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August, 2009

In Depth: Doors

Manufacturers are tweaking performance to meet new standards and focusing on more value and new styles to keep sales moving.

By Craig A. Shutt

Spurred by rebates in the stimulus bill and looming upgrades in other energy programs, door manufacturers are focusing their efforts on raising product performance. They’re also working to stay in tune with trends that have homeowners looking to add value with a better benefit/cost ratio and create a complementary look throughout their homes.

The American Recovery & Reinvestment Act of 2009 in particular has manufacturers reviewing their lineup. It made significant changes to existing tax credits for energy-efficient products, especially by increasing the amounts that can be obtained. It also tightened the requirements for some products, including entry doors. Until June, any Energy Star compliant door was eligible; now, the doors must have a U factor and Solar Heat Gain Coefficient of less than 0.30—and not all Energy Star compliant doors meet that requirement.

“The most important products in our lineup right now are those that are Energy Star-rated and anything that qualifies for the tax rebate,” says Daryl Doehr, regional sales manager for Marvin Windows, based in Warroad, Minn. “The tax credit means we have to ensure all of our glass and doors meet the new standards.” The solar-heat gain limit creates the tightest limit, he notes, as not all glass was designed for that standard. 

The stimulus bill has put more emphasis on energy efficiency, agrees Doug Thompson, senior director of product management for exterior doors at Masonite in Tampa, Fla. “Energy efficiency overall has had the biggest jump as a factor in door selection in the past 12 to 24 months, and that will continue through 2010.” Energy Star standards also will be tightened in 2010, putting more emphasis on upgrading efficiencies.

Mark DeSimone, marketing manager for doors at Simonton Windows & Doors in Parkersburg, W. Va., agrees that energy savings is a driving force today. “There is a lot of effort being put into improving energy efficiency, especially for larger sizes and wider-frame styles.” Many of the company’s fiberglass doors have insulating cores that “greatly exceed” the upcoming standards, he notes.

It’s vital for marketers to ensure dealers and customers are aware of which products qualify for the incentives, says Elizabeth Souders, product marketing manager for doors at Jeld-Wen Inc. in Klamath Falls, Ore. As at other companies, Jeld-Wen has updated its Web site with a section devoted to the stimulus package. It also offers a two-page flyer, counter cards, and clings with details. “The stimulus program is very new, and it has specific requirements, so we need to ensure everyone is aware of what products qualify.”

VALUE IS UPPERMOST

Energy efficiency and rebates are just a part of the package homeowners seek, Souders adds. “Customers are coming into the store with the objective of leaving confident that they made a sensible choice and got the best value for their money,” she says. “That doesn’t necessarily mean spending less money, just getting the most for whatever budget they have.”

Derek Fielding, product manager for entry doors at Therma-Tru Doors in Maumee, Ohio, agrees that value is the new watchword. “Consumers don’t want a cheap deal, they want a good deal,” he stresses. “We’re focusing on creating door styles that are on-trend and are a good value.” That includes new fiberglass models that compete at the lower end with steel doors but still offer a variety of features.

The “value” definition includes not only energy efficiency but also durability and attributes of “green building,” marketers agree. “Customers are not just looking for today, they’re looking at what will look good seven or 10 years from now,” says Jeld-Wen’s Souders.

Because the definition of “green building” varies widely, dealers must ask customers what they want. “Some have a clearly defined idea, while others just want an environmentally sensible choice,” Souders says. Requirements vary among standards groups, she points out, so it’s important to know if the customer follows one. “‘Green’ means something different to everybody.”

The most common criteria beyond energy efficiency, she notes, is recycled content. Jeld-Wen also promotes its removal of all types of formaldehyde from its products, which improves indoor air quality, and emphasizes its patio doors that are certified by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative.

Marvin promotes its wood-certification programs. “Green building has become a larger factor that people want to pursue,” says Doehr. Marvin also stresses its manufacturing processes and its recycling not only of materials into product usage but for gray water and the use of scrap for heat.

