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Volume 7   Issue 6               June 2006

Wood:  Solid as a Rock?
Recent Research Says No But Manufacturers Disagree
by Tara Taffera

“This is the first year [on the residential side] that there is a much bigger shift from wood to vinyl. This has been happening slowly in the past ten years but this is the first year that the gap has been so dramatic,” says Nick Limb, with Ducker Research Company. Ducker completed its WDMA/AAMA Study of the U.S. Market for Windows, Doors and Skylights recently (for more information visit www.aamanet.org). 

Manufacturers’ View
DWM spoke to representatives from many companies, including MAi Wood Doors that produces wood doors exclusively and says this material has a definite place in the market and has strong attributes. We also spoke to representatives of Peachtree and Kolbe and Kolbe Millwork that produce both wood and vinyl products. Representatives there say the production of vinyl windows that began almost ten years ago accounts for this shift. 

Although wood leads the market the number of patio door units in new construction is expected to decline in the years to come, according to Ducker.
By 2009, the gap between wood and vinyl will be even tighter. 

“Kolbe has been aware of this trend: in 1997 we invested in a vinyl window manufacturing facility,” says Cindy Bremer, director of marketing. “Kolbe believed that there was a market for a vinyl windows and patio doors for the mid- to high-end market.”

According to Ducker, wood is also forecast to decline on the remodeling side for patio doors. Kolbe has noticed this trend as well. 

“We would agree and are seeing a small decline in our wood replacement sized patio doors,” says Bremer. “Vinyl replacement patio doors do provide an economical option to a wood patio door.” 

Another manufacturer that offers both wood and vinyl products is Peachtree Windows and Doors. Brand manager Jeff Kibler says he doesn’t see a decline in the wood swinging door market as only a few companies offer vinyl alternatives, all of which he says are very expensive. But, the opposite is true in the sliding door market where vinyl is gaining on wood, he says.

When Charles Marince, marketing director for MAi, was asked about the gap between wood and vinyl, he said it depended on specific areas of the country. He added that declines will occur in all manufacturing segments. 

“Changes will take place across the board as construction slows,” he says. 

Not necessarily. In fact, Kibler says the growth of vinyl at Peachtree is forcing the company to “take a different look at the vinyl market.” (Peachtree has produced vinyl products for approximately 12 years.)

“We have to look at Peachtree as a true vinyl company and we haven’t done this in the past,” he says.

So how does vinyl compare to wood as far as sales are concerned at Peachtree?

“Dollar for dollar we sell more wood,” says Kibler. “But when it comes to the number of units, vinyl is equal to wood or greater.”

There is some good news for the wood market.

“In residential and remodeling, vinyl dominates, but in new construction wood is a major player,” says Kibler.

Wood Stands Strong 
According to the Ducker report, wood dominates in interior doors and Bremer doesn’t expect this to change. 

“The warmth and beauty of wood interior doors continue to be the choice for sophisticated buyers,” she says. 

Marince agrees saying, “Wood will always be strong when you’re talking about beauty.”

He adds that wood increases the value of a home and makes it easier to market and that it insulates better than hollow or filled products. 

Marince believes strongly in the advantages of wood over other materials, particularly when it comes to environmental responsibility which the company takes very seriously. 

“Other materials may be cheaper but manufacturing those materials causes other issues, such as pollutants,” he says. 

Homeowners who do not have much knowledge about wood doors or windows may think that these products could rot. But manufacturers say rot can be avoided easily with proper maintenance. 

“If you take care of wood it can last generations, but it’s a trade-off,” says Marince. 

“Wood products have to be maintained and for some people that’s not an option, so vinyl is the right choice for them,” says Kibler. 

But many wood products are coated in the factory to help prevent rot from occurring. 

Bremer says that at Kolbe and Kolbe, the company’s manufacturing process includes a preservative treatment that protects the exterior wood parts from water, insects and fungus. The company also offers the option of a high-performance finish that is formulated to resist ultraviolet deterioration and chalking, chemical attack, as well as damage from salt, wind, sleet and snow.

Other exterior options include roll-formed cladding or extruded aluminum cladding. 

Another misconception may be that wood windows cause condensation. According to wood manufacturers there are ways the manufacturing process can prevent this as well. 

“We use an advanced spacer technology to keep condensation down,” says Kibler. 

Although Limb says the gap is widening between wood and vinyl (see chart on page 32) companies like Kolbe and Kolbe aren’t worried. 

“In the upscale market that we target, wood is the preferred material over vinyl,” says Bremer. 

She adds that Kolbe and Kolbe’s business continues to grow, although the “strongest percentage growth is in our vinyl line.”

Only time will tell if the forecasts will hold true, but one thing is for sure: wood manufacturers are committed to their products and educating consumers on the advantages of wood.

Tara Taffera is the publisher and editor of DWM magazine. 

© Copyright 2006 Key Communications Inc. All rights reserved. No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.