Can aluminium continue its upward growth against the decline in sales of PVCu?

The latest Palmer Research Market Report recently reported again that aluminium continued to grow in market share. In the 2014 report, Palmer Market Research predicted overall growth in the installation of windows and doors right through to 2018, however, one year later the report was slightly less optimistic with Palmer reporting “sluggish performance is forecast over the period to 2019”.

You can find information about Palmer Market Research on their website however for the purposes of this article let us concentrate on aluminium.

How can the aluminium sector continue its upward trend?

Thanks to the popularity of home extensions so the demand for aluminium continues to grow.
Thanks to the popularity of home extensions so the demand for aluminium continues to grow.

We already know that one of the reasons for the growth of aluminium is the increased awareness of aluminium in general, coupled with what we believe to be other important factors.

These include:

  • Increased awareness of aluminium doors and windows and information generally compared to previous years.
  • No longer does the consumer only have a double glazing salesman to provide (wrong) information.
  • Consumers now do their own research.
  • The continued interest in bifolding doors, mainly in aluminium.
  • More window manufacturers and installers now adding aluminium to their product range.
  • Aluminium systems companies finally bringing their brand name in front of the customer.

As people discover the benefits of aluminium (in their bifolding and sliding doors) so they want these benefits in the rest of their home. This is certainly the feedback from manufacturers and installers we speak to. Established trade suppliers say that their customers are ordering fabricated bifolding doors and post installation are then ordering aluminium windows for the same properties.  It would appear that some homeowners following the installation of their new aluminium doors now with to replace their PVCu windows with aluminium!

So what more can the aluminium sector do outside of bifolding doors to increase its market share?

Our view is that the aluminium sector does have opportunities to continue the upward trend in aluminium.  We think there are opportunities to install aluminium where PVCu would normally be the first choice.

Aluminium windows in new build homes.

Whilst aluminium is more expensive as a material than PVCu, the savvy systems company should perhaps look to find opportunities in the new build sector with established house builders with a more cost effective aluminium window.

A curren SAPA Crown slimline window frame on the left compared to its Monaframe equivalent from 1998.
A current SAPA Crown slimline window frame on the left compared to its Monaframe equivalent from 1998. Thermal breaks are getting bigger and quantity of aluminium smaller.

This is perfectly possible. The ‘mass produced’ nature of windows in new build homes is evident with developments of new build homes featuring identical house styles and identical door and window sizes as well.  We believe this opens up opportunities for the aluminium sector to look at developing a low cost aluminium window for the new build market.

The reasons are actually quite obvious.  The raw material in modern aluminium windows is actually less than ever.  Look at how aluminium windows have evolved over recent years and one needs only to study the extrusions from 10 years ago to today. It is immediately apparent how little aluminium there is now compared to the old thermally broken aluminium windows.

Polyamide thermal breaks are getting larger and aluminium sections are getting smaller in order to meet and exceed U Values into the future. This we see as an opportunity to look at aluminium window costs in general and perhaps bring them down to compete directly with the PVCu window. The Warmcore door from Synseal is another example of what could be deemed an aluminium product but actually has far more insulation than it does metal.

Anyone who has ever purchased a new build home will know that whilst you have choice and upgrade options for the inside of the home, the windows and doors will be what you get from the builder.  Should the aluminium sector work to offer their aluminium windows as an upgrade with established house builders?

The Social Housing Sector

Systems companies such as Senior Systems have already introduced a fibreglass window and the PURe window. These are perfect for the Social Housing sector of window replacements and need to be pushed into the councils even more.

The new Senior Aluminium window features polyurethane foam as a thermal break
The new Senior Aluminium window is an example of an advanced aluminium product for the social housing market.

Therefore we believe there is an opportunity for the specification teams of aluminium systems companies to work harder and to push the environmental, performance and long life benefits of aluminium into the social housing sector? The cost of an aluminium window might be more than PVCu but the longer term benefits may outweigh the cost.

Conservation Areas

There are now several outstanding aluminium systems that are highly credible in conservation areas and there is no reason why this should not continue with new products in aluminium.

Recent innovations such as the Origin Twin Flush Windows, advanced slimline products from Aluprof and the general availability of slimline Crittall replacements and other innovations should encourage the aluminium sector to now promote their products into local Councils and Conservation Officers.

Conservation officers are approving some PVCu systems but the greater pattern is to refuse PVCu. The aluminium sector should capitalise on this negative perception of PVCu windows even though it is no longer the case with some excellent PVCu products in the marketplace.

Entrance Doors

Composite doors are a great product and serve a basic need for a new front door. However the latest generation aluminium panelled doors we believe whilst more expensive give the aluminium sector a new marketing opportunity.

Ongoing Education about aluminium.

Educating the grass roots installer remains important. There are still many domestic window companies that will not sell aluminium. Whether they feel they have no place in their local market, whether business owners simply don’t understand aluminium or are governed by the negative attitude of double glazing salesmen and obstructive window fitters. Each has their reasons why they won’t sell aluminium.

These are the companies the marketing efforts of the aluminium supply chain and others needs to continue to target.

Trade exhibitions such as the 2016 FiT Show are an excellent opportunity to demonstrate and educate about aluminium products. However our view is that event organisers such as Fit Events Ltd could be missing an opportunity and could actually play a massive part in bringing aluminium awareness to the local installer. By this we don’t mean more stands showing more aluminium!

In commercial contracting there is also a need for window companies to take on the small commercial work such as shop refurbishment, smaller schools and sub £30000 commercial projects.  We know systems companies are constantly on the lookout for installers to take on the small works projects that some established commercial contracting companies are not interested in tendering for.

What about existing window replacements?

Palmer Research stated in their recent report that

the issue of saturation in the critical window replacement market – which just gets worse, with over 91% of windows now replaced at least once

How can the window sector convince homeowners who've already changed their windows to replace them again?
How can the window sector convince homeowners who’ve already changed their windows to replace them again?

Despite the development of new and innovative products in both the PVCu and aluminium sector the window industry should consider that once windows are replaced in a home, how likely are they to be replaced again? How can we convince a homeowner to change them once more for the latest innovations in windows and doors.

Our view is that this really depends on who they are targeting. The older couple is highly unlikely to replace their windows again. Perhaps the young couple constantly looking to improve their property is the target customer.

The fenestration sector continues to market double glazing as long lasting and offers a 10 year guarantee. Some products even come with a 20 year guarantee. Therefore have our own marketing efforts old and new to sell windows now prevented us from being able to sell new types of doors and windows in the future? What are the chances of a customer still within their guarantee period even considering changing their windows that we know are already discontinued?

We sell bifolding doors and new windows as “adding value to your home”. But it is unrealistic to think a new timber look PVCu window will add further value than their existing double glazed PVCu windows. Here aluminium may have an opportunity.  An opportunity to promote the advantages of colour, slim lines, high strength, larger glass areas and contemporary appearance.  Perhaps to those homeowners with older double glazing in PVCu, there is an opportunity to replace their dated-looking windows with the latest in aluminium?

Published on November 6, 2015