Only Online - Shelter July 2007
A Piece of the Pie
by Sarah Batcheler
Hurricane season has arrived. Experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center project a 75-percent chance that the Atlantic hurricane season will be above normal this year. If we do have a busy season, door and window manufacturers will be able to use many new products and advancements made in products for the coastal region to fight the effects of strong winds and water. In fact, door and window manufacturers are diving into the impact-resistant market with their own fury. That's a good thing when you take a look at the increasing amount of states that have adopted building codes. There are more and more companies offering an impact line made of vinyl. And, to the pleasure of many homeowners, the newest products offer something their first-generation counterparts could not: a prettier look.
Jumping on the Bandwagon
"Everyone and his brother," says Chris Monroe, vice president of marketing for Simonton Windows in Parkersburg, W.Va. "Sometimes it [the introduction of impact products] doesn't even fit a company's strategic plan."
According to Monroe, there is still just a handful of companies that have the majority of the impact market. "It's difficult to be a late follower," he says. "If you're early [in this product segment] people get comfortable with the product brand. In addition, code officials recognize the earlier products-that's significant."
Companies that took an early interest in impact products have done well, including PGT Industries in Venice, Fla. The company introduced the first impact window-an aluminum product-in 1995, after Hurricane Andrew.
A Steady Increase
"The industry wasn't motivated to get into that type of market because it was such a small market," says Dave Olmstead, senior public affairs and code compliance specialist for PGT Industries. "It wasn't until 2000 before the impact market started to be of interest to window manufacturers."
In 2001, Florida adopted statewide requirements and other coastal areas began to follow suit, adopting requirements creating a need for a wider selection of products adaptable to the geographic needs.
"The 2001 Florida Building Code--which tripled the market--prompted manufacturers to begin work," Olmstead says, adding that there's always a lag time in product development. The market didn't become competitive until 2004. "There were seven hurricanes [that year]-and then the market went crazy."
Some say that manufacturers are jumping into the impact market just to get a slice of pie.
"Virtually every window manufacturer offers an impact-resistant line," Olmstead adds. "That change happened between the years of 2000 and 2005.
At the same time, a number of other states began adopting building codes.
"The most significant change was from surface laminating, which was a complicated process of multiple layers laminated to the surface of the glass under heat and pressure to internal laminating [interlayer between the glass] resulted in improvements in clarity and durability," says Olmstead.
Ken Koenig, director of sales and marketing for RightConcept of Tacoma, Wash., a company that makes an impact-resistant line of windows framed with fiberglass, agrees that there are many more companies in the impact market than ever before. "[It's because of] more stringent building codes and awareness due to the increased number and severity of storms," he says.
With the growing amount of manufacturers in the coastal-products sector, some say it is a more competitive market than ever before.
Gorell Windows and Doors in Indiana, Pa., unveiled its first C-level vinyl hurricane window in 2006. The company developed a product for the coastal regions because there was more interest and demand for it, according to Wayne Gorell, chief executive officer. He says he's read of about five different companies offering hurricane products. "That's brand-new."
Monroe says there's too much competition. "There's a handful of companies that have a reasonable amount of market share."
He adds that the new companies in the market will have a difficult time if they sell on price. "It's not a product you can sell on price," he says. "It doesn't have the low-price points because of the material costs alone."
Simonton just introduced an enhancement to its StormBreaker Plus product line which integrates a water barrier into the frame, called a positioning flange. Prior to this, there wasn't a water barrier in the windows. "We've designed new frames that are easier to install and have better protection to ensure that water doesn't get through the housewraps," says Monroe.
Gorell is also proud of its new offering. "Our first product was a variation of an existing product, then [we introduced] the D-level window that can withstand 140 mile-per-hour wind zones in January of this year," says Gorell. "We designed our window specifically for the hurricane test, and it passed beautifully on the first round."
The company also is designing a new patio door as well as casement and awning windows.
PGT's new developments include an Eterna finish that's available on select WinGuard® impact-resistant doors and windows with aluminum frames and available in Acacia, Cherry, light Oak, dark Oak and dark Walnut. "It's the look of wood with the durability and strength of aluminum," says Olmstead. PGT distributes its products in the Gulf Coast, East Coast and Caribbean.
Monroe says companies that have introduced impact products are not bringing anything radically new to the market, but are altering their products to pass the test.
Aluminum vs. Vinyl
From a material standpoint, Florida is predominately an aluminum market, Monroe says, adding that Simonton sells both vinyl and aluminum windows for the impact market.
Gorell says he was in the aluminum replacement window business in the 1960s, but gave it up for vinyl because "it's a better product."
"We have aluminum, if that's what you want, but we don't encourage it," Monroe says.
The benefits of vinyl, if it's designed properly, is that it's somewhat flexible, rather than aluminum, which is rather stiff and brittle, Gorell says. "If an aluminum frame is bent, it stays bent [and has to be replaced]," he adds.
Monroe agrees. Challenges with aluminum are that it is permanently set-in that "if it is not flexible and is hit, it's ruined," he says. "The vinyl shouldn't shear if it's good PVC, and it's going to be a lot more flexible."
"In Dade and Bowen County, you can hit almost all the requirements with vinyl. Outside of that county, you can meet any requirement with vinyl," says Monroe. "And if you can't-then at that point, you are almost in the commercial side."
"The plus to using vinyl is energy efficiency particularly in colder climates," Olmstead says. "The con is frames are weaker and require significant reinforcement to meet the higher wind loads in coastal areas."
Aesthetics Forge Ahead
"What's changed with the consumer, especially in Florida, is that three years ago, the homeowner just wanted to know if it passes testing. The products were very bulky-looking products," says Monroe. "Now, the fact that an impact product passes the testing is a given. It's about what is above and beyond that."
Koenig agrees. "The first products introduced to address impact- and hurricane-zone applications were functional, but utilitarian in their design," he says. "As impact product has evolved, the design elements that residential consumers value have been introduced."
"Now that the market has slowed a little bit, they want a product that looks good," says Monroe, who adds that his typical customers are those who want passive protection, in that they don't have to be present to protect their windows and their homes.
According to Gorell, most of the first-generation hurricane products were unattractive, with bars on the face of the windows, or bit metal tilt latches, or things screwed into place.
"This wasn't the way we wanted to go to market. Our customers expect a functional, attractive product," says Gorell, who adds that the majority of his customers are specialty home-improvement dealers that service mid-level homeowners and up.
Preparing for the Worst
Simonton has a dedicated facility in Lyons, Ga., for the manufacture of impact products. They also have the capability of making those products in their other facilities so they can quickly make more if they see a spike in volume.
PGT and Gorell are also prepared.
PGT keeps a certain percentage of excess capacity in reserve that can be utilized at very short notice.
Gorell says that his company has maintained consistent two-week deliveries for many years. While the company makes everything to order so they can't stock up for the upcoming season, he says, "We'll be prepared to add shifts and people to increase product capacity."
"Our competitors will improve and figure out the tricks - but it depends on what happens this hurricane season. If we have another big year, the demand will push through and they'll keep making and selling their [aluminum] windows. And, someday someone will crack down [on the energy codes]," says Gorell.
"As research evolves I think we will see stronger and lighter interlayers being developed," says Olmtead.
Monroe thinks that the products can improve a lot. "We're constantly looking at technologies. I think we'll definitely be the first one with a revolutionary product design. It's a great category to be in-if you're in it."
Sarah Batcheler is the assistant editor for DWM.