Facing the Elements with Aluminum

Facing the Elements with Aluminum

Windows, Doors, Railings, and More

By Kathy Danforth / Published September 2019

Photo by iStockphoto.com/c12

For various exterior building projects, the choice in building materials frequently turns to aluminum. One of the main reasons for this is the old refrain of location, location, location, which in this case refers to Florida’s abundance of corrosion-enhancing moisture and salt. “The advantage of aluminum over steel is that it’s not going to rust,” states Dale DesJardins, owner of Absolute Aluminum. “That’s why there are so many aluminum products in Florida.”

     Nate Yoder with Mullet’s Aluminum Products, which both manufactures and installs aluminum products, shares, “We have about 240 employees and five divisions: windows and doors; metal roofing; railing, gates, and mis-metal architectural features; carports and walkway canopies; and screen enclosures. We work with many of the largest property management companies and property associations throughout Florida and may be replacing the windows on two or three condominium towers at the same time.

     “We install both vinyl and aluminum windows and doors,” relates Yoder, “but in a multi-story building, the windows are typically aluminum. We work with the engineers regarding design pressure, proximity to water, building height, size of the opening, etc. Windows are very detailed and technology driven.

     “For a replacement window, in most areas across the state you have to use impact-resistant glass on openings for hurricane and windstorm protection,” advises Yoder. But, while the investment is being made primarily for wind protection, residents have the prime opportunity to also gain thermal performance. “I always recommend installing an impact resistant, insulated, low-e [low emissivity] version as long as they are investing in their windows,” notes Yoder. “Many of our customers live in high-end homes and condominiums, but when you enter their residence the window treatments are typically pulled closed and the interior is dark. There are million-dollar views they aren’t enjoying because they’re trying to keep their apartments cool and the heat out. Installing new impact-only windows will not solve the thermal/heat load issue.

     “After changing to an impact-resistant, insulated, low-e window product, the first thing residents notice is how quiet it becomes. Next, residents notice how comfortable the space is because the temperature is more consistent throughout their apartment without hot spots. Once one person in a community upgrades their windows, almost all the others want the same benefit.”

     According to Yoder, “Aluminum is best for a coastal application because it won’t rust or break. A Kynar [polyvinylidene fluoride resin] finish is best for coastal protection. I also recommend a thermally broken frame, which is essentially two pieces of aluminum with an insulating gasket to break the thermal transfer. If you’re spending $50,000 for windows because they no longer work or you want hurricane protection, it’s not much more to keep the heat out and get all the performance you can.”

     Aluminum windows and doors will have a 5–10-year warranty on the finish, according to Yoder. “I only recommend a Kynar finish,” he notes. “A typical window and door lifecycle is 20–25 years. No maintenance is required, but especially in coastal and multistory buildings, we recommend pouring fresh water in the door track and then opening and closing the door to wash it out. Some people use WD-40 or other sprays, but that can actually collect sand and debris and gum up the rollers and track.”

     Metal roofing has made inroads for two primary reasons:  longevity and wind resistance. Yoder explains, “Metal roofing is documented to be the best at withstanding hurricanes, and it lasts for virtually a lifetime with almost no maintenance.”

The alternatives include shingles, which are the least expensive option but are more likely to blow off in hurricane winds, according to Yoder. “Barrel tiles are more decorative but can become projectiles in high winds, and they may be more expensive than metal roofing. TPO is a membrane system commonly used for flat roofs.” While metal roofs offer greater protection and longevity, the initial cost may be 15-20 percent higher when compared to asphalt shingle roofs. For those who want the protection but are attached to tile style, Yoder advises, “We have metal panels with a barrel tile profile, which is a great option for those who want advanced protection but don’t want to change the look of the property.”

     Aluminum understandably is a prime choice for carports. DesJardins shares, “We’ve found that a lot of old carports don’t meet the code and are not insurable.” For replacements, he explains, “We use aluminum insulated panels so it is not as hot underneath and so carports don’t have condensation dripping down on the cars. We typically pour concrete posts as opposed to aluminum or steel; aesthetically they look nicer, and people don’t run into them as they do with aluminum or steel posts because the concrete ones are larger.”

