Despite disruptions, the fenestration market continues to dominate.
Since we humans began incorporating doors and windows into our homes, a wealth of superstition and myth has sprung up around both openings. For example, an acorn placed on a windowsill was thought to not only bring good luck but to also ward off lightning. In Vermont, there’s a tradition of “witch windows” that are diagonally-installed to protect a home from witches (since the belief was that witches couldn’t fly on their broomsticks through the oddly-placed openings).
Doors have their mythology, too. There’s a southern American tradition that six-panel doors will ward off bad spirits. A Brazilian superstition claims it’s bad luck to unlock a door on someone else’s house, while in Ireland, a red door was thought to ward off ghosts. And if you were unlucky enough to have built your house across a path frequently travelled by trooping faeries, you’d best leave your front and back doors open at night so they had an unblocked road and would leave you untroubled.
While these beliefs can’t be proven true, there’s a lot that can be said with relative certainty about windows and doors—and the fenestration industry as a whole. Industry demand, for example, is no myth, and manufacturers feel confident in continued growth similar to last year. “The last two years have been unexpectedly high, as a lot of folks stayed home and did window and door projects during COVID-19,” says Jamison Eige, vice president of retail and OEM sales for ODL. “There were certainly supply issues, although lead times are actually coming down and becoming more manageable. We believe that window and door sales through the balance of this year will continue the rapid growth that we saw during COVID.”
Of course, the potential for market instabilities could have a significant impact on growth potential, and those fluctuations are hard to predict. “It depends upon which crystal ball is being gazed into, but the prognostication will certainly change tomorrow,” explains John Plummer, CEO and president of GlassCraft Door Company. “I won’t list the determinate and influencing factors—we are all aware—and there are new ones every day. So, how will the market fare for the next twelve months? GlassCraft will manufacture more doors and sell them for higher per unit costs than we did in 2021. Probably many more doors. Probably at 10% to 15% higher prices per unit. Maybe.”
Performance and bold aesthetics still hold sway
When compared to last year, trends in windows and doors aren’t radically different, manufacturers say, and the performance desires that drove purchases in 2021 will continue to hold sway in the near future, if not be an even more important factor in purchase decisions.
At the time of this writing, geopolitical tensions have driven the cost of oil to prices not seen since 2014, and as a result energy costs have increased across the board. Manufacturers suggest that this pricing trend will continue to drive homeowners to choose door and window products that deliver high levels of energy efficiency.
When it comes to aesthetic and style trends, the desire to create a moody, dramatic aesthetic through the use of black or very dark colors that gained popularity over the past few years is here to stay, as is utilizing larger windows and doors while embracing clean, modernistic design. “Consumers are decorating and building homes to be more modern with a nod to commercial products,” says ODL’s Eige.
“Thin is in,” says GlassCraft’s Plummer. “Thin stiles and rails on doors means big glass panels. And black—lots of black. Other painted door colors too, along with new glass textures such as Antique Glass.”
There also remains an intense desire among consumers to create living spaces that bring the outside in, and like last year they’re turning to larger windows and patio doors to bring in more natural light. This consumer desire to bring more of the natural world into interior spaces is part of a larger trend called bio-philic design. Put simply, biophilic design is a building concept centered around the desire to connect people with the natural environment through the use of space, place conditions, incorporation of natural elements, and the use of building materials that connect people with nature.
“Outdoor living spaces are becoming more important than ever,” said Mark Ayers, senior vice president of marketing and product development for Therma-Tru. “We offer patio, venting, and storm door products that enable homeowners to create a more seamless transition between their indoor and outdoor spaces, while allowing more natural light and fresh air inside the home. Plus, we’ve expanded our offering of 7′ doors, providing entryway styles that pair well with larger windows, which are becoming increasingly popular.”
Of course, increasing the size or number of windows in any home presents unique challenges when it comes to privacy, and manufacturers say consumers are increasingly interested in any product that can help control light and privacy. Says ODL’s Eige, “One of the ways they can do that is by using Blink Blinds + Glass, which is a great opportunity because this product comes in multiple colors, including slate gray, which enhances and works with black, and espresso which works with bronze colors.”
Labor and supply disruptions cause concern
Although labor shortages were nothing new before the emergence of COVID-19, the pandemic significantly exacerbated the situation. “Labor continues to be a challenge, both to manufacture product and to install it down the chain,” says ODL’s Eige. “I think it’s not unique to fenestration; it’s pretty much across the whole building business that there are not enough people to do the work.”
