why aluminum

Aluminum's inherently sustainable characteristics combined with the extrusion process make extruded aluminum the green building industry's material of choice for now and the future.

Aluminum's inherently sustainable characteristics combined with the extrusion process make extruded aluminum the green building industry's material of choice for now and the future.

What exactly does it mean to be green?

  • For a material or product to be considered green, it should have low impact on the environment and therefore favor environmentalism—the practice of protecting and conserving the natural environment and its resources. Aluminum is one such material.

What makes aluminum a green material?

  • Aluminum is recyclable, sustainable, and versatile; three key qualities for any material being used to construct a green building. Historically, aluminum has proven to be one of the most important materials in successful recycling programs. Aluminum offers high scrap value, widespread consumer acceptance, and aluminum recycling enjoys significant industry support.

Using recycled building materials saves substantial total energy otherwise used for material production. Producing recycled aluminum building materials reduces pollution emissions and energy use, taking only five percent of the energy needed to produce raw aluminum from bauxite.  Jerry Powell, Editor, Resource Recycling says, "Many construction materials are hard, if not impossible, to recycle, and this is a negative factor when wishing to undertake a sustainable construction project. This is not the case, however, for aluminum as a building product. The sizable energy savings attained when scrap aluminum is re-melted makes the recovered metal very valuable."

Green building isn’t merely a catchphrase; it implies a vital planet-preserving future for the commercial and residential building-and-construction industries. Architects and builders are aggressively pursuing advanced technologies based on sustainable design principles. Such tenets employ energy conservation, eco-friendly materials choices, and extensive reuse and recycling practices to create environmentally responsible buildings that are more productive, healthier, and profitable places to live and work.

Advanced green design and building technologies are proving highly effective in lowering construction costs and reducing operating expenses. According to the U.S. Departments of Energy and Transportation, buildings drain a staggering 39 percent of the nation’s total energy, while all transportation--including cars--consumes 27 percent.

Green buildings are rapidly gaining in acceptance, as public awareness grows and the global community develops alternative energy sources and intensifies its efforts to ease global climate change.

Aluminum, one of the most abundant elements in the earth’s crust, is an ideal natural materials choice for sustainable buildings – not just in new construction, but also in retrofitting older buildings to improve their energy performance. Aluminum is specified by architects for curtainwall systems, windows and doors, reflective “cool” roofing, solar-panel framing, skylight framing, reflectors for interior lighting grids, elevator housing/framing, atriums, entryways, walkways, sun rooms, and heat exchangers for air conditioning systems in both commercial and residential applications. 

Aluminum is a green building material

Aluminum has always been a green building material, and continues to offer key attributes that architects and builders want in a sustainable building, namely durability throughout a long life cycle, structural strength in terms of elastic modulus/stiffness, and importantly, the ability to be recycled. At the end-of-life stage in a building, aluminum is 100-percent recyclable, and may be reused in building components without any loss in quality.

From a green design perspective, aluminum’s reduced cost over a longer life cycle offers architects a viable economical choice. A whole-buildings approach allows flexibility for balancing U-factors; for example, thermally-broken aluminum window frames may be used in combination with increased insulation, HVAC efficiency, ambient lighting, high-tech glazing, etc., providing more options in designing the building envelope. 

Aluminum resists the ravages of time

Aluminum resists the ravages of time, temperature, corrosion, humidity, and warping, adding to its incredibly long life cycle. Extruded-aluminum-framed windows with thermal barriers effectively insulate against condensation and are rigid and stable, operating smoothly with minimal maintenance and a tight fit. Extruded aluminum alloys accept durable anodized finishes, which are inert materials that are not combustible and pose no health risks.

vinyl (pvc)

There are some obvious advantages to Vinyl (PVC) windows over aluminum, like cost and the inherent energy efficiency, but the argument rages on as to whether vinyl windows and doors are environmentally friendly or not.

  • The process that is required to make PVCs is highly toxic and this in turn leads to toxic by-products. On top of this, the point is made that the biggest problem with regard to PVC windows and doors is their disposal at the end of their useful life – which seems to range between 10 and 30 years. Some say that PVC is very easy to recycle but others counter by pointing out that in practice very few PVC windows are recycled because of the difficulty in separating the component parts. Neither can they be incinerated because of their composition.

 

  • PVC windows over time discolor!! Some go yellow and while this is bad enough, others go a sort of pink! In climates similar to Arizona where we have year round sunshine, the discoloration is a serious problem. You cannot paint PVC windows like wood or aluminum.
  • Very bad weather or severe extremes of weather can cause cracking, expanding or warping to double glazed Vinyl windows, another issue in our southwestern desert.

 

  • Once vinyl windows are in, they cannot be easily taken apart if they are in need of repair. Even something simple like changing a pane of glass becomes more difficult and more structural repairs become very hard. This can make them more expensive to maintain, versus an aluminum or wood window.
wood
PROS CONS

Natural Resource,
sustainable if it's FSC 

Cost
aluminum
PROS CONS

Light in weight-approximately 1/3 the weight of steel.

Exceptional strength to weight ration

Corrosion resistant

Non-magnetic

Infinitely recyclable

Conductivity

Energy hungry process to produce from bauxite.

vinyl(pvc)
PROS CONS

Very little conductivity

Toxic