Reputations are hard to live down. Take, for example, rigid aluminum—used for electrical conduit—and its reputation for high cost. According to a recent study, that may be more misperception than fact.


In June, Sapa Extrusions North America announced the results of a study by IBIS Associates, a management consulting firm, that casts the material’s cost-effectiveness in a more favorable light. It highlights several benefits of rigid aluminum conduit over traditional steel conduit.


The study’s authors concede that aluminum is more expensive—pound for pound, and even by volume—than steel. On the other hand, they emphasize that to compare the two materials in those simple terms is missing the point.


According to Louis Whittemore, national sales manager for American Conduit by Sapa, one of the main challenges the industry faces is “the misperception of rigid aluminum conduit as a more expensive material than traditional steel conduit.” On the contrary, he argues that it is actually more cost-effective when the full life-cycle of the project is taken into account.


Not only is aluminum lighter, it also possesses superior quality, performance and sustainability than steel. Other advantages over steel are that it does not spark; it is nonferrous and nonmagnetic; it does not rust or discolor; and it is a LEED-favored material that requires minimal energy to recycle.


All of this may sound like typical marketing rhetoric from a company, Sapa, that manufactures the product. However, the results of the study are hard to ignore. IBIS collected data from a variety of users across the board, including suppliers, manufacturers, government agencies, contractors, distributors and others. The study found that rigid aluminum conduit saved engineers and contractors 17 percent in usage costs. Results also demonstrated a constant savings with the product that increased with the size of the conduit used and the size of the project.


This makes for a favorable outlook on the future of the product. The study projects that the rigid aluminum conduit market will grow to $160 million by the year 2020.