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Barring mindset change, aluminum will stay a tough sell

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While the aluminum residential door market clearly represents a very small niche, there are those in the aluminum industry who see some potential for at least a modest increase in market share, although it will require a change in consumer mindset.

Despite efforts to push the use of aluminum for this application based on lifecycle cost and sustainability advantages, it continues to struggle to maintain its standing vs. vinyl and other materials.

"Aluminum intensity is high for commercial door applications because of its properties, value, low maintenance and environmental advantages. It is not, however, as popular for residential applications as people don't realize the long-term advantages of aluminum doors. They tend to make a choice based on the immediate price as opposed to the lifecycle cost," said Jerome Lucaes, director of strategic marketing for North America at Montreal-based Rio Tinto Alcan.

"What aluminum companies are doing, and should be doing even more, is to promote all the advantages that aluminum offers as a residential door solution from a holistic point of view. If consumers can be encouraged to look at the commercial market, where aluminum is well adopted, they will realize that aluminum could be a good solution for residential applications as well," he said. "We would like to have potential buyers consider the durability, long product life, lower environmental impact, low maintenance and stability of aluminum door frames."

As an example of aluminum's durability, he cited the statue of Eros in London's Piccadilly Circus, erected in 1892, the first such use of aluminum. "It is still in good shape without any surface coating or repair," Lucaes said.

But it could be a hard sell to get more door manufacturers to switch to aluminum, given that there really aren't a lot of suppliers producing the narrow widths required for the residential market, said John Mitchell, vice president of sales and marketing at Nichols Aluminum LLC.

On the other hand, moves by some door manufacturers to upgrade their products has had at least a small positive impact on aluminum consumption for residential doors, according to Lynn Brown, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Hydro Aluminum North America Inc.'s Extrusion Americas business unit in Linthicum, Md. "Moves toward more design-oriented, upscale products could increase the aluminum content somewhat," he said.


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