Hand-in-hand with these labor woes are significant increases in the cost of doing business. Dramatic increases in everything from the costs for wood, metals, resins, shipping— even packing materials—have proven to be major disruptors to the fenestration industry. “The supply chain will continue to be a challenge, and inflation is a challenge, especially in the replacement market where customers have to make a decision whether they’re going do a project now or wait,” says Eige. “Eight percent-plus inflation might drive somebody to decide to hold off on doing a project with the thought that it will come down and be less later.” It’s a foregone conclusion that window and door manufacturers are closely watching global conditions with a wary eye, and they, along with LBM distributors, homebuilders, and remodelers alike are concerned. Manufacturers, however, point out that they’ve made significant efforts to keep product flowing. “The supply chain is tenuous and fragile and will continue to be so for at least the next 12 to 18 months,” explains GlassCraft’s Plummer. “GlassCraft’s purchasing team has done an outstanding job of anticipating our needs and keeping raw materials flowing…even with lead times from vendors of up to eight months. We have been able to increase unit sales substantially and still grow on-hand inventory by 55% over the past 12 months.”
Transparent service is key
So, in spite of these challenges, how do successful LBM distributors keep their customers smiling? Manufacturers say, it’s through offering complete transparency with the customer.
“Dealers and contractors need to be completely forthcoming with their clients on lead times, managing expectations along the way, whether the news is good or bad,” explains Joe Klink, director of corporate relations for ProVia. “Customers should be told upfront if supplies are low or will be late, or if something changes during the expected fulfillment schedule. Delaying a difficult conversation is never a good business practice—if the customer is under the impression that everything is moving along, and then finds out his windows and doors are going to be weeks later than expected, they’ll lose trust in you.”
As well, manufacturers point out the need for LBM dealers to be able to offer reassurance to their customers that the products they do have in inventory provide the needed performance. “It’s important to provide peace of mind to customers,” says Therma-Tru’s Ayers. “We offer a certified installer program that guides trade professionals through the correct way to install a Therma-Tru door, ultimately reducing the amount of call backs. Plus, a complete, properly installed Therma-Tru door system is engineered to work together and backed by a lifetime limited warranty.”
Online resources help thwart disruptions
With so many elements of the world now existing in either a virtual or limited-contact reality, window and door manufacturers are providing more and more online training opportunities and product resources. For example, ProVia has introduced a new Quick Start video series that is developed to help dealers and contractors who may be challenged with workforce turnover and training new hires. “We realize that training can be a big hurdle for hires that are new to the building trades,” ProVia’s Klink points out. “Our intent is build a library of videos that will provide brief and basic instructions for ProVia exterior products, setting the foundation for successful installations.”
Similarly, Therma-Tru recently launched its Virtual Experience, an interactive online learning environment that educates participants both in current design trends (which Therma-Tru has designated as Casual Haven, Renewed History, and Modern Revival) as well as Therma-Tru products.
“Homeowners are asking for products that meet current design and lifestyle trends, allowing them to feel truly at home while showcasing their personal style,” says Therma-Tru’s Ayers. “Based on in-depth research, we aligned our new products around these trends to meet consumers’ functionality, durability and design needs.”
As an incentive for training participation, Therma-Tru offers its Keys 2 Success national sweepstakes for building trade professionals to learn about the manufacturer’s products and current home design trends. For watching select videos, participants have the chance to win daily and weekly prizes while staying current on the latest trends and Therma-Tru products to better facilitate conversations with homeowners.
Training and product information is not restricted to the trades; manufacturers are also releasing more online resources for consumers, and the savvy LBM distributor can utilize these product information tools to aid homeowners in product choice (and ultimately close more sales because of that customer interaction). For example, GlassCraft Door will launch a new website in June with expanded functionality that includes a new Build-A-Door feature which allows the public as well as LBM distributors to select a door, customize it to meet individual requirements, and get an immediate price.
Likewise, ODL is also going digital by providing online editions of all its printed catalogs for easier consumer access. “Customers have the ability to digitally see all different options that could go in the front door, the back door and the patio door in our Catalog+,” says ODL’s Eige.
If there’s one thing that is a constant for the LBM distributor right now, it’s that change is here to stay. Continued shipping struggles, a diminished workforce, and raw material shortages will remain in play, as will the threat of emerging new COVID variants that could spell the return of business-restricting lockdowns. Nevertheless, door and window manufacturers see the potential for a strong season, and the numbers seem to reflect that optimism. According to the Monthly New Residential Construction Report released by the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. department of Housing and Urban Development, privately-owned housing unites authorized by building permits in February of this year were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,859,000—over 7% above this time last year, and a number that spells good fortune for the LBM distributor. Still, it never hurts to set an acorn on a windowsill, just to be safe.
Michael Berger is the former managing editor for HANDY Magazine and has been writing about home improvement and construction for the past 20 years.