“Green” also is a factor for interior doors, where energy efficiency isn’t part of the equation, says Bob Merrill, CEO of CMI, the Chicago-based manufacturer of CraftMaster doors. The company recently launched the CraftMaster Green Door,
which offers sustainable materials, recycled content, low formaldehyde emissions and low-VOC primer and adhesives. “That product has gained traction among users looking for the best available design married with strong, sustainable materials.”

IMPROVED GLASS TECHNOLOGY

More attention is being paid to glass usage and efficiency, too, marketers say. “The styles of glass used are market driven by region,” says Marcel Chehade, national sales manager for Plastpro Doors in Livingston, N.J. “The energy program will be the decisive factor in the size of glass that will work.”

Less decorative glass is being used today, as consumers take a back-to-basics approach, says Jeld-Wen’s Souders. That also plays to the recommendations by AARP to aid aging-in-place designs. Glass area overall is growing, she notes. “Customers want to open up spaces and allow more natural light into their homes.”

Therma-Tru’s Fielding agrees that clear glass is gaining ground. “It provides a more retro look at the high end of the market.” A rustic look, with wrought-iron grates over the glass, also is growing in popularity. The company has introduced the Flush Fit glass system, in which the glass’s frame is styled to match the door skin and uses hidden screw plugs. That allows the glass to appear to be flush-glazed as with older doors while allowing the glass to be removed as needed.

The move to more clear glass doesn’t mean low energy efficiency, Fielding stresses. “More customers are switching from clear glass to low-e glass and boosting its use,” he says. Jeld-Wen’s Souders notes that advances in glass-coating technology and stronger regional energy-code requirements have created a variety of sophisticated lowe glass options. Using different materials in the layers as well as the number of layers impacts the effectiveness.

Glass area also is growing for interior doors, Souders adds, as homeowners connect rooms visually. In other rooms, homeowners are looking to reduce noise transmission between spaces. “The room’s functionality is a larger factor in choosing an interior door.” Solid-core construction provides the “heft” and sound-deadening benefits that some homeowners look for, notes CraftMaster’s Merrill.

REMODELING GAINS ATTENTION

With new-home construction slowed, companies are focusing attention on the remodeling market, especially with the taxcredit incentives encouraging replacements. They’re discovering key differences, says Therma-Tru’s Fielding, because products must fit existing openings. The company has added double-door styles to fit older homes, and it has introduced a 5-foot Retro patio-door collection.

Plastpro has addressed that market with a line of fiberglass doors that can be trimmed up to 2 feet without reaching the insulated core, says Chehade. “Many homeowners are staying put and upgrading. They are looking at doors as one project that will make a big difference,” he explains. “But the retrofit and remodeling markets have no standard sizes. These fiberglass doors ensure the doors will fit any opening without losing their composite edges.”

Plastpro also has introduced a fire-rated and water-proof composite entry system aimed at multi-family homes and lightcommercial applications in particular. “It’s been in the back of our minds to diversify for some time, but we never had the time to focus on it,” Chehade says. “Today, there’s more time to look at the big picture and to identify the markets that continue to have some development, even if they aren’t booming.”

PATIO DOORS GROW

Patio doors continue to grow larger, as homeowners try to blend interior and outdoor living spaces, says Simonton’s DeSimone. “The economic situation has sped up that trend of adding outdoor space,” he says. “Homeowners want much larger and different kinds of doors to connect with the outdoors.” Those include bifold and pocket doors that can seamlessly blend the spaces.

Glass areas also are growing, he notes, to help visually connect interior and exterior. “We’re seeing more four-panel sliding doors and lot of use of French hinged doors.” Simonton has introduced a new fiberglass hinged patio door with single- and double-panel styles. The introduction was part of a four-year program underway to enhance all of the company’s door options, DeSimone says.

