In the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, most consumers stayed in their homes and did not spend much discretionary income. Many of them, however, noted the improvements they would like to make in their house. Once the lockdowns expired, homeowners began reaching out to remodelers to discuss projects that could enhance their lives, and requests for building products skyrocketed.
“We started to see just outstanding demand levels in 2020,” recalls Cliff Birch, director of vinyl and aluminum products for Jeld-Wen. “It was probably in the second half of 2020 when it really started to ramp up, and then it just went absolutely crazy in 2021. We were out about 20 weeks [delivering to the jobsite] at one time with some of our vinyl products and patio-door offerings.”
Although lead times have normalized for most window manufacturers, the expectations of their customers evolved during the pandemic. Homeowners want to be able to customize products, so they purchase exactly what they envision for their house. Energy efficiency and biophilic design, or increasing connectivity to the outdoors, also top the list of concerns for window buyers today.
Increased demand for products depleted the raw materials used to create them and caused supply chain issues, which were exacerbated by labor shortages throughout the pandemic. While not all the way back to normal operations—but getting closer to it—Jeld-Wen can deliver a standard, white vinyl window in three weeks and a black exterior vinyl window in four weeks, Birch notes.
“Chemicals, pigments and adhesives and those kinds of things were particularly challenged,” he says. “What we ended up having to do was look for other sources and types of pigment systems that could get us where we wanted to go. We were able to find some options that are a little more sustainable, which is good. It helps us pursue our more environmentally friendly material policies.
“And it gave us a diversified supply chain, so we were able to break those up among products—where it made sense in performance and aesthetic terms—and take advantage of that to help us smooth things out. Did it go perfectly? Absolutely not. We certainly delayed some projects and caused some problems along the way just like everybody else did. But we feel like we’re doing a pretty good job in getting recovered, and we’re in an excellent position going forward into 2023.”
Auraline, a composite window and patio-door offering, takes about six weeks to be delivered as the company gets the full line up and running efficiently, Birch notes. Jeld-Wen anticipates that timeline to shorten in 2023. The manufacturer measures OTIF—the combination of on-time and in-full—and line fill rate, the percentage of lines in an order that were filled in the first shipment.
“That line fill rate has become really our key driving metric,” Birch explains. “The lead time has become less important to our customers than in-full. Our customers have clearly told us that if we are consistent and deliver on the lead time that we say we’re going to, then what’s even more important to them than the lead time being short is that all the products show up at one time.”
The supply chain can still be an issue but much less of one than 12 months ago, or even six-to-nine months ago, says Anthony Matter, director of marketing for MITER Brands. The company, which includes MI Windows and Doors, Milgard Windows and Doors, and Sunrise Windows & Doors, is working toward two weeks for lead time in the East and two-to-three weeks out West.
“Labor in general is a challenge,” he explains. “Our economy has evolved; it’s just harder to find the workforce to work in the plants and get the products out the door to the customer. But we’re making a lot of investments in equipment and processes to make the jobs easier. So, instead of people doing it, we want people monitoring things being done and doing more quality checking.”
Here to Stay
Housing prices surged during the pandemic, and mortgage rates continue to climb as the Federal Reserve combats high inflation. Remodeling, as a result, can give homeowners more benefits for their dollar than buying a new house and moving while trying to get everything they want. Often, renovating their existing living space becomes the most cost-effective way to achieve their goals.
“The pressures to stay in your home have really shifted. You saw the great migration happen for those who could; and for those who couldn’t, the home market really kind of created an intense situation for anybody who’s actually searching for a home to go through,” says Nicole Willits, a product development manager with Pella. “You’re seeing people engage a little bit more in the replacement conversation. They’re choosing to make renovations, but it’s to stay in their homes.
“One of our biggest mainstream trends has been these certain degrees of maximalism or hyper-personalization, and now we’re in this moment where we talk about it as eclecticism,” she adds. “Our trends team jokes that there is no such thing as good taste anymore—it’s just your taste. It’s the thing that makes you happy. And it becomes exercising the spirit of your home, the vibe that you want to live with day in and day out. That’s really what we see people striving to achieve.”
Instead of putting in a single window, many homeowners elect to combine a fixed window with a functional window. The large expanses of glass create unobstructed views, and the clean lines produce a contemporary design style. Some customers opt to generate interesting sidelight and transom combinations using arched windows, which Pella offers in all its lines, Willits notes.
“It can be everything from those peaked gothic arches to big, standard curves. And we’re seeing circles where people are having hyper-rounded tops come into some of the transoms—or fully circular windows,” she says. True, natural woods have come back into play for interiors as well.
