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June, 2007

Siding

As homeowners demand “personal style” for their homes, siding product lines expand to meet the mix-and-match era.

By Craig A. Shutt

As homeowners gain more confidence in their (or their contractor’s) design sense, they are personalizing the outsides of their homes more than ever. The result has been an expansion of siding materials in all sizes, shapes, and colors being used on homes, including a mix-and-match mentality that has increased the SKU count for all types of siding.

"We’re seeing a growth in the mix of materials on the home, such as vinyl with polymer shakes, or stone and brick accents,” says Phyllis Vail, director of marketing for CertainTeed in Valley Forge, Pa., which makes both vinyl and fiber-cement siding. "Multiple products are being used to create a more designer-oriented look that includes accents on dormers and other locations. There is so much you can do creatively now with the different types of siding.”

Mark Axelrod, director of marketing for Crane Performance Siding in Columbus, Ohio, which makes vinyl siding, agrees that styles are branching out. "Homeowners really want the exterior of their homes to express their personalities,” he says. "They want to contrast textures and colors to emphasize the lines of the home and create more depth and dimension.”

Crane’s consumer focus groups have showed that homeowners have long wanted to express this individuality, he notes, "but they were scared to get too personal.” He says consumers weren’t confident enough in their own style, and feared their choices might impact resale value. "Homeowners didn’t want to use earth tones all the time, but they were afraid of making a mistake,” Axelrod says. "So they went conservative. That’s changing now.”

That expanding style is also true within wood products, says Reed Brunson, product manager for CedarOne western red cedar siding at Weyerhaeuser in Cumming, Ga. The company makes a variety of wood-based siding products. "Our display materials for dealers emphasize the versatility of wood siding,” he says. The company offers horizontal, vertical, beveled, tongue-in-groove, and other styles, and its materials point out that the color of wood siding can be changed easily if desired. "Cedar wood accepts paints and stains better than any other product and even other species of wood.” Color options definitely are expanding, led by new formulations that allow vinyl products to offer darker hues that resist fading better. "The technology has improved greatly, so we can finally offer darker colors,” says Clancy DeArmond, vice president of U.S. sales for Royal Building Products in Devon, Pa. Barn red, forest green, and richer blues are popular, marketers report.

Prefinished Options Grow

Prefinished options in wood and fiber-cement siding are becoming popular too, notes Lisa Santerian, marketing manager for WeatherBoards, a fiber-cement siding from CertainTeed. The line comes in 16 colors and offers a 50-year limited warranty on its recently introduced prefinished option.

Prefinishing also is growing in popularity for cedar siding, says Paul Mackie, western area manager for the Western Red Cedar Lumber Association. "Cedar siding can be warranted when it comes with a factory-applied finish, and contractors like that benefit,” he says. A primer is applied to all sides of the cedar, with a topcoat applied in the factory or the field. "In all regions, there are times of the year when a finish can’t be applied in the field, so a factory finish is definitely preferred then,” he explains. "Consumers are very interested in the warranty that they can receive.”

"Prefinishing is definitely on the upswing,” says Weyerhaeuser’s Brunson. "As an industry, we didn’t used to recommend it but now we do. When we put a coating all around…to protect the siding, it provides better performance against moisture and more steadiness.” That can be a hard sell in some areas, however, adds Ben Skoog, marketing manager for SmartSide Siding engineered-wood products for Louisiana Pacific in Nashville, Tenn. "There is a definite desire at the builder level for prefinished siding, but it can be difficult to make it cost-effective, particularly in the South, where contractors can paint all year round and labor costs are low.”

Sizes, Shapes Expand

Sizes of boards and panels also are growing. CertainTeed’s WeatherBoards, for instance, are offered in 4-ft. widths and lengths of 8-, 9-, and 10 ft. LP touts the 16-ft. lengths for its SmartSide Siding, which creates fewer seams with its longer length.

Royal offers lengths of 16- and 25 ft. for its vinyl siding, says DeArmond. "With 25-ft. lengths, you can create an almost seamless look, and that’s the biggest objection that homeowners have to vinyl siding.” CertainTeed offers a range of widths for its vinyl siding, to provide different looks, says Vail, including 7-, 9-, and 10-in. widths. "There’s a whole gamut of options available today to create a unique appearance.”

The region of the country definitely determines the most popular options in colors, sizes, and shapes, marketers agree. "The East and Midwest are big vinyl markets, but fiber-cement products are growing in those markets,” reports CertainTeed’s Santerian. Weyerhaeuser also has noted the differences across the nation for its CedarOne siding, says Brunson. "Certain markets are more traditional. New England, for instance, favors a prefinished board so they can paint it, and that won’t change.” Most markets, especially those in resort areas or around lakes and mountains, prefer a knotty finish, while the Northwest prefers a clear look.

Those regional differences are based in part on the local environment and architectural styles, but even those preferences are changing. "We’re seeing housing trends spread across the country,” says Crane’s Axelrod. "Our board-and-batten style is becoming popular everywhere.” As people move, they like to take part of their background with them and use it to personalize their new home. That helps spread styles, making it more difficult to characterize each region’s preferences every year.

