December 20, 2019
Little did I know when I started at Window & Door that the Pittsburgh area is jam-packed with manufacturers in the fenestration industry. In April, I was welcomed to two local-to-me plants. I visited Thermal Windows & Doors in Murrysville, Pennsylvania, which introduced vinyl windows to the U.S. in the 1960s, Dave Steinberg, director of sales and marketing, told me.
I also attended Veka Academy last month in Fombell, Pennsylvania, an event Veka Inc. hosts twice a year that invites window and door manufacturers to visit the plant for educational sessions and a comprehensive factory tour. Kevin Seiling, vice president of engineering at Veka, welcomed the spring 2019 class during the first day, saying, “Coming here to a vinyl extruder is where it all starts.”
Although these two companies differ in what and how they manufacture, each has a good pulse on the industry as a whole. As I toured nearly 1 million total square feet across two very different factory floors, each company alike spoke to a few of the same trends: color, variety and efficiency.
Color is hot, I’m told, and the market is shifting toward darker colors. But the ways in which it’s applied are changing. Paint, for example, is on its way out. In a town hall discussion at Veka, Seiling, President and CEO Joe Peilert, and Vice President of Sales Alan Funovits, noted that paint has always been a simple solution, but not a very durable one.
Thermal Windows & Doors’ Steinberg also shared that the supply chain for painted products is challenging. Because the product goes from the manufacturer to the painter, then back to the manufacturer before making its way to the dealer and, finally, the homeowner, lead times are also extended.
Most companies appear to be moving toward laminates. Thermal Windows & Doors laminates its own products, which the company said is unique in the industry—generally, laminating is performed by the extruder. Steinberg showed me the company’s two laminating machines, one of which uses new technology to quickly change profiles and can laminate the interior and exterior with different films.
Laminates are seen as durable and reliable, but the extra layer of material can also introduce specific challenges, I was informed. In certain cases, sources say capstocking can be a good alternative.
Although total housing starts fell 0.3 percent in March, according to a report from the U.S. Housing and Urban Development and Commerce Department, there still are plenty of homes being built. The remodeling market also is ripe for opportunity. Seiling estimates 100 million U.S. homes still have single-glazed windows, which will need to be replaced. And, as indoor-outdoor living becomes an ever-bigger trend, the market for multi-panel and patio doors will continue to grow.
To capture any of this opportunity, manufacturers must be at the ready to offer myriad design options to accommodate varying budgets, geographical locations, aesthetics and homeowner preferences. And, with vinyl windows representing approximately two-thirds of the market, according to Seiling, vinyl product manufacturers must stay on top of consumer demand.
Thermal Windows & Doors is a good example of doing so. Steinberg shared that the company custom manufactures each of its products. The company can essentially make anything a customer could think to draw on a piece of paper, he said.
Each update to the building codes generally edge fenestration products toward greater efficiency, but the trend toward efficient products is driven by more than codes. Homeowners want more efficient products to lower their energy bills. Many also want to know the products in their home are ecologically sensitive.
Thermal Windows & Doors showed me how they strive to meet both requirements. The company can manufacture a vinyl window that is strong enough to hold triple pane glass, a feat that, in Steinberg’s estimate, necessitates approximately 27 pounds of vinyl. The company also strives toward sustainable manufacturing processes through practices such as recycling its vinyl and glass scrap.
Veka also strives for minimal waste and high recycling rates. The extruder recycles any vinyl scrap in addition to having a buyback program where it purchases vinyl scrap from its customers and repurposes it.
While I realize these are just two examples of what thousands of the suppliers and manufacturers that comprise our industry are doing well, I appreciated the perspective and opportunity to learn about the industry first-hand and in-person. Getting to visit actual plants is a real boon for a visual and hands-on learner like myself. I look forward to continuing this kind of education across the country and, notably, in Atlanta this fall at GlassBuild America: The Glass, Window & Door Expo. I hope to see you there—registration is now open.
Have questions or comments about anything in this Talk? Or suggestions for future topics? I’m happy to discuss. Reach me at email@example.com.