Building Construction, Renovation, Maintenance & Advice

Use Of Aluminium For Windows and Doors

"You say Aluminum and I say Aluminium"

Dr A L Minium was a clever chap. He was the man who discovered that if you dig brown soil out of the ground, stick it in a huge microwave and blast around 2.7 terragigamegaerbs of power into it it would change into something useful such as a silvery metal that is both light and strong. Mind you if you stick that much energy into anything at all it is bound to change rather radically, you might even manage to change a politician into something useful but dog knows what that might be.

With the world’s supply of wood becoming rarer than common sense and even more expensive than a coffee in Ngurah Rai Airport we can assume there will be a dramatic increase in the use of aluminium (or, as those perverse descendants of the Pilgrim Fathers would say, aluminum) for building window and door frames.

It is an excellent material for this purpose and in spite of having the aesthetic appeal of a well polished mortuary slab we can only expect that its use will be eagerly taken up once those highly cultured pleonectic members of the construction fraternity realise how much the PAG (Poverty Alleviation Gene) can be appeased by persuading people that aluminium is far more beautiful than wood.

Aluminium has certainly revolutionised aircraft. At the start of the second world war we had biplanes made from plywood, canvas and string all stuck together with chewing gum but by the end of the war, a mere five years later we had monoplanes made from aluminium which resulted in a serious decline in the chewing gum industry.

Talking of planes we have to wonder if the aircraft industry has been sleeping on the job of late. If I lose my iphone I can remotely find out where it is and disable it, if someone steals my Mercedes I can call the service centre and they can give me its GPS coordinates but if I lose my 300 million dollar aeroplane - “sorry, someone took it out yesterday and we haven’t seen it since.”

So the world waits with bated breath, hoping against hope that the black (orange) box will be found before the homing beacon battery runs out with its life of only 30 days although. Unfortunately, when it is found, it probably only kept the recording of the last 2 hours of its final 7 hour flight.

Through all this we must not forget the aircraft industry has an absolutely amazing track record of safety. It is also a highly responsible industry that learns from its lessons so we can expect that issues raised by MH370 will be addressed rather quickly but sorry I digress.

So, back to aluminium, what’s all the fuss about? Well, as the aircraft industry proves, it is a very useful metal. It is light in weight, it is soft and malleable (that’s a good word isn’t it) making it easy to form, machine and extrude but is rigid enough to be used for lightweight structural purposes such as aeroplane frames (as long as its use is correctly designed). It also resists corrosion (sorry that’s not true) in fact it corrodes quickly forming a dense layer of oxide (aluminium rust if you will) on its surface which protects the metal underneath from further corrosion. This makes it a little tricky to weld but with modern welding techniques (mig and tig) this is easily overcome.

It also conducts heat and electricity very well and so it being increasingly used to replace copper for pipes and electrical wiring. Not as effective as copper but when copper costs even more than the donut to go with the coffee at Ngurah Rai airport.

On top of all this aluminium is cheap, it is after all the most common element on our planet after oxygen and silicon. It does have a couple of downsides in that it is soft so paint doesn’t stick to it very well and, owing to its high melting point (2,000 degrees C) smelting it takes more electricity than your tumble drier after football on a Saturday afternoon.

Aluminium is usually supplied “anodised”. Anodising is an electrical treatment which increases the amount of aluminium oxide (corrosion) on its surface. This oxide layer provides a hard, wear resistant surface that protects the metal underneath from further corrosion and also provides a surface roughness which makes it easier to paint. Anodising also makes the surface porous so it can be stained in useful colours such as black or bronze or in really gaudy pukey gold, pink or blue that remind you of those cheap christmas tree decorations you buy in Annie’s 5 cent Emporium.

Aluminium is supplied in a range of very useful extruded sections ranging from simple round tubes to complex sections used for specialist purposes such as curtain rails, car roof racks and artificial insemination equipment for giraffes. It is also used, of course, to makes those clothes racks that inevitably fall apart as you are just placing the last wet sock of a full load of washing on them. And here we come to why it is being used to make frames for windows and doors.

When we make window and door frames from wood we have to cut grooves and slots in the wood to hold the glass or form a draft seals, these slots and grooves are costly and wasteful. A well designed aluminium section has these slots already formed plus additional slots for hidden screws, rubber sealing strips or felt draft excluders.

The final benefit is a big one - very low maintenance. If you can tolerate that silvery aluminium sheen around your windows (some people don’t like it) then it never meeds to be rubbed back and repainted, it won’t rot in the rain and it won’t twist and warp as it dries out.

In Indonesia windows and doors are very rarely made to standard sizes and so aluminium frames are usually tailor made on site. The results can be variable to put it ever so mildly.

It is important to make sure that they are assembled correctly.

You know that frustrated feeling you get when buy a rocking chair kit and you open a box with a strange collection of bits and pieces that just don’t seem to fit together. Whatever you do nothing seems to fit anything else but eventually you assemble it in some sort of fashion but there are bits left over. In desperation you finally find the instructions hidden away at the bottom of the box. Eagerly you open it and start reading.

IMPOTANT: Having found opening with strong stick insert all into half round turning and so tight with screw long careful.

You pick up the box and, hidden on a corner somewhere, in small apologetic letters you find the only English that makes any sense at all - Made In China.

With unusual shapes and no written instructions you may find that the people assembling your windows and doors don’t know how they are meant to go together. I recently came across dozens of doors made for a large project that had been assembled by 3 different crews, they had all used different methods but in fact none were assembled correctly.

Another thing to watch for is that they are waterproof. A case of severe water damage to a wall on a building in Serangan was traced back to rain beating against an exposed wall getting into aluminium window frames through the corner joints and from there into the structure of the batako wall. It all goes down to the design of the frames and the method and accuracy of manufacture. Silicone may be used to seal up the window frames but it doesn’t stick very well. Sikaflex is much better.

Well designed window frames are self draining, they collect water that penetrates and allow it to drain out in a controlled manner.

Things to check for in the construction of aluminium window and door frames are:

1. Properly constructed, this is particularly important if the door has louvres or “plank” panels.

2. Good fit of window and door frames into the walls and with effective corrosion resistant screws.

3. Effective hinges that won’t rust.

4. Good fit of the window into its frame with effective rubber seals.

5. Accurate corner joints.

6. Effective way of replacing broken glass.

7. Doors and windows should not catch their frames.

8. Doors should not catch the floor.

9. Locks and catches all working correctly (lever catches are better than the lift up ones).

10. Inspect for dents and scratches and ask the installer to replace poor quality work.

It is a very good idea to find a reputable specialist contractor who guarantees his work (did I say guarantee? Some people do provide them you know).

For me personally aluminium is a very poor substitute for the aesthetic beauty if natural wood but the trees are rapidly running out, to say nothing of the loss of our natural environment, and so aluminium presents a very viable and useful option.

Copyright © Phil Wilson 2014
This article or any part of it cannot be copied or reproduced without permission from the copyright owner.

8 February 2017 Copyright © Mr Fixit,
Jl Bypass Ngurah Rai, Gg Penyu No 1, Sanur, Bali 80228, Indonesia
Telephone: +62-361-288-789, Fax:+62-361-284-180