketing at PGT
Industries Inc., North Venice, Fla., noting that while aluminum
isn't currently gaining any market share it is at least holding
Aluminum has a bit more potential to at least maintain its
market share in residential storm doors, which are a regional
product used mainly in colder areas of the country, such as the
Northeast and Midwest, Brown said.
"Aluminum extrusions lend themselves well to the
manufacturing process to make storm doors as you can use only a
relatively small frame and you can put a lot of detail into
that frame," he said. "It is a good marriage of end process and
product demand. Not only does aluminum provide good strength,
but there is a great bit of flexibility in the extrusion
process to create shapes that customers want for that kind of
product." MYRA PINKHAM