In Depth: Insulation & housewrap
Performance and innovation drive the insulation and weatherization product segments, both of which are positioned for strong, sustained growth.
With the upswing of the U.S. housing market, both new construction and remodeling are on the rise. According to a joint report released in September 2017 by the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, new residential building permits were at 1,215,000, with housing starts at 1,127,000, 6.1% above this same time last year.
These statistics bode well for the insulation and housewrap industries. In its “Insulation to 2019” report, Freedonia Group reported that U.S. demand for insulation is forecast to rise 7.0% annually through 2019 to $10.4 billion.
In fact, you would be hard pressed to find an industry expert who doesn’t see a positive future for weatherization and insulation. Says Sam Sprague, Vice President of Huttig Xpress, “We continue to see growth opportunities in all facets of exterior building weatherization. Not only are weather resistive/air barriers widely accepted by the building trade, they’re now required by code in most areas. And in regards to insulation,” he adds, “estimates vary from 5% – 8% growth, which is a combination of housing starts, weatherization, and more lbs. per house from codes and desire for more energy efficient insulation upgrades.”
Strong housing markets fuel growth
Because both insulation and weather barrier systems are required for just about all types of construction, logic suggests that as long as the housing market (both new construction and remodeling) continues to grow, demand for those products should grow as well. Considering the aforementioned projected growth figures, the future does indeed look bright.
“We are seeing and projecting continuous growth in the housewrap and insulation categories annually as the new housing market and growth in remodeling projects increases,” says Alan Hubbell, global Tyvek Marketing Manager for DuPont Tyvek, and the growth is not limited to only single-family construction. “Multi-family, commercial and specialty foam for fabrication are the fastest growing segments that we have observed,” says Bob Murphy, Manager of Business and Product Development for Universal Forest Products. “Single family construction has also recovered nicely in several markets across the U.S. So, I believe the rigid foam business is going to be an exciting market for years to come.”
Ian Daniels, Director of Architectural Solutions for Tamlyn, agrees with Hubbell’s optimism. “We see the market for housewrap expanding and changing as design quality and code push the issue with builders for better enclosure envelopes. This will especially ring true in residential—both remodel and new construction—as the other markets will be strong but see slower growth.”
Like most manufacturers, Universal Forest Products’ Murphy also sees strong category growth. “I do expect sales to increase steadily over the next several years,” he says. “Some of the drivers are new applications and markets for using rigid foam being discovered all the time. Add to that strong growth in continuous insulation usage and increased focus on the product segment by state and national code bodies and you have a strong market.”
Codes and technology spur product development
Codes continue to require tighter buildings, and manufacturers are responding with alternative products to help meet these needs. As a result, increased market demand for improved energy efficiency coupled with these more stringent building codes and energy requirements is forcing many builders to change the way they build. “As building envelopes and code regulations continue to become tighter,” says Allen Sealock, Product Director for ZIP System, “product manufacturers are likely to continue making products that revolutionize the way we build.”
Because of more stringent code regulations, insulation and housewrap products have evolved to meet the requirements for increased energy efficiency and weatherization performance while still allowing for proper structural ventilation. As Tyvek’s Hubbell explains, “Moving to more energy efficient construction may reduce the ability for a building assembly to manage moisture loads.
For example, adding non-vapor-permeable exterior insulation to a wall assembly has obvious energy efficiency benefits, but the vapor impermeable nature of the material will almost eliminate the wall’s ability to dry to the outside of the building, making the wall less capable of handling even small amounts of water intrusion which could be readily handled by a traditional wall system.”
Hubbell goes on to say, “An upgrade that is intended to improve one aspect of energy efficiency might have negative implications on other parts of the building, potentially resulting in a piece-meal approach that can ultimately compromise the durability of the structure. Choosing products that are designed to work as a system helps eliminate that guesswork. Proper installation of the system is critical which is why we are always looking for ways to adapt and improve our installation details.” And as Huttig Xpress’ Sprague points out, “As with any industry, both new and second generation manufacturers learn by what they have seen produced in the past. Some of the changes are due to code or climate issues; however, most innovations are created from experience.”
Product development, improvement and innovation, however, are not driven solely by more stringent codes; manufacturers are constantly looking for ways to differentiate themselves from the competition by offering technology- rich new products. “Code changes obviously drive many product changes but so does the ability to add new technology to improve existing products like the addition of graphite resin to increase R-value in EPS products and all kinds of new facer materials that provide better protection,” explains Universal Forest Products’ Murphy. “The adoption rate of new technology into building products has increased significantly. Individuals and companies are always pushing the performance envelope and looking for ways to make better insulating products. It’s a challenging yet rewarding field to be in right now, especially with all the exciting technology available to develop new products.”
Energy efficiency and moisture-handling lead trends
According to manufacturers, a leading trend in both insulation and housewrap categories continues to be a desire for greater energy efficiency—not surprising when you examine the data from the federal government. According to an October 2017 report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average American household could spend more than $1,600 for heating costs during the 2017-2018 winter heating season (depending on the type of fuel consumed). With that much money at stake, homeowners are demanding more and more performance from both insulation and housewrap.
As Huttig Xpress’ Sam Sprague explains, “Energy efficiency is becoming a requirement from homeowners. Trends are moving towards high performance insulation packages, and there’s a lot of buzz in building science today in regards to air infiltration and the effect on the energy-efficient performance of a home.” And in recent interviews conducted by DuPont Tyvek with over 100 industry professionals that included architects, builders, and contractors, it concluded that providing an airtight and energy efficient building is quickly becoming the most important factor when selecting building materials.
While Bruce Hartzell, Product Manager for CertainTeed Insulation, agrees that increased energy efficiency is becoming more and more important to both homeowners and contractors, he points out that it’s not as simple as simply making a building airtight. “Trends in increased thermal performance and improved moisture management and air tightness are being seen,” he says, “but as homes and buildings are being built tighter and tighter for energy efficiency, we have to use smarter products so that we are not trapping moisture in our walls, creating a ‘moisture sandwich.’ Walls need to block air to keep the building efficient, but let moisture escape—that’s the true trend.”
Improved moisture handling itself is another increasing product trend, and considering that the primary purpose of housewrap is to prevent moisture from entering the wall cavity, it’s no surprise that housewrap manufacturers are quick to respond to this trend. As Scott Tennison, Global Director of Building Materials for Kimberly-Clark, explains, “We believe you’ll continue to see the trend toward weatherization materials that can drain water away from the wall assembly and into the ground. We know the science behind building and how damaging moisture can be for the life of the structure. Taking the added step to install a quality, drainable house wrap will continue to protect your hard work and structure from rot, mildew and mold for years to come.”
Huttig Xpress’s Sprague agrees with Tennison’s assessment. “With more ridged lap and panel sidings being installed in recent years, it is important that the house wrap allow a space for water to drain down and out of the wall system.” Ian Daniels, Director of Architectural Solutions for Tamlyn, adds, “With housewraps, the focus is on systems that can work with other products that ameliorate the problems that come from claddings remaining wet following water intrusion events.”
Products working together as an integrated system is yet another growing trend, especially for contractors and installers who are looking not just for improved product performance but also for savings through increased speed and ease of installation. Jeff Key, Senior Marketing Manager for Georgia- Pacific, says, “More builders are beginning to see the benefits of integrated systems and are starting to experiment with alternatives to traditional house wrap. With the labor shortage issue in construction, products that can help reduce time and the amount of labor needed will be at a premium.”