Building accounts for almost a quarter of all the aluminium used in Europe. Demand is growing, as more and more innovative applications are developed to enhance buildings’ energy efficiency, comfort, durability and to minimize maintenance needs.
Aluminium is a relatively young metal, first extracted in 1854. The first widely known deployment of aluminium in building dates back to 1898, when the dome of San Gioacchino’s Church in Rome was clad in aluminium sheets. The stunning Art Deco-inspired Empire State Building in New York was the first building to use anodised aluminium components back in 1931. Industrial production for civil applications only really began in the 1950s and 1956 saw the first aluminium curtain walling system.
Aluminium provides Europe’s cities with their modern appearance. Extruded aluminium can be made in an almost infinite range of sections, and designers can integrate multiple functions into a single profile. Aluminium sheets and composite panels may be manufactured flat, curved, shaped into cassettes or sandwiched with other materials. Aluminium foils are usually applied to insulation materials to improve their properties. Aluminium can also be cast to virtually any shape, offering further design possibilities.
This allows architects to meet performance specifications while at the same time minimising the dead load on the supporting structure. This makes it ideal for wall cladding and roofing. In addition, aluminium’s inherent strength and stiffness allows window and curtain wall frames to be very narrow. This maximises glazed surfaces and thus solar gains.
Aluminium can be anodised or painted in any colour and with any number of surfaces, meeting the designer’s decorative needs. These processes also further improve durability and corrosion resistance as well as making maintenance simpler.
Energy efficient windows and curtain walls
Aluminium profiles provide the perfect frames to support for large glazed surfaces such as verandas, skylights, curtain walls, doors and windows. This is the perfect combination to maximise natural light and solar heat gains inside buildings.
Using slender, thermally broken aluminium profiles can add 20% to the transparent areas of windows.
Aluminium systems contribute to building energy efficiency all year round. In cold periods, heat losses need to be reduced, while solar gains have to be maximised. Using large insulated glazed surfaces with a high solar gain in the brightest position minimises heat loss and maximises solar gains. In the same way it is frequently used in passive and energy-efficient buildings.
Meanwhile, in winter period, using aluminium shutters also reduces night-time heat losses.
In summer period solar gains need to be minimized to reduce the need for air conditioning, while natural light must enter to limit artificial lighting needs. Aluminium’s high reflectivity makes it a very efficient material for shading devices and natural light management.
Energy efficient aluminium ventilated claddings
Aluminium ventilated cladding systems protect the outer side of insulation materials against rain which would cause their heat-saving properties to deteriorate. Furthermore, the air gap serves as an additional retainer of warmth during cold days. During warm days, the aluminium cladding partially reflects solar radiation, shades the internal building skin layers and ensures natural ventilation in the cavity, thereby reducing artificial cooling needs.
Aluminium is a material of choice for structural application, i.e. for parts contributing to the mechanical resistance and stability of buildings, constructions, engineering works and transport applications. Roofs for sport arenas, industrial halls, silos, bridges, trains, ships and oil platforms are just a few examples of where aluminium structures can be found.
Aluminium’s high intrinsic value provides an incentive for recycling. A study by Delft University of Technology showed that on average, 96% of aluminium was recovered from commercial and residential buildings. Given that the energy needed to recycle aluminium is as low as 5% of primary production, there are obvious financial and ecological benefits.
Environmental Product Declarations
The aluminium industry promotes transparent communication of the environmental performance of building products through Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs). Being an official EPD Program Operator, European Aluminium develops declarations for most aluminium-based building products produced by its member companies.