When it comes to window frames, one material makes more sense than any other. Aluminum, thanks to its lightweight and other beneficial attributes, is a cost-effective, easy to use solution that allows architects and engineers to be extremely creative in the types of windows they design. Unfortunately, aluminum does have one drawback that needed to be overcome before aluminum could truly become widespread.
Aluminum is widely recognized for its superior ability to conduct heat. While in many instances, this can be an advantage, when it comes to windows, the need to create energy efficient building solutions makes it a huge obstacle that required some major innovations. Thankfully, the development of aluminum thermal barriers has transformed the industry to the point where aluminum is now the material of choice in the non-residential window market.
To learn more about what aluminum alloys make the most sense for your window-related applications, contact the friendly experts at Clinton Aluminum today.
Aluminum Is Everywhere, But We Only Realized This Recently
Aluminum is an extremely common silvery metal that is the 13th element on the periodic table. In fact, it is so common that it is the most prevalent metal in the Earth’s crust, accounting for more than 8% of the Earth’s mass. Only oxygen and silicon can be found in more abundance.
However, it was only in the last 100 years that aluminum has been commercially viable. This is because prior to the 1800’s, no one even knew that aluminum existed. Its chemical make up is such that it easily binds with other elements, meaning that pure aluminum can only rarely be found naturally. And once it was discovered, it took nearly a century before a process was developed that made it possible to actually utilize this amazing metal.
Aluminum’s Thermal Conductivity Is Nearly Unparalleled
Aluminum is widely recognized for its many advantageous properties. It has an extremely high strength to weight ratio, is resistant to corrosion, reflects light, and is highly recyclable. Its aesthetic appearance makes it attractive to designers in a host of industries, while its ductility and formability make it easy, and cheap, to work with. Add to the list that aluminum possesses an extremely high thermal conductivity rating.
Of all the commercially viable metals, only copper is better at conducting heat than aluminum. Beyond this fact, there are two factors that make aluminum even more competitive. First, copper is more expensive than aluminum. Second, because aluminum is so lightweight, while you might need more aluminum to have the same amount of conductivity, the overall weight of the material will be lower.
Because of aluminum’s ability to transfer heat and its lightweight, it has become a necessary component in a variety of industries. For example, computers and other electronic devices use aluminum to create heat sinks and exchangers that draw the heat generated by the processors away from them, either dispersing it or transferring it to cooling fluid. Other examples of applications that rely on aluminum include power transistors, lasers, and LEDs.
It should be noted that different alloys can show tremendous variability in terms of thermal conductivity, but in general, all aluminum is very good at conducting heat. Unfortunately, this is not always desirable. That’s where thermal barriers come in.
What Is A Thermal Barrier?
Thermal barriers are what make it possible to use aluminum in window and door frames. The idea behind such barriers is that when using a highly conductive material such as aluminum, it is necessary to create a thermal break from a material that does not have a high thermal conductivity so as to block the transference of heat.
These barriers in fenestrations are typically made from resins that are particularly adept at stopping any heat loss or heat gain happening through the aluminum. The benefits of such barriers have been proven to the point that according to the American Architectural Manufacturers Association, 70% of aluminum fenestration systems produced in North America contain some kind of thermal barrier.
The necessity for such systems has become plain due to the increased awareness of energy efficiency among regulators, government agencies, and manufacturers. Developers, designers, and architects are more likely to require improved performance in their finished products, while governments around the world are calling for a reduction in energy use. For instance, anyone who wants to have their building Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified will need to use thermal barriers.
What Is U-Value?
One of the greatest appeals of thermal barriers is they are able to improve the U-value characteristics of window systems. Thermal transmittance is measured by what is known as U-value. It quantifies the rate of transfer of heat through a structure (such as a window or door system), divided by the difference in temperature across that structure. It is denoted as W/m²K, and it is designed to account for conduction, convection, and radiation. A lower value indicates a better-insulated structure.
When Are Thermal Barriers Necessary?
Obviously, windows need to be well insulated if a structure is to maintain energy efficiency. Thermal barriers in fenestration systems are especially needed in cold-weather climates where you want to keep the warm air inside.
Other applications that rely on thermal barriers include the refrigerator doors in grocery stores, which use full frame windows to display the frozen foods inside. Aluminum door frames are cheaper to produce and are lighter weight, but without thermal barriers, it would make it more difficult to keep the cool air inside.
These days, pretty much every building needs to be energy efficient. This is forcing manufacturers to balance cost with environmental regulations. Thermal barriers are cheap and easy to produce solutions that allow builders to take advantage of the many benefits of aluminum without sacrificing energy efficiency.
The technical professionals at Clinton Aluminum understand how difficult it can be to maintain quality while protecting the bottom line. We are dedicated to helping our customers at every step of the production process, from material selection through testing, all the way to completion. The success of our clients is as important to us as our own success.
To learn more about how Clinton Aluminum can help your business succeed, contact us today.