Volume 8, Issue 6 - June 2007

Looking Good

Wood Doors and Windows Remain the Top Choice for Aesthetics
by Sarah Batcheler

It is one material for the construction of doors and windows that can be seen in the natural environment. It delivers a warm, natural look to the interior and exterior of a home. With the emergence of aluminum, vinyl, PVC, fiberglass and other materials, some might think wood for the construction of doors and windows is in danger of being replaced by the many other products, right? Wrong. Wood door and window manufacturers explain their perceived place and tell why they feel their niche in a high-end market could not be more stable. 

The Rise of Other Materials
The first vinyl window was introduced after World War II and its use has risen steadily since then because vinyl windows are low-maintenance, energy-efficient and are not very susceptible to climate changes. Additionally, vinyl has been used heavily in the manufacture of impact-resistant fenestration products.

Windsor Windows, a company that had historically made wood doors and windows, introduced its first vinyl window in 1995. “Popularity of the vinyl window and door was increasing at that time. Windsor wanted to supply product to that segment of the construction market,” says Cathy Leonard, marketing communications manager for Windsor Windows and Doors in Des Moines, Iowa. 

In general, industry research indicates that vinyl’s market share has grown significantly in the past 10 years, Jeff Kibler, brand manager for Peachtree Doors and Windows in Mosinee, Wis., points out. “Manufacturers aren’t necessarily limiting their production of wood products but rather supplementing their wood offerings with vinyl or composite materials.”

Richard Wines, president of Southland Windows and Doors in Santa Ana, Calif., hasn’t seen a decrease of people using wood windows in his market—which is high-end. “But I think there will be an increase in pre-finished or aluminum cladding,” he adds.

Southland, which also distributes Hurd doors and windows, will be launching a full line of aluminum-clad windows later this year. “Eventually, that will be 50 percent of what we make,” says Wines, who adds that it will be a fairly expansive product with better hardware, finishes, glass and aluminum. “It won’t be a price point window.” 

Fiberglass is another material that has gained popularity.

“We are seeing a growth in fiberglass because homeowners and builders want a durable, low-maintenance, and environmentally-friendly material that will out-perform and out-last vinyl while being aesthetically-superior and requiring no call backs,” says John Kirchner, public relations manager for Marvin Windows and Doors in Warroad, Minn.

With the rise of other materials, there is still a handful of wood door and window manufactures that have chosen not to expand their offerings. Loewen, a Canadian-based manufacturer of wood and wood-clad (aluminum, copper, bronze) luxury doors and windows, is one of these companies.

“When the door and window industry began to introduce alternative materials such as vinyl, aluminum or fiberglass, Loewen chose to only offer wood product because we wanted to specialize in one material rather than diversify ourselves by learning how to manipulate many different materials,” says Lauren Unger, marketing communications specialist for Loewen. “We have seen a growing trend of manufacturers offering alternative materials, partly due to customer demand and, to a certain extent, due to technical innovations,” she adds.

Leonard says that there appears to be a clear divergence of product offering among door and window manufacturers. “Some companies have always manufactured wood and will only manufacture wood,” she says. “They may not sell as much of it, but they feel these higher margin products will make them more profitable. Other companies have seen the growing success of vinyl in the industry and feel the higher volume of sales that vinyl generally produces will make them successful.”

The owners of Weather Shield and the Peachtree Companies spun off its vinyl product line recently as a stand-alone brand called Visions Windows and Doors. In a company announcement, vice president Mark Schield states, “Vinyl products comprise about 50 percent of door and window sales today. Selling vinyl windows is different than selling wood windows. It’s a different mindset, a different game …”

Manufacturers’ Perception
So how has the wood door and window market responded to the many changes going on in the housing market and the emergence of other materials? 

Wines recalls a four-month span last year—starting in October and ending this January—when the wood door and window market was doing poorly. “It was pretty quiet and tailed off,” he says. “But, the last two months [March and April] have been really good.”

Wines speculates that the ebb and tide could be because there was a transition of people waiting to see what the market would do.

“Our products have been extremely well-received in the past five years. Our sales growth has been steadily increasing,” says Jon Sawatzky, manager of architectural branding for Loewen. 

Delivery Luxury 
Builders and homeowners appreciate the look that wood delivers—which will always be the case no matter how the housing market is doing.

“Aesthetics and energy are paramount [for wood windows]. Aesthetics are the reason people buy wood, and energy is a benefit,” Wines says.

A popular choice for high-end homes, Kibler says that wood windows are the prominent choice in homes of $300,000 and above.

Leonard agrees. “Wood windows are generally more expensive than other materials, but many builders and homeowners are willing to make that investment because of the added dimension that it adds to a home’s décor.”

“To some degree, homeowners perceive wood windows to be more durable than alternative materials, particularly vinyl,” Kibler adds.

Leonard explains that people living in the West appreciate the earthy-appearance of wood. “Vinyl is very popular in the Midwest because it is practical and energy-efficient. Cellular PVC is extremely popular in the Southeast due to the fact that it does not decay in the hot, moist climate,” she explains, adding that custom home builders in the West, Northeast and Midwest are Windsor’s typical customers who buy wood windows.

Branching Out
Where is the wood door and window market headed? “The wood door and window industry is quite particular and specialized,” says Sawatzky. “We haven’t seen a major difference in the quantity of manufacturers, but we have noticed that some manufacturers are adding specialized lines or products to be identified as unique in the luxury segment,” he adds.

