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Volume 6   Issue 10               November  2005

Vinyl Weathers Myths ... and a Competitive Window Market
And a Competitive Window Market

by Alan B. Goldberg

As long as vinyl has been in existence, it has replaced traditional materials. Low maintenance and energy efficiency have always been attractive benefits and performance added to its credibility. But vinyl has not been without its critics and some of the early myths have been difficult to dispel. 

Negating the Myths
The Vinyl Institute published a fact sheet identifying eight of the more popular myths, with comments to contradict each one. For instance, in response to the myth that vinyl undermines recycling, the Vinyl Institute stated that the material can be remelted and remolded repeatedly. It referred to findings from the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) PVC Task Group “that the environmental and health impacts of vinyl used in building products are comparable to those of competing materials.” 

But there are groups that remain determined to make their case against vinyl.

“We continue to see special interest groups making false claims about vinyl and the environment. One of the most recent comes from a group called the Center for Health, Environment and Justice,” says Joe Hums, regional sales manager of Mikron Industries Inc. and marketing committee chair of AAMA’s Vinyl Material Council.

According to Allen Blakey, a spokesman for the Vinyl Institute, the health and environmental issues that some have associated with vinyl are of concern to a small percentage of people. For the vast majority, these opinions have had little effect. 

Certification Program
Vinyl’s excellent weatherability has been confirmed by tests conducted as part of AAMA’s PVC extrusion certification program.

“This program has really improved the quality of the finished product. Vinyl profiles are tested in three locations to determine its weatherability: Arizona for a hot dry climate, South Florida for a hot humid climate and the Northeast for exposure to an industrial-type climate,” says Hums.

He pointed out that the three different climates represent a good cross section of exposure to the elements. Tests are conducted twice a year and approximately 50 vinyl extrusion plants participate. 

“Just about anyone who is involved with PVC must be in the program,” adds Hums.
In fact, Chelsea Building Products tests its lineal profiles to AAMA specifications (303-04 Rigid PVC Exterior Profiles) according to Les Lundeen Jr., marketing director.

He pointed out that Chelsea has material under tests continually at each of the three locations where it is exposed for a minimum of 24 months. 

“I think the PVC industry has done a good job of self-regulating,” says Hums. The AAMA PVC extrusion certification program has helped improve the quality of vinyl windows offered in today’s marketplace.” 

Lundeen explains that color changes are measured against guidelines for a specific color. A key chemical component, titanium dioxide, absorbs much of the UV light and prevents degradation which causes color fading and chalking. 

“Titanium dioxide is the same pigment used in siding and other exterior applications, such as decking and railing. For windows and doors, it provides color and weatherability,” says Morton. “Vinyl compounds offer many other characteristics that give strength, impact and dimensional stability.”

Attractive Features
Vinyl’s structural strength, thermal properties and resistance to the effects of household chemicals, cleaning agents and pesticides are other attractive characteristics, according to an AAMA document. But it refers to low maintenance as a “prime factor in the exploding market that vinyl products have enjoyed.” Additionally, vinyl can be cleaned with soap and water and will not rot, chip, peel or corrode.

“Homeowners [of high-end homes] are requesting vinyl because of its low-maintenance properties. With our products, we have taken the traditional look of wood products and made them look like painted wood windows. I want our vinyl windows to look just like wood. In our business, as a window fabricator of both wood and vinyl, we are getting the best of both worlds,” says Roger Stremer, general manager for the vinyl divison of Kolbe and Kolbe Millwork Co. Inc. 

Stremer sees two types of window products that have emerged: those that are price sensitive where cost is the key factor and those that are a viable option for higher-end use where people want a certain look, but they don’t want to deal with any kind of a material breakdown. They want maintenance-free windows, he says.

An AAMA document stated that “nearly half of the windows listed in the National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC) Certified Products Directory are framed with vinyl. Many utilities are offering incentives to builders who install vinyl windows in homes.”

Impressive Growth
Phil Morton, director of business development for Deceuninck North America, says vinyl leaped from zero market share to become the largest single material component used in replacement windows within three to four years.

“Today, more units are made with vinyl than all other materials combined, both in new construction and replacement windows,” says Morton, a point to which Hums agrees.

“Vinyl has always been a strong material and now it is taking market share from wood and other products in new construction,” he says.

Referring to recent research, Hums says that vinyl has surpassed wood for the first time in residential new construction applications. In the 2004 U.S. Industry Statistical Review and Forecast, developed by the Ducker Research Co. and co-published by AAMA and the Window and Door Manufacturers Association, it was reported that vinyl windows continue to share growth in the residential market and now represent approximately 51 percent of the overall market. In residential-type windows for commercial applications which are primarily wood and vinyl units, vinyl continues to penetrate new construction applications.

To critics of vinyl, Hums says, “you can’t have sustained growth without solid performance and vinyl has been performing for many, many years.”

Morton says there is nothing on the horizon that could challenge vinyl. “It is about 50 percent of all new [window] construction and in the residential replacement market it is in the 80 percent range,” he says. “It is challenging wood windows in new construction and I see this as a continuing trend.”

Manufacturers of vinyl windows say vinyl’s growth trend won’t end any time soon.

“I think vinyl’s impact is obvious from past years,” says Gary Delman, president of Sunrise Windows. “We have some great years of growth ahead of us.” 

“The life span of vinyl products versus regular commodity products has allowed vinyl to increase its market share in many aspects of the construction industry,” adds Joe Shoots, vice president of Vinyl Design Corp.

Hans Spijkerman, president and CEO for Chelsea Building Products, says the vinyl segment still has great potential, particularly when it comes to how it stacks up when compared to competitive materials.

“We should be able to compete very well against aluminum and wood because no one likes a lot of maintenance,” he says. “Our responsibility must be in making sure that we maintain high quality and that we have outstanding weatherability and high-impact resistance.”

Future Challenges and Opportunities
Although the vinyl industry is strong and shows no sign of slowing, this material does pose some challenges. In fact, Spijkerman says China’s increasing role could have a significant impact on the domestic market.

“I see a threat from profiles that are coming from China,” he says. “These are made with a higher content of filler, less titanium dioxide and lower level of impact modifiers which ultimately means discoloration, chalking and lower impacts. And that kind of situation can only hurt our reputation, especially when fabricators start mixing profiles. I see this issue as a real danger and a challenge for us to insist on the highest quality and maintain the reputation of vinyl windows in today’s market.”

Spijkerman predicts an especially bright future for cellular products and composite materials.

“We see market share increasing. We see wood manufacturers using vinyl as components or as cellular products. Although cellular products have been in the United States for about five years, they have been in Europe for about 15 years, in frames, sills and jambs or jamb extensions,” he says. “The standard rigid profile industry will continue to grow. Cellular products will gain more acceptance as will composite materials. PVC composites will be used in high-end windows.” 

After more than four decades of performance, vinyl has weathered myths and a competitive market and the future looks very promising. 

Alan Goldberg is a contributing writer for DWM. He has 31 years of experience in the insulating glass industry. 

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