Volume 8, Issue 7 - July/August 2007


A Piece of the Pie
The Impact-Resistant Product Market is Flooded with Newcomers
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
So, what door and window manufacturers are entering the market?

“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 are 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
Initially the only windborne debris protection requirements were in South Florida and there was no interest in vinyl products. “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.”

Product Developments
There are many new products for the impact-resistant market. 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 is 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.

Aesthetics Forge Ahead Homeowners are always looking to beautify their homes—which is why the companies in the impact-product segment—80 percent of which are in Florida—are marketing their products as aesthetically pleasing. “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
What the 2005 hurricane season taught manufacturers is that you can never be too prepared for “the big one” to hit. Manufacturers of impact doors and windows may be strapped for resources to make their products, which could be in high demand in the event of a destructive hurricane. Many companies understand this and are preparing for it.

Simonton has a dedicated facility in Lyons, Ga., for the manufacture of impact products. The company also has the capability of making those products in its other facilities so it can quickly make more if it sees 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 it can’t stock up for the upcoming season, he says, “We’ll be prepared to add shifts and people to increase product capacity.”

What’s Next?
Since the impact-product segment is relatively new, many anticipate that it will continue to grow with new products and advancements.

“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.” 

An Energy Enhancement: The Benefit of Vinyl
In addition to being able to sustain in hurricanes, vinyl windows also provide lasting energy benefits, according to Chris Monroe, vice president of marketing for Simonton Windows in Parkersburg, W. Va.

“Vinyl helps with lower cooling bills, lower maintenance and you can do a lot with aesthetics,” Monroe says.

Gorell says that some homeowners in Florida may not know that vinyl windows provide better energy benefits than when they install replacement aluminum windows.

“There’s an energy code in most states—there is in Florida—and inspectors are looking the other way [when they inspect aluminum hurricane windows], but they can’t do that for long. They’re doing the homeowners a disservice,” says Gorell. Some of the aluminum windows “might be able to pass a hurricane, but if their energy bill is $300 a month—and upwards of $1,000 in the summer …”“The word has not gotten out that these products don’t pass the energy code for Florida,” Gorell says. “It’s insane to put in windows that can’t pass the energy codes.”

The Pros: Advantages of Aluminum
Aluminum, a material that was used in the first impact products designed for South Florida, is getting a run for its money with the increasing use of vinyl, but there still may be a significant segment for aluminum impact products, explains Dave Olmstead, senior public affairs and code compliance specialist for PGT Industries.

“Aluminum is stronger and more appropriate for extreme high-wind applications like South Florida and [places] where U-values are not as important,” says Olmstead. “As you migrate northward into colder climates, thermal performance becomes more important and wind speeds are lower, thereby making vinyl frames a more attractive option. 

In Dade County, the wind speeds reach 140 to 150 miles per hour. “It is extremely difficult design criteria to meet with a vinyl window,” says Olmstead, adding that aluminum will always get a lot of pressure from vinyl in northern Florida and up north from there.

In south Florida, Olmstead explains, there are two factors. First, there are wind speeds. Secondly, there is solar heat gain. “[Solar heat gain] is fairly easily controlled,” Olmstead says. “In the colder climates, you have a U-factor, which is more critical than solar heat gain. With thermal properties—now vinyl becomes a big player.” 

“Aluminum will have a market, and it will shrink over time,” says Olmstead, who thinks the next step will be thermally broken products. Thermally broken products feature a frame with two layers with a thermal break in the layers.

“There are changes that aluminum manufacturers can make to compete. Further north [of Dade County], aluminum window manufacturers are going to have to make some adjustments,” says Olmstead.

Sarah Batcheler is the assistant editor for DWM.


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