Kibler says that he’s seen more wood door and window manufacturers diversifying their product offering to capture greater market share as vinyl and other products gain popularity.

Perhaps more wood door and window companies are switching from all-wood to wood aluminum- and prefinished-clad wood offerings, suggests Wines. “The market is changing to more of these types of windows,” he says. “The homes that cost anywhere from $5 to $15 million will still use wood,” Wines says. “Mid-level homes will change, and will have more clad. Clad windows more prevalent for mid- to high-end homes, where all-wood would still probably be the first choice for extremely high-end homes.” 

Sawatzky agrees that the builders, architects and owners of high-end homes will continue to prefer wood in the future. “[These] customers desire the warmth and character of wood. Their architects also want the customization that wood can provide,” Sawatzky adds.

Pressure from China
Late last year, Michael E. Collins of Jordan, Knauff and Company, an investment banking firm, reported on the coming wave of competition from Chinese companies in its Fall 2006 Window and Door Industry Update (see The Coming Wave, DWM January 2007). It is believed that China will surpass the United States this year as the number one exporter of manufactured goods, Collins says.

According to the Doors – China Sourcing Report published by Global Sources, Chinese door and window exports for 2006 are estimated at roughly $1 billion and are growing 50 percent per year. 

Windsor, Peachtree and Loewen report that they haven’t experienced any problems due to Chinese imports. Kibler says this may be because of the wood door and window niche. “Chinese imports tend to place more pressure on the lower-end of the market where decisions are made chiefly on price.”

Collins echoed this advantage for wood windows. Of the 60 products manufactured by 14 Chinese window companies analyzed by Jordan, Knauff and Company, only three of them were made with wood. “This reflects the greater cost advantage of aluminum and vinyl versus wood, which Chinese companies often must import,” says Collins.

Wines says he has noticed some pressure, but says the products are sub-standard, and if someone buys them it’s because of the money. “There is a lot of things that [products imported from China] are not.”

Peek into the Future
Wood door and window manufacturers agree: there is a place for their products in the future.

Jeld-Wen believes that wood will continue to be a popular choice for windows in the future. “The beautiful look of wood has been a time-tested design style and we anticipate wood continuing to appeal to homeowners’ tastes,” says Ron Clark, product marketing manager for Jeld-Wen in Klamath Falls, Ore.

“Builders, architects, and homeowners who want the warmth and beauty that wood provides will continue to provide a demand for wood windows and doors,” says Leonard.

“We expect that the use of wood will probably continue at the same ratio in the near future. However, we hope that the long-term usage will increase as more consumers realize the values of renewable resources,” says Sawatzky, who adds that Loewen’s future will continue to be in the luxury segment.

Optimistically-speaking, Kibler says he “would like to believe that we’ll see an increase in the use of wood windows and doors as consumers ride the green building trend. Additionally, I think we’re seeing more people choosing products that have texture, depth and character like wood doors and windows.” 

Sarah Batcheler is the assistant editor for DWM magazine.

What’s in Your Doors and Windows?
by Drew Vass

Where do the wood products in your doors and windows come from? Are you certain that they’re from forests that are being harvested legally and managed responsibly? Could they be contributing to civil rights abuse? As concerns about the environment and global warming steadily grow, these may be questions you should be prepared to answer. 

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), forests cover approximately 30 percent of the earth’s total land area and about half are designated for production of forest products. Mismanaging these resources could have a significant impact on the global environment.

If you don’t know where your wood products come from, there’s a pretty good chance they’re being imported from China. There is also a possibility that they’re contributing to illegal logging and import businesses.

Last year, Forest Trends, a consortium of industry and conservation groups, released a report based on five years of research by Forest Trends, the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), the Center for Chinese Agricultural Policy (CCAP) and many other Chinese and regional organizations. The report shows wood products bound for the United States and European Union have increased almost 900 percent since 1998. Between 1997 and 2005, it says the value of forest products going into China rose from $6.4 billion to $16.4 billion and the actual volume tripled.

China’s wood product companies say they have merely responded to growing consumer demand worldwide, as 70 percent of its imported timber is processed and exported as wood products. But the demand is so great that it’s led to questionable acts in the supply chain. The report says: “In many supplier countries, particularly those with weak governance records, the increasing trade flows into China are associated with unsustainable harvesting, illegal logging and the abuse of forest communities’ rights … consumers and retailers in the US, EU and Japan who buy Chinese furniture and plywood made from illegally harvested hardwoods from Papua New Guinea—to give just one example—are an integral part of the story.” It calls on international governments and the forest industry to increase transparency and accountability procedures, and crack down on corruption and money laundering that drives illegal business.

Global Witness is a U.K.-based NGO which exposes the links between the exploitation of conflict, corruption and human rights abuses. “China clamped down on illegal logging in northern Burma by closing its border to timber trade and ordering Chinese workers to leave the country. This move followed a decade of rapacious logging by Chinese companies in Burma’s northern forests and in 2005, China imported more than 1.5 million cubic meters of Burmese timber worth an estimated $350 million—almost all of which were illegal.” 

Global Witness estimates based on statistical information from the National Bureau of Statistics of China, and China Customs made available by The World Trade Atlas; February 2006.Global Witness says timber is still entering China via border back roads and is now asking whether the clamp down signals a permanent change in policy or merely an intermission.

If Forest Trend’s reported predictions prove accurate, India’s industrial log consumption will more than double in the next 20 years. If so, this problem could simply relocate.

Drew Vass is a contributing editor for DWM magazine.


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