     DesJardins points out that a challenge in replacing carports is working around the continuing need for parking spaces. “We typically do those projects in the summer, but they occur year-round. We work in phases so residents still have places to park.”

     “We’ve also run into issues with footings that need to be larger than the existing ones because of changes in the building code,” advises Desjardins. “There are often plumbing and electrical components running in the area to avoid.”

     “We always build to meet the building code, so the carports are insurable,” explains Desjardins, “and we typically try to overbuild. Codes and wind load requirements are always changing, so we want the carport to be in compliance five years from now if the code becomes more stringent.”

     Aluminum is frequently the material of choice for railings, though Yoder observes that glass is also used in multi-story buildings, and stainless steel cable is sometimes used for custom homes. “We manufacture approximately four to five miles of railings per month, and though we stay in South Florida for window and door installations, we install railings and gates throughout Florida and beyond. We have won awards for our railings every year since 2007 from the Aluminum  Association of Florida.”

     DesJardins points out the advantage of welded rails as opposed to mechanically fastened railings. “You have to use stainless or zinc fasteners, and you create electrolysis between those metals, so it corrodes from the inside out.” In addition, DesJardins explains, “With welded railings, you can encapsulate the product with powder-coated finish after it is put together. If rails are fastened, condensation can get underneath the paint and cause the paint to flake off.”

     For associations planning a project, selecting an appropriate contractor is essential. Yoder advises, “Make sure they are licensed and insured, and check the contractor’s bonding capability. If a contractor is not eligible for bonding, they may not be capable of a large project. If the project is more than $250,000, bonding should be required. It costs a few hundred dollars, but it is the best insurance you can have to protect the association and the contractor.”

     Contractors should be vetted carefully for the specific job being considered. DesJardins points out, “Lots of people can build a carport, but few are specialized to just do this type of work. It’s very important to find out how many similar projects they have under their belt. Organization, time frame, safety, cleanliness—these are big factors when you are dealing with associations.”

     Yoder stresses, “Make sure you get a permit to do the job. Have your attorney review the contract. An engineer should develop or review the specifications and bidding and manage the process to make sure the contractor is complying and no corners are being cut.”

     “Unfortunately,” relates Yoder, “a good chunk of what we are doing right now is coming in after an unlicensed contractor was used, or due diligence and due process were not followed. The board thinks they’re saving thousands by proceeding without a permit or an engineer or by hiring someone’s friend.”

     Yoder describes the difficulty presented by some associations. “The most challenging projects are when someone researches on the web, and we are trying to explain that their finding is possibly a good fit for other states or regions but not for the windstorms and salt we have here. The Florida coastal environment is very aggressive, and we need products that withstand salt water and various wind loads.

     “We always recommend hiring a Florida licensed engineer–especially for large projects. They can assist with bidding, specification, inspections, and oversight because they are aware of what works or doesn’t work in the Florida environment. An engineer can help decipher equivalent bids so an association is comparing apples to apples.”

     Projects of these types will probably be looking at increasing prices, according to Yoder, due to tariffs and booming construction. “As you can see from commodity reports and pricing, the cost of aluminum, glass, and steel is increasing. Some vendors are giving us only 10 days to secure a contract and purchase materials before they requote prices. I don’t see the prices going back down because of the demand created by replacement construction activity.”

     Future projects will also be impacted by changes in building codes, which may be a response to weather events. DesJardins observes, “Codes are always changing, so we will see minor changes in codes and wind load requirements across the state, depending on the location.”

     In Florida especially, aluminum is a homeowner’s friend, but a project involves many components. Start with the right material for the job, but be wary of cutting corners; better to do a project once correctly than twice to learn the right way.



Dale DesJardins is with Absolute Aluminum. For more information, call (941) 497-7777 or visit www.absolutealuminum.com.

Nate Yoder is with Mullet’s Aluminum Products. For more information, call (941) 371-3502 or visit www.mulletsaluminum.com.