Weathering the Economic Storm

It has been a hard slog for many in the building industry the past few years, but most window manufacturers have come through relatively unscathed because their products remained in high demand. Even for products intended for the high-end markets where new home construction has virtually stalled, homeowners are demanding high-performance windows for mid-priced homes and remodels. This is largely due to the fact that, especially in tough economic times, people want to save money by conserving energy.

“With the energy tax credit, windows have actually been moving up on most home-owner’s list of priorities,” says Berit Griffin, public relations coordinator, Marvin Windows and Doors. “People aren’t moving, so they are upgrading their old windows with new, energy-efficient models.” Marvin has seen increases in the replacement and remodeling markets, and Griffin says even in new construction many people are building smaller homes but specifying more, better-quality windows. “People want a high-quality window and are willing to pay for them. They are looking at life-cycle cost and energy savings more than initial price.”

Bigger, Better, More

It may seem odd that in a time when consumers are conservative with their building and remodeling dollars they’d be willing to spend money on windows, but that’s exactly what many manufacturers are experiencing. Homeowners are shifting focus away from building new homes and are instead opting to remodel; any new homes are smaller. In both cases, consumers are willing to pay for windows if they get everything they want.

“Today’s consumers expect greater energy efficiency to reduce their utility bills,” says Kathy Harkema, public relations manager, Pella Corp. “Many now plan to stay in their home for the long haul and are choosing more and better windows to let in natural light, create a better view and reduce energy costs.” Pella has seen many customers take advantage of the tax credit to install products with the company’s SunDefense low-E insulating glass. In addition to keeping conditioned air in, the product also blocks 95 percent of damaging UV light. In response to increased demand, Pella also has expanded its Impervia line of energy-efficient windows with SunDefense glass to include casement and awning styles.

On top of better energy efficiency, people often want their windows to be bigger. “We’ve recently introduced our TerraSpan lift-and-slide door to address the high-end market trend of opening up walls to the outdoors,” says Lance Premeau, product and market analyst, Kolbe Windows and Doors. This door can incorporate up to 10 individual panels of up to 12 ft. in height that either nest in back of one another or recess into a pocket, completely disappearing from view.

Premeau says to further address the trend of large windows and doors, Kolbe is introducing a new double-hung product capable of extremely large sizes. “We have also begun to address the need for better-performing windows with our recent introduction of ThermaPlus glass to address the energy and stimulus package requirements,” he says.

Griffin says Marvin Windows also sees increased demand for large window and door units. Marvin’s Ultimate Lift and Slide doors, which can be pocketed or stacked and feature low-E glass with insulating argon gas, have been popular lately. “We’re seeing increased demand for venting picture windows, especially in homes built in the mid-1900s,” Griffin says. “Our Tilt Turn can mimic a picture window while being able to turn in like a door or tilt at the top.

We’ve also seen a lot of people pair our hopper windows at the top of a fixed unit to add ventilation. People want to stay true to their home’s design while adding performance and aesthetics.”

As for Milgard, the company is focusing on two key areas: energy efficiency and material innovations, says Scott Morgan, vice president of sales and marketing. “Our 3D and 3D Max Energy Packages continue to gain traction with window dealers and homeowners alike as they look for easier ways to choose the best-performing windows for their specific application. We’ve added triple glazing as an option on our vinyl Tuscany Series replacement line, and our fiberglass Ultra and WoodClad Series windows and patio doors, creating a clear energy performance advantage for homeowners.

“Right now, frame material innovations in the industry are focusing on fiberglass as the perfect working material for frames. Milgard was very early to recognize the benefits fiberglass offers, and as a result we pultrude our own fiberglass in-house to control quality. We continue to invest in our Ultra Series and WoodClad Series fiberglass windows.”

We Want it all — Now

“Homeowners are emphasizing energy efficiency, but they also want as many options as they can possibly choose from when picking a window,” Premeau says. This means manufacturers are constantly updating and adding to their glass, configuration and size options as well as interior and exterior finishes, hardware styles and finishes, and other special features.

“People want to set their home apart from others in the neighborhood, so they’re accenting their replacement windows with accessories like grilles, blinds, shades or decorative panels between glass and decorative hardware to coordinate with faucets, fixtures and other items in the home,” Harkema says.

Pella offers blinds between the glass for vinyl sliding patio doors and entry doors. Pella also has expanded its EnduraClad aluminum-clad exterior color options to include distinct and varying shades like cranberry and vanilla cream.

“Many homeowners opt for natural shades and lighter tones, but more and more people are seeking to express their personal sense of color with a bold contrast of colors on the exterior of their windows and doors,” Pella’s Harkema says.

Kolbe also has introduced a new color palette for its interior finishes, and in the interest of meeting virtually any consumer demand in this arena, the manufacturer offers the ability to match nearly any interior finish. Kolbe also developed and introduced a square glazing bead and divided light bar profile. “These Craftsman- or Mission-style options give more freedom for homeowners to design their windows to match their home’s themes or styles,” Premeau says.

People also want their windows to be easy to use and maintain. “This arises from the universal design trend,” Griffin says. “People want to stay in their homes a lot longer, so they want windows that not only last, but are easy to clean and continue to operate smoothly for years and years.” Marvin’s Ultimate Casement window now features a “wash mode” that allows the unit to swivel 140 degrees so owners can wash the outside of the window from inside the house. It is also available in dramatically large sizes.

Full Circle

The immediate future for windows looks healthy, according to many manufacturers. Homeowners will always aspire to build, remodel or upgrade their living spaces, even in a down economy as many people will then spend more time in their homes. “Since windows are seen and enjoyed both inside and outside the home and can substantially enhance both its enjoyment and value, we see the installation of energy-efficient windows remaining a top remodeling project choice,” Harkema says.

And the key to window demand — even before this recession — seems to be energy efficiency. Manufacturers have been and plan to continue upgrading the energy performance of their windows. “Energy efficiency will continue to be a driving force in the window industry in the coming years,” Premeau says. “Homeowners will continue to request larger units that perform at a high level, especially in the high-end market.”

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