Material Choices Widen

The choice of materials also is expanding as homeowners seek to find ways to personalize their homes’ appearances. "We’re seeing many homeowners become interested in stone products as they add more outdoor-living spaces,” says Bob Heath, market development leader for the Cultured Stone products at Owens Corning in Napa, Calif. "There’s been a dramatic increase in the interest in outdoor living, and that has led to more stone being used on fireplaces and other areas that need a facing material.” Those options have extended beyond siding to include landscaping around pools and courtyards, and uses such as fencing, columns, and planters.

Stone products are gaining popularity as accents on homes, he says, even when other products dominate the façade. "We are seeing it used as an accent material or as a wainscot or around an entryway.”

Crane also has seen interest in stone products grow. It recently introduced a line of polymer-based panelized stone siding called BellaStone. Unveiled at the International Builders Show in January and shipping in May, the products are part of the company’s new Exterior Portfolio by Crane line that emphasizes a designer orientation. "We’re finding that customers are using 200- to 300-sq.-ft. of stone to create a focal point on the home’s face,” Axelrod explains. The panelized approach offers benefits in installation that appeal to contractors who don’t want to have to work with stone, he notes.

Fiber-cement products are growing for many of the same reasons, as customers look to add new textures and materials without the need for high installation labor bills. "There is definitely room in the market for fiber-cement products to continue to grow,” says CertainTeed’s Santerian. "We’re gaining from the growing popularity of new textures, and even with the overall market down, we’re taking some share from more traditional materials such as stucco, brick, and even wood.”

Market Takes A Hit

While the mix of siding materials is evolving, the overall size of the market is not expected to expand in the foreseeable future, according to a recent study released by the Freedonia Group in Cleveland. Strong growth on the nonresidential side, spurred by the return of new industrial, commercial, and office-building activity, will only offset the drop in sales caused by weakening single-family housing starts. The Freedonia Group predicts a flat market of 117 million squares per year through 2010, with materials favored by commercial buildings gaining market share.

"Vinyl siding will maintain its position as the leading type of siding in use, due to its competitive cost and established position of market dominance in the residential-improvement and repair markets,” says the report. "Nevertheless, vinyl’s total market share will begin to erode, reflecting the material’s dependence on weak residential markets and growing competition.”

The key competitor will be fiber-cement products, the report notes, which will continue to take market share. The report estimates these products will offer the only significant market-share growth in the next few years, ultimately surpassing wood and brick. "These materials are still relatively new to the U.S. market, and are benefiting from their low cost, durability, and appearance,” the report says. Even so, gains will be slowed in coming years as compared to the dramatic growth they have experienced in the past 10 years, due to the weak residential market.

"The market slowdown is having an impact on all building materials,” says CertainTeed’s Vail. "But vinyl siding is more geared to the remodeling market,” which often grows as new housing starts falter. "If you decide not to move, you may decide to spruce up your home.” Cultured Stone’s Heath agrees. "There’s been a slowing in the new residential-housing market for nine months or so, and we don’t see any immediate breakout from that,” he says. "But even with that degree of softness, we’re still seeing the growth of stone products.”

Price Pressure Looms

The slowdown has builders looking to cut costs, which affects the entire category, says LP’s Skoog. "Builders are looking for cost-effectiveness throughout the home, and that has a cascading effect on all siding products. If they used brick, they now might use brick only on the front; if they used fiber-cement or wood siding, they may shift to vinyl siding. Builders can’t pass siding costs along to homeowners now because of the market.”

LP can benefit from those shifts, he notes, because the product is predominantly sold in the Sunbelt, where vinyl is not as popular as in other regions. Builders are cutting back on their brick use by using lap siding, and LP’s products offer a value alternative in that category. Other manufacturers, too, can benefit from this slippage—but they also can wind up on the losing side as builders look to reduce their costs and shift to less expensive alternatives.

"The downturn in new construction mostly affects the entry level of vinyl-siding sales,” notes Royal’s DeArmond. "That’s what builders use the most, and that has been affected drastically. Builders are more cost-conscious now, so they’re hammering their distributors and dealers, and the vendors in turn, for lower prices.”

All agree that remodeling and renovation offer stronger markets. "Siding replacement is one of the most popular home-improvement projects, and homeowners usually look to upgrade the exterior look,” says Cultured Stone’s Heath. "New housing is still the largest segment of our market, but the home-improvement market is growing nicely for us.”

"Remodelers definitely use better products,” agrees Royal’s DeArmond. "They use the selling points like darker colors, better woodgrains, 3⁄4-in. vs. a 1⁄2-in. butt, and insulation.” But companies’ improvements have ironically hurt them there too, he notes. "Remodelers often use our lower-end product because it’s still a strong option for them.”

