The year 2020 was a bit of a shock to certain areas of the U.S. architectural glass and glazing industry, and contract glaziers have carried a cautious attitude into 2021, according to the 2021 Glass and Glazing Industry Outlook. The annual report was recently released by Key Media & Research, parent company of USGlass magazine and USGNN™.

A Near-Term Slowdown

While the value of overall residential construction increased in 2020 and will strengthen again in 2021, nonresidential is facing its second straight year of moderate decline. At the same time, employment in the construction industry decreased in 2020, recording its first year-over-year decline in a full decade.

The value of nonresidential glass and glazing activity also edged down in 2020 and is projected to decrease moderately in 2021. However, when including multifamily work, architectural glass and glazing construction actually increased in 2020. In the year ahead, multifamily may flatten out and thus not lift the level of activity in glazing the way that it did a year ago. Single family will continue to rise.

The office buildings sector was the leading area of growth—by a long shot—for glazing contractors in 2018 and 2019. 2020 was a much different story. But while commercial-type work was down, the two main institutional subsectors (educational and healthcare) held strong. At least one-third of contract glaziers say these two categories—along with multifamily—were top growth areas in 2020. U.S. contract glaziers appear very wary of the year ahead for most nonresidential building categories. Across the board, the expected decreases in activity per sector are significantly higher than they were a year ago.

Still Positive… But Not by Much

The Contract Glazier Outlook Index (CGOI), an annual numerical measurement of the optimism and current health of the U.S. glass and glazing industry, took a significant hit entering 2021 largely due to the pandemic—dropping more than 17 points to just over 51. However, that was not enough to send it into the negative, as any number above 50 is positive.

Year-over-year sales expectations are very mixed for glazing contractors heading into 2021. Roughly half expect an increase in sales for the year, but more than a quarter anticipate a decrease. The remaining glaziers predict no change in 2021. Contract glaziers have been eager to add employees for much of the past half-decade, but this momentum has moderated in 2020 and into 2021.

Elsewhere in the industry, most glass fabricators and manufacturers predict higher sales in 2021 compared to last year, as many saw a decrease in demand in 2020 due to the pandemic’s effect on construction starts and construction-related spending as a whole. Suppliers of glazing systems and architectural metal are the most pessimistic of the key industry players KMR surveyed for this report. Glass retailers—typically smaller businesses that focus on shower enclosures, mirror, residential glass and some storefront—have the highest level of optimism among the industry categories KMR surveyed.

This article was derived from the 2021 Glass and Glazing Industry Outlook. For more information on the 30-page report, click here. Use the promo code USG20 for 20% off.