Volume 6 Issue 6 July 2005
Solid as Wood
The wood window market may
appear to be affected by the
alternative materials being offered today, but many
manufacturers of wood windows say they are busier than ever.
by Sarah Batcheler
Wood was the main material for the construction of windows hundreds of years ago, and wood continues to be the choice material for various builders, architects and homeowners even today. Wood windows are still being produced even with the developments of composite wood, vinyl, aluminum and other products, and in the wake of environmental concerns that have shifted some industry standards. Requested more commonly for high-end and uniquely-styled residences, they are in no danger of being outdone by the competing materials, according to manufacturers who spoke to DWM.
From aesthetics to sound control and weatherization, wood windows have some unique advantages over their competing products. Wood offers a traditional look, an ability to be stained and simple beauty.
“Wood is warmer to the touch. It is an aesthetic thing as much as anything,” says Joane Turk of Quantum Windows and Doors.
“Wood has a natural beauty you can’t get in vinyl. It also has a great ability to be painted or stained, whereas with vinyl, you just get white,” says Ray Van Boven, product sales manager of Loewen.
Brad Hamel, vice president of Century Woodworking in Pleasant Valley, Conn., listed design as the biggest advantage. “We can offer a wide range of designs, wood species, finishes, etc.”
The company uses South American mahogany on the majority of its exteriors because of its decay-resistance. They provide whatever species a customer requests for the exterior, from white oak to cherry, butternut and occasionally imported woods.
Alan Welch, foreman of Historic Window and Door Corp. of Alstead, N.H., listed sound control and weatherization as two main advantages of wood, while another manufacturer said vinyl seems to attract customers because it is lighter than wood.
Whatever the reason one would choose wood over another material, it may be true that the expectation of a wood window is often higher than that of vinyl, aluminum or another product in quality and appearance. The customer feels they are getting a superior product, says Cathy Leonard of Windsor Windows and Doors.
Wood windows give designers more options, especially in areas such as a library, a study or a family room. It allows them to match the wood to the furniture and features of the room.
The appearance of various woods for an earthy-appeal is very popular. Southwestern and Mediterranean looks are current trends, according to Leonard. On the exterior, customers want more variety in custom cladding colors for the trim of the home.
“Our company’s new alder window has really taken off, and we see a variety of wood species more in demand due to trends in home décor,” says Leonard.
“Contractors prefer to work with windows that take little time to install,” says Carolyn Andrego of CW Ohio Inc.
“People are going for amenities, whether decorative finishes, glazing, etc. They aren’t looking solely at costs, especially in high-end homes and remodeling. They are also using larger amounts of glass,” says Jeff Lowinski, president of the Window and Door Manufacturers Association (WDMA).
The introduction of composites has affected all the materials used for windows, including the wood market. According to Lowinski, none of the materials are perfect and composites attempt to solve the problems of individual materials.
The competitive pricing of vinyl windows makes it more economical, and PVC’s ability not to decay makes it an attractive choice in coastal areas, says Leonard.
Historic Window and Door only manufactures mahogany or pine windows because they are set up only to manufacture wood, and the cost to be set up to vinyl would be very high, says Welch.
“We do custom work that big companies don’t want to do anyway,” he says.
Loewen of Steinbach, Manitoba, manufactures wood and aluminum-clad windows without wood composites.
“We made a conscious effort not to go into vinyl, because we sell into the high-end market sector,” says Van Boven.
Wood Windows: On the Upswing or Downswing?
While the recent Study of the U.S. Market For Windows, Doors and Skylights, conducted by Ducker Research Company Inc. of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., says wood windows are declining slightly (see chart below) these manufacturers have not felt these effects. In fact, they are experiencing just the opposite.
Over the past five years, both the construction and remodeling markets have been strong and that is unique because it is usually one or the other, says Lowinski.
Manufacturers appear to be experiencing the impact of the changing market gradually, possibly because of the specific markets they target.
“We are in a niche of the high-end market. We do some historical reproduction, large additions and larger value homes. We feel our market niche is steady, if not expanding,” says Hamel.
“Now that people are spending more again, we have seen an increase over the last year—so much is based on market conditions,” says Turk.
In some areas, it seems to be getting more competitive to produce wood windows because there are more companies entering the market. Such is the case for Historic Window and Door. Century Woodworking, which produces windows for New England through the mid-Atlantic region, has experienced some competition from Canadian companies due to the initiatives they get from the government, including lower wages, according to Hamel.
While the basic challenges such as finding skilled labor, increasing medical benefits and battling the time issue exist for wood manufacturers, some are also anticipating a possible supply shortage of lumber.
“There is an impact from environmental concerns we see through the reduction of supply of South American mahogany. We may have to use alternatives such as African mahogany, but we haven’t had to do that yet,” says Hamel.
Van Boven repeated the concern for availability of some species of wood, but doesn’t expect it in the immediate future.
A challenging factor for some companies is to simply stay abreast of the changing industry, including the importance of energy efficiency codes.
“Homeowners are getting smarter and pushing the envelope. Companies need to market their products so the industry pays attention” says Peterson.
The coatings for exterior use are popular, as well as advanced coatings that withstand ultraviolet and other factors.
“The coatings have enabled us to offer longer warranties on the exterior finishes of our windows,” says Hamel.
Historic has developed a special sound control window with triple-sealed glass that is ideal for buildings in large cities. It keeps out most of the noise, according to Welch.
“We are seeing customers who want stained or painted exteriors and want to leave the interior wood natural. There are also some high-performance finishes we are seeing more and more. Often times the new products are environmentally-driven,” says Turk.
Composites are becoming acceptable and more commonplace. The durability of clad finishes, hardware choices are always a big thing, says Van Boven.
The concerns of the environment have become a much larger issue as the decade progresses. Homeowners are getting smarter and pushing the envelope. Energy efficiency codes are becoming increasingly important, and companies have to market their products to stay abreast of the changing industry.
What’s more important: Products that have a relatively low impact on the environment when resourced but doesn’t last, or a higher-impact product on the environment but is recyclable?
“I think there has been abuse in timber cutting and it should be monitored,” says Hamel. “Associations can forge an alliance to work with environmental groups to meet a happy medium with requirements and environmental concerns.”
“We are really at the tip of the problem. Rebuilding these building codes is like rebuilding the energy efficiency codes in the 70s,” says Lowinski.
Being green is an idea that includes proper guidance in emissions and disposals as well as using products that are recyclable with low impact on the environment.
“It a big part of being a good neighbor and a big part of marketing as well. Being green goes a long way with a customer,” says Peterson.
CW Ohio, which currently manufactures wood, vinyl and aluminum windows, is looking at using composite material to make the windows extruded at the company. “Everything is recyclable, down to the shavings and scrap. It is reused to produce more material, whether it is be brick mold or sill,” says Andrego.
Certified wood is also an issue for debate.
Hamel says 100 percent of the woods it imports from South America are certified, however he is unsure about whether the domestic wood is certified.
There are many different wood certification programs and they are all created in different core beliefs of what is an environmentally-friendly product. Companies need to understand the differences in the programs and why they should choose one over the other,” says Lowinski. (See related article on page 6).
Representatives of the wood window market say the future looks optimistic. As the stock market rises and falls, so do people’s spending habits.
“We don’t see much of a slow down. Maybe the availability of some species of wood, but not in the immediate future,” says Van Boven.
What is causing this upswing in high-end home construction and remodeling? Is this related to the aging population? One can only speculate, and wait to see where the future will bring the wood window market.
However, one thing is sure: Right now — wood windows are here to stay.
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