This article was updated on the 8th April 2019.
As a construction material, aluminum exhibits various unique properties including high strength-to-weight ratio, durability, corrosion resistance, recyclability, ease of fabrication and assembly, as well as air tightness. It is therefore no surprise that aluminum has remained essential product for the construction industry for almost a century.
Applications of Aluminum in Construction and Building
The first application of aluminum in the construction industry took place in the early 1930s, during which aluminum components and other fabricated structures were incorporated into the Empire State Building New York City.
Since then, aluminum has been widely recognized as a highly efficient and sustainable building material. For example, extruded, rolled, and cast aluminum products are often used for window frames and other glazed structures with uses ranging from shop fronts to large roof superstructures for shopping centers and stadiums; roofing, siding, and curtain walling, as well as for cast door handles, catches for windows, staircases, heating and air-conditioning systems.
More recently; the use of aluminum in construction has gained a significant amount of attention for the ability of this metal to enhance green building designs. In fact, the Aluminum Association provides extensive information on the unique properties of aluminum that support the environmental performance of applied structures. In their “Aluminum in Green Buildings: A Guide to Green Building Development and Certification with Aluminum Products,” the authors discuss how aluminum products significantly reduce energy costs and carbon emissions in buildings as a result of their lightweight, strong and infinitely recyclable nature. Furthermore, aluminum roofs drastically improve the energy efficiency of construction applications by reflecting up to 95% of sunlight.
Aluminum’s high strength-to-weight ratio is one of its major advantages in the construction industry. Aluminum has a density of 2.7, which is 2.5 times lower than the density of steel. By weighing less while also exhibiting high strength properties, aluminum material is capable of withstanding a significant load, thereby making this metal ideal for large construction projects, such as skyscrapers. Note that the strength of aluminum can be adjusted to suit the application by proper alloying.
Rigidity and Stability in Aluminum Frames
Aluminum construction materials also offer comparably high strength and rigidity, thereby making them particularly suitable for window sashes and frames, as well as patio doors. The material’s rigidity ensures that slim, aluminum frames remain stable under normal loads. This is a particularly valued quality in high-rise buildings, where stability is an essential property of applications such as facades, cladding and windows. As compared to steel, aluminum is less rigid; however, this increase in the material’s flexibility offers additional important economies for various construction purposes
Aluminum Facades and Cladding
Increasingly, aluminum facades are being used to clad non-residential buildings. Such facades can improve the appearance of a building, increase its durability and provide valuable insulation properties, thereby enhancing the energy efficiency of the construction. The high strength-to-weight ratio of the aluminum is one of the properties that makes it particularly suitable for cladding applications. In addition to reducing the cost of transporting aluminum equipment, the material’s light weight makes it easier to handle on site.
Rolled panels with a specific weight of 2 to 3 kg/m3 can be mounted by hand, obviating the need for heavy equipment. In spite of its weight advantages, aluminum offers strength properties comparable with those of alternative metal facade panels. In addition, the material’s light weight and high strength results in a low load on the supporting structure of buildings. The dimensions of the structure can therefore be reduced. Such an advantage is particularly important in the case of curtain walls for high rise buildings.
- “Properties of Aluminum as Building Material” – The Constructor
- “New Guidelines for Using Aluminum in Green Buildings to Debut at Greenbuild in 2015” – The Aluminum Association
- “The Benefits of Building with Aluminum” – NV5