After steel, aluminium is the most quantified metal used in buildings. Discovered over 200 years ago, aluminium has been used in many structural applications. It is praised for its corrosion-resistant and lightweight properties, making it a widely considered resource in construction, featuring in beam design and brace columns.

However, what are the disadvantages of using aluminium in structures, and why is its primary competitor, steel, sometimes preferred? We weigh up the pros and cons!

The Empire State building

The Beginnings of Aluminium in Structures

Aluminium was first utilised in the 1920s when it was mainly used for decorative detailing and became a popular choice of material for construction during this decade.

Its breakthrough came when it was used to help build iconic structures such as the Empire State Building, which used the material in both its interior and part of its famous spire.

However, this material has definitely come far, as it is now recognised as one of the most sustainable and efficient construction materials to date.

Rolled aluminium

Advantages

Recyclable

As mentioned briefly above, aluminium is considered to be a sustainable material. A key feature is that it can be recycled while still retaining its initial properties. This is a huge advantage and is not only cost-effective but also beneficial for the environment.

Corrosion Resistant

Aluminium develops a thin layer of aluminium oxide on its surface when exposed to air. This layer protects the aluminium from corrosion when exposed.

Versatile and Flexible

Due to the characteristics of aluminium being durable, strong and light, it is an ideal material for the construction industry.

Aluminium’s flexibility means that it can be processed in various ways- which is why it can be used in many forms. Aluminium can be:

  • Melted
  • Machined
  • Formed
  • Extruded
  • Cast.

It can be curved, extruded and cut into incredible shapes. It does not matter where this material is cut, as it is resistant to corrosion and trimmed edges do not need to be protected.

It is largely used in cladding systems to improve the exteriors of structures both visually and practically and is the go-to material for retrofit applications.

Furthermore, the versatility of aluminium means that various functions can be integrated into one profile.

You can often find it in:

  • External facades
  • Roofs
  • Staircases
  • Railings
  • Walls
  • Shelves
  • Windows
  • Doors

Its versatility doesn’t end there, and it can be found in numerous other applications too!

Reflective Properties

As aluminium reflects sunlight, this allows buildings to stay much cooler during the warmer months, which can help reduce electricity costs once the building is complete.

By utilising this material and large glass windows, you can often save on heating and lighting costs. With so many environmental and financial benefits, aluminium is quickly becoming one of the most preferred materials for structures around the world.

Lightweight But Strong

Another benefit of using aluminium in structures is its strength and durability. This material can stand up to a significant amount of weight without causing the building to be too heavy.

Buildings constructed with aluminium can support heavy glass panes that promote natural sunlight throughout the building, again, adding to its contribution to sustainable building designs.

Aluminium rods

Disadvantages

The Expense of Aluminium Compared to Steel

If you are working on a large building project, you will want to save money where possible. Unfortunately, aluminium is more expensive when compared to some alternative materials, such as steel.

Additionally, because it can’t take the same stress as steel, more of it is required to ensure the structure’s strength is viable, meaning utilising it in some designs may cost more overall.

A Costly and Lengthy Welding Process

When working with aluminium in construction, it is welded differently to steel. Aluminium requires unique processes to be welded, which can be costly and take a little longer than other methods, not to mention messier!

Overall Strength Compared to Steel

While being praised for its malleable qualities, this particular property of aluminium can also act as a disadvantage. It can be more easily dented and scratched in comparison to steel. Steel is strong and less likely to warp, deform or bend under any weight, force or heat.

Nevertheless, the strength of steel’s trade-off is that steel is much heavier and denser than aluminium.

Conclusion

Despite its cons, there is no denying that aluminium will become even more widely used throughout the construction industry as pressure grows for buildings that are flexible, easy to maintain and offer low cost-in-use.

Project Dependent

Choosing the right material completely depends on your given project, and in some instances, aluminium will be the clear winner. With a number of advantages and disadvantages, there are many different materials to choose from when weighing up what will be the most effective choice.

All Materials Have Pros and Cons

It is important to remember that no construction material is perfect. For example, timber can be greatly affected by moisture, has limited structural capabilities, requires maintenance and cannot be machined into complex shapes.

Steel is one of the most popular materials but has a relatively poor strength to weight ratio, cannot be thermally broken, rusts in an untreated state and can sometimes be prone to brittle fractures.

Always Seek the Advice of an Expert

Whether you need a structural engineer or someone to assist with your planning applications in Cornwall, here at Martin Perry Associates we provide a range of services from surveying to party wall services. If you have any questions, then please do not hesitate to get in touch through the link below.

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