Appearance Is Key Factor

When push comes to shove, DeArmond says, "Builders will pay more money for a product that substantiates the look of wood. Fiber-cement products have gained ground because of that. It’s more expensive, but it provides that look that homeowners want.”

Weyerhaeuser’s Brunson agrees. The company offers both composite and cedar products, and when the two are shown together, the differences are apparent. "Nothing looks like real wood,” he says. "Homeowners definitely are looking for that grain pattern today. We see a lot more siding being stained to bring that out.”

Adds LP’s Skoog, "Everyone wants to replicate the look of cedar. And a lot of homeowners are saying that if they want wood, they ought to start with wood.” LP’s product combines wood wafers with preservatives that allow the product to retain the appearance of wood while providing more durability. "First and foremost, homeowners are sold on the appearance of the product,” says Crane’s Axelrod. "You can have energy savings, sound-deadening properties, and other benefits, but if it doesn’t look as natural as they want, their interest is lessened.”

Durability A Strong Point

Another key ingredient is durability and low maintenance, all agree. "Low maintenance is definitely expected in products today,” says Crane’s Axelrod. But virtually all products can promote some form of ‰ low maintenance, at least within the realm of their own materials. "We explain that periodic maintenance is needed, but any composite or fiber-cement product requires that,” says Weyerhaeuser’s Brunson.

As new technologies emerge, the need for maintenance is being reduced even for wood products, notes WRCLA’s Mackie. Chemical companies are working in nanotechnology, the study of microscopic materials, to add tiny beads and other materials to increase the durability of stains. "Weathering tests are showing tremendous promise for increasing service life by five, six, or seven times,” he says.

These protective materials now are being applied in some factories, but the challenge is to spread them more widely, including making them available in a can. Their potential for improvement remains smaller on vertical surfaces such as siding as compared to decks, notes Weyerhaeuser’s Brunson, but they do offer new possibilities for adding durability.

Being "Green” Helps

"The green-building movement definitely has started to mature,” says LP’s Skoog. "Ten years ago, it was a bunch of noble folks talking to each other. Now, it’s hooked into the mainstream and is a serious topic for builders, who want to know what it means for them to be using sustainable design. As a wood-based company, we believe that using trees is as sustainable as possible.” LP in fact favors younger trees, seven to eight years old, rather than old-growth trees. Since the company cuts the trees into wafers to make engineered wood, it doesn’t need long lengths, and using younger trees allows them to be replaced more quickly.

The green aspects of wood are strong drawing cards, Weyerhaeuser’s Brunson agrees. The company promotes that it takes less energy to produce its products; that they’re naturally preserved and accept paint and stain readily, and that waste is easily returned to nature. "Green building is a big concern for builders,” he says. "They’re all looking to be more ‘green,’ and they’re asking us how our products help them do that.”

Even fiber-cement products, which are energy-intensive due to the cement’s manufacturing process, are taking steps to reduce their environmental footprint. CertainTeed, for instance, has changed the formulation of its products to include 30% post-industrial recycled waste in its cement formulation, consisting of fly ash (created by burning coal in industrial plants), which replaces a portion of the cement. The company also notes that the material’s durability makes it sustainable because it won’t need to be replaced, thereby saving material used in re-siding later on.

"Green is a big factor today, and we want to explain the green element in our products,” says CertainTeed’s Santerian. But LP’s Skoog says that the level of awareness or interest can vary by region, with it being particularly high in cities known for their natural environment, such as Denver. "We find that sustainability is typically the fourth most important criteria in a purchase, after durability, appearance, and cost-effectiveness,” he says.

Similarly, insulated vinyl products are growing in popularity as homeowners look to save energy and increase comfort levels in the home. "Energy efficiency related to green building is a key element,” says CertainTeed’s Vail. "We’re seeing more insulated horizontal traditional siding, which is getting wider. It’s competing better in the West and Midwest, where wood has been prevalent, because it offers a nice, flat face.” The insulated backing also improves impact resistance by as much as five-fold and helps control sound, providing additional benefits.

Expanded Options Add SKUs

This widening range of options helps homeowners create a unique look, but it puts a burden on the supplier and dealer to stock a multitude of SKUs. However, that abundance may not last long, particularly if housing starts continue to remain slow. "I expect there will be some consolidation of product lines in the industry,” says Royal’s DeArmond. "Right now, there’s too much offering. I expect companies will have to become more focused and downsize their product lines.”

Even if that happens, homeowners’ desire for variety and creativity will ensure that the range of offerings will remain wider than in the past. "Homeowners will always want something different,” DeArmond says. "But it could swing back in new directions.”

Crane’s Axelrod agrees. The company has partnered with architect Duo Dickinson in Madison, Conn., to create a wider grouping of products in its Designer Portfolio. Dickinson, the co-founder of the Congress of Residential Architects, is helping to create designs and colors that work together. "Design should be accessible to everyone, and there are elements of style and design that fit every home,” says Axelrod. "Our goal is to educate people about how to create designs so they can feel more comfortable with their individual style.”

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

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