A relative cost comparison of metals can be made between materials, but it should come with a number of caveats.
First and foremost, it is important to note that metal prices are always changing. Metals are commodities, and are traded as such. Their value rises and falls with demand, and as global markets dictate. The more common metals such as aluminum, are fairly predictable. Aluminum is the third-most abundant element, after oxygen and silicon. As such, it rises and falls with the cost of electricity. A rare metal such as gold, on the other hand, is far more volatile.
The second aspect to consider, is a material’s lifecycle cost. Quality materials used in architectural systems will typically have a higher upfront costs. Many of the less expensive options have a short life expectancy, costing more over time.
Third, and last: it is better to measure the installed material than the base material. For most metals, the fabrication and installation cost will be the same. So a metal like copper, which is that is two or three times more expensive than steel sheet, might only be 2% more expensive when installed. This is the illusion of cost per square foot when discussing raw materials.
Below, a chart shows a degree of volatility even in the span of less than a year, this is an older chart, which similar thickness of copper, zinc, aluminum, galvanized steel, and stainless steel sheet prices per square foot.
Chart showing relative price comparisons with metal over time.
Note that these figures may be direct from the mill without secondary finishes applied. Commercial quality standards are rarely to the levels needed for good architectural or ornamental work. Moreover, one mill’s commercial quality may be another mill’s architectural quality; therefore it is always advisable to acquire metal samples that represent the quality a mill can provide.
Comparative costs do not usually account for the maintenance, long-term performance, or weathering characteristics of the metal. These factors, as well as others, must be included to arrive at a true, albeit subjective, conclusion as to which metal is best suited for a particular surface. For an up-to-date pricing on these materials, contact Zahner.