RUSTIC STYLES DOMINATE

Regional differences produce variety in entry-door style preferences, but rustic and arched styles continue to grow in demand. Jeld-Wen has introduced a juniper door to take advantage of a West Coast wood species that has been ignored in the past, says Souders. “It’s had a negative impact on the habitat, so it’s been cut and burned,” she explains. “We’re using it for both interior and exterior applications.” It offers the rustic, swirling grain that remains popular, taking stains differently than other species to stand out.

Standing out is the key ingredient, says Marvin’s Doehr. “Homeowners want that one-of-a-kind look that gives them a signature style for their home.” That carries over to patio doors and interior doors, too, he notes. The company recently introduced a new species, Sedro Macho, a Honduran cedar that resembles alder but with better weathering characteristics, he says.

Masonite has seen growing interest in mahogany, Brazilian cherry and walnut due to their unique grains, says Thompson. “Tastes overall are becoming less ornate, more simplistic and down to earth,” he notes. For interior doors, that has meant more interest in two-panel styles, even in larger sizes, and a move away from six-panel styles.

“There are a lot of different options for interior doors, because it often is a very personal choice,” says CraftMaster’s Merrill. “Doors with two panels are the most popular now. This transitioned within the last few years as customers moved from a standard, textured sixpanel design to designs that provide a more updated, yet largely traditional, look.” Four of the last five door styles the company has introduced were two-panel designs, he notes.

Unfinished interior doors are most popular, he adds, with designers often painting the doors and trim a bright color and leaving walls a neutral shade. Blending door styles throughout the home into the overall design scheme has taken on more significance, and manufacturers are working with other divisions and even outside firms to enhance that.

Masonite, for instance, introduced its Cheyenne door as an interior door and has extended the style to a fiberglass entry door. “Now homeowners can get a door package that is complementary throughout the home,” Thompson explains. Jeld Wen has taken that a step further, extending its window-frame styles to its door frames to provide matching looks. “Contractors can use one supplier and match all of their framing needs. It creates fewer orders and less to manage,” says Souders.

Therma-Tru is teaming up with roofing, siding, and window companies to create complete packages of upgraded options that work together, says Fielding. “We can leverage the entire package with dealers to provide complementary styles.”

Providing these added values can be a key element in swaying the purchase decision, just as the variety of options for glass, energy efficiency, and styling can aid builders, says Chehade. “A lot of upgrade options can be offered by builders to make each home different,” he explains. “People are paying more attention to beauty and design rather than size and other amenities.”

CRAIG A. SHUTT, a senior contributing editor of LBM Journal, has nearly 30 years of experience covering the LBM industry.

Internet Information  To learn more about these companies’ products, visit these Web sites: (companies in bold participated in this article)

AMSCO: www.amscowindows.com
Andersen: www.andersenwindows.com
Atrium: www.atrium.com
CMI (CraftMaster): www.craftmasterdoors.com
Eagle: www.eaglewindow.com
Integrity: www.integritywindows.com
Gienow: www.gienow.com
Golden Windows: www.goldenwindows.com
Hayfield: www.hayfieldwindows.com
Jeld-Wen: www.jeld-wen.com
Larson: www.larsondoors.com
Lincoln: www.lincolnwindows.com
Loewen: www.loewen.com
Marvin Windows & Doors: www.marvin.com
Masisa: www.masisa.com
Masonite: www.masonite.com
MI Windows & Doors: www.miwd.com
Milgard: www.milgard.com
MW Windows: www.mwwindows.com
Peachtree: www.peachtreedoor.com
Pinecrest: www.pinecrestinc.com
Plastpro: www.plastproinc.com
Pollard: www.pollardwindows.com
Silverline: www.silverlinewindow.com
Simonton: www.simonton.com
Simpson Door: www.simpsondoor.com
Therma-Tru: www.thermatru.com
Thermo-Tech Windows:www.thermo-techwindows.com
TruStile: www.trustile.com
WeatherShield: www.weathershield.com
Windsor: www.windsorwindows.com
Woodgrain Millwork: www.woodgrain.com

 

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