Andersen recently expanded its E-Series product line to include a white oak species option and allow consumers to choose from a variety of factory finishes—including a clear coat option—to achieve a neutral, natural interior. “The new offering works to add warmth to spaces, creating an overall sense of coziness we seek in our homes and helps avoid the cold feeling that sometimes can characterize more contemporary styles,” explains Clive Rugara, senior director at Andersen.
“People want almost that unfinished look of wood, or they’re going with a lot lighter tones, and the staining choices they have are playing up the graining of the wood and the naturalness of it,” Willits adds. “As opposed to the opposite side of that, which is the dark trends [black windows].”
“Our product guy and I were just talking; a couple years ago when black hit the market and got really popular, we all thought it would be a couple-year fad,” Matter says. “But the production builders and big distributors selling a lot of new construction jobs, they’re pretty confident that black, dark color—call it the industrial look with slim lines [and] lots of glass—it’s here to stay.”
The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 carved out three specific clean and renewable energy tax provisions that should affect remodeling. Windows eligible for the new home-improvement tax credit this year will be based on Energy Star’s Most Efficient 2023, as opposed to the standard Energy Star program. Because windows with a better U-factor (0.20 or lower) tend to be more expensive, the savings might not be as impactful as previous credits and rebates, Matter notes.
“Certainly, it’s going to require some additional low-e coatings in most cases—or some special gases between the panes of glass—to really get those new values down to the qualifications that meet that most-efficient category,” he says. “And again, those things increase cost. But you’re going to be getting a great window. From an energy-efficient standpoint, it’s the best out there.”
“We’ve offered triple-pane glass in some of our premium vinyl options and our wood options for some time,” Birch says. “We’re looking at new technology to make triple-glazed windows more available and also make that something that’s a little bit more ubiquitous. We want to make sure that we have our product lines ready to move to Energy Star 7.0 that is coming out [this] year.”
Jeld-Wen is always looking for new glass-spacer technologies to make its insulating glass more efficient, along with better weather-stripping and a tighter tolerance assembly, he adds. “Cracks and air losses—those are your biggest energy drains, so we’re always working on those things.”
Andersen and Ubiquitous Energy, a leader in transparent solar technology, entered into an agreement to jointly develop energy-generating window and door products. They are working together to bring products to market that aim to revolutionize solar generation for both residential and light commercial buildings. The products will leverage Ubiquitous Energy’s UE Power technology, a visibly transparent photovoltaic glass coating that harnesses solar power to generate electricity.
“Remaining almost indistinguishable from traditional windows, the products the companies are jointly developing are intended to bring renewable energy generation to windows and provide a clear, natural experience similar to what is expected from traditional windows,” Rugara explains.
Biophilic design, the practice of connecting people and nature within the built environment, also enables homeowners to take advantage of natural lighting. Larger windows with expansive glass frame outdoor views and bring in plant-nurturing light, Rugara notes. The increased sunlight can kill bacteria and other harmful particles as well, improving the indoor air quality for inhabitants.
Both the Marvin Skycove and Awaken Skylight Window provide a seamless transition between indoor and outdoor environments, says Christine Marvin, chief marketing and experience officer for Marvin. “These products offer impeccable craftsmanship and innovation in both design and function and help foster connection to the outdoors for a heightened sense of well-being indoors.
“From innovations catered to improving indoor air quality to the little things that makes our lives just a bit easier—like a window that provides a quiet space for relaxation—the desire for better living at home encompasses every part of the house that has the power to enable an improved quality of life indoors,” she continues. “Our homes have a direct impact on the way we feel.”
To give contractors the tools and visibility to help run their business, many manufacturers have developed online portals that offer installation instructions, how-to videos and status updates on orders. ProVia allows its customers to customize and configure windows through EntryLink as well as the ProVia App, says Julie Monroy, product manager of windows and vinyl patio doors.
“We also offer an installer certification program, which allows installers an opportunity to have hands-on training by our skilled team of in-house experts,” she explains. “This includes a tour of each of our manufacturing plants, where they can gain knowledge of the manufacturing process.”
MITER Brands, on the other hand, employs American Architectural Manufacturers Association (AAMA) installation master instructors who can bring customers into a facility for training or go out into the field, Matter notes. “We’ve got over 100 sales reps across the country who are with their customers, builders and contractors every single day, helping them through jobsite issues and providing assistance. We’ve got service techs across the country who also do the same thing.
“The next couple of months are going to be really interesting,” he adds. “There’s a little bit of angst in the market. How much of a slowdown is this? Could people overbuy a little bit? We’ve got customers that we would love to sell who are now giving us a shout, but we’re having to earn that business. People are shopping around a little more than before in terms of window supplier.” QR