Window Trends: Bold Colors, Greater Efficiency
authors Chuck Ross
If eyes are windows to the soul, then windows must be similarly important to how we understand our homes and other buildings — and, from inside those buildings, windows are the eyes keeping us in touch with our surrounding environment. But today’s windows are much more than simple glass-covered openings, with homeowners now demanding ever-higher energy performance and design options. Labor-stretched remodelers also are turning to window manufacturers for help, seeking new features that make ordering and installation easier and faster.
Energy efficiency is especially important to remodeling and replacement customers because it reflects the prime reason homeowners are looking for new windows, according to Pella product specialist Stacy Seelye. “One of the No. 1 reasons people replace windows and doors is energy efficiency,” she says, “whether it’s for comfort or their utility bills.”
But today energy efficiency isn’t as simple as making windows airtight, a factor emphasized in recent updates to the U.S. Dept. of Energy’s well-recognized Energy Star certification program. In addition to air infiltration and insulation, the standard also focuses on solar heat gain. Energy Star Version 6.0, which took effect in most of the country last January and goes into effect in the Northern Zone just this month, has increased performance requirements for insulating and solar heat gain performance.
Energy Star’s regional approach is important because energy-use patterns differ across the U.S. For example, solar heat gain can drive air-conditioning use up in Southern states, but it also can supplement the output of hard-working furnaces in cold Northern winters. As a result, Energy Star allows for a higher solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC) for window, skylight and door products sold in the coldest climates.
Window manufacturers are well aware of such differing regional requirements and have a number of options for meeting them. For example, as most windows now feature at least two (and sometimes three) panes, there are more options for engineering low-
emissivity (Low-E) coating placement to meet varying needs.
“As demands have changed, we’ve given more options where that low-E coating can be placed,” says Brandon Jacobson, another of Pella’s product specialists. In warmer regions, that coating will be placed on the exterior face of the exterior pane, while it might be specified for the inner face of that pane in colder climates to allow slightly more heat gain — and to better reflect the home’s own heat inward.
Because Energy Star-rated products, which often come with a price premium, aren’t in every homeowner’s budget, manufacturers have been working to ensure efficiency upgrades are possible at every price point. As a result, almost all suppliers now offer multiple window lines, with increased performance and customization available as budgets go up.
“Regardless of segment, energy efficiency is a topic that matters,” says Christine Marvin, Marvin Windows’ marketing director. However, it doesn’t mean all customers will be striving for top-tier performance. “I see double-pane windows with argon remaining the standard, unless it’s driven by code.”
Marvin isn’t alone in predicting the continuing consumer preference for at least a base level of improved efficiency. “There should still be energy efficiency at all budget levels,” says Elizabeth Souders, director of product management and marketing with JELD-WEN. “We want to have options that take the sun out in Florida and let that warmth in during the Minnesota winters.”
“You’ve got some [consumers] who are very focused on thermal performance, and those folks are more likely to look at some sort of enhanced glass package,” agrees Mark Montgomery, marketing vice president for Ply Gem Windows. “The other portion is very budget-focused, so they’re looking at what meets codes and what meets their budget.”
Ply Gem Windows recently launched the mid-tier Siteline Series of wood and clad-wood windows and patio doors that illustrates the variety of options now available to consumers as they move up in price point. In addition to the rot-resistant AuraLast wood protection process, the windows come standard with Low-E3-366 glass — a Cardinal Glass Industries product that adds a third layer of silver coating for improved SHGC ratings.
Many in the industry, though, see consumers remaining most focused in entry- and mid-level products. “Certainly, we still sell more double-pane than triple,” says Phil Wengerd, market strategies vice president with ProVia, though he sees some growing interest in higher-performing products as efficiency has become more of a priority. “We see a little bit of a trend in the direction of triple-glazed,” he continues. “I think the awareness of [efficiency] makes it easier for dealers to sell more energy-efficient windows than they have in the past.”
The company recently launched a four-tiered lineup targeted to budget, efficiency and super-efficiency oriented homeowners. The entry-level ecoLite Series comes with a standard ¾-in. glass package, while Aeris, Aspect and Endure lines offer the ability to specify an overall thickness of the glass package, up to 1 in., which enables remodelers to address the needs of multiple exposures on a single house. “We’ve made that easy for our dealers, so if they want to do that it doesn’t take much effort on their part,” Wengerd says.
Beyond performance, today’s homeowners also are looking for products with a visual pop, and that means color is back for window sashes and trim. Perhaps it has something to do with homeowners feeling a bit more confident post-recession about pushing the design envelope — siding and trim manufacturers have seen a similar interest among their customers. Regardless of the cause, though, it seems basic white has become blasé for many remodeling customers.
“We’re seeing more color, and we’re seeing a lot of darker colors,” Ply Gem’s Montgomery says. “Two of our largest selling colors are black and bronze.” Several years ago, the company introduced a coextrusion technology for its higher-line vinyl products that allows customers to choose a darker exterior color, such as bronze, while maintaining a traditional white interior finish.
Ply Gem certainly isn’t alone in this observation. “One of the big things is dark colors — black in particular — we’re really noticing,” says Seelye from Pella, “and gray. It’s a new neutral palette, so we have colors in our offerings that complement that.”
“You cannot ignore the preference for darker finishes,” Christine Marvin agrees. “It’s a statement — I’ve seen it a little more in contemporary and transitional homes.”
Adding to the variety, Wengerd explains, ProVia is seeing interest in metallic finishes along with more customizable interior options. “We’re getting a lot more requests for what people are calling a white bronze window,” he says. “And we’re seeing more people utilizing interior grids than in the past to create a lot of other architectural designs.”
Some customers aren’t satisfied with just a single color, notes JELD-WEN’s Souder. “You don’t have to have all the colors match,” she says. “The sash doesn’t have to be the same color as the frame — you can get back to more detailing on the home.”
Souder notes all this added color can have an even bigger visual impact when combined with the growing preference for larger windows. “We’re definitely seeing a growing openness for larger units and wanting more glass,” Souder says, “just being able to catch more of the view outside the window.”
So what do all these new design options mean for remodelers — both in ordering time and installation? Along with boosting efficiency and adding new colors, window manufacturers have been paying attention to what installers want most, with many adding time-saving details any contractor would appreciate.
“The remodeler is looking for anything that makes their lives simpler, quicker and addresses the needs of their customers,” JELD-WEN’s Souders says. For example, her company offers vinyl windows with an integral nailing fin and brick mould trim, designed for faster installation from a home’s exterior and no need for popping off (and possibly damaging) interior trim.
JELD-WEN’s not alone in this approach; a number of manufacturers also offer similar factory-assembled installation and trim options. Marvin can attach casing at its factory for wood and extruded aluminum windows, and also offers some similar options for its Integrity line of Ultrex fiberglass products. Pella’s Ready Trim program supplies contractors with pre-assembled trim assemblies that are packaged like a picture frame and are available pre-finished. ProVia’s MasterFit Interior Trim System includes assembled frame extensions that interlock in mortise-and-tenon fashion, without the need for nails. Ply Gem’s 1500 Series comes with integral jamb shims, along with an extruded nail fin, so it’s possible for a single worker to install the windows.
But ease of ordering and faster turnaround times also are high on remodelers’ wish lists, and several suppliers have developed special programs to meet these needs. Marvin’s Integrity line offers one good example. “The [line’s] entire business model is built around a 10-day delivery to the dealer,” Christine Marvin says. She adds her company’s overall dealer-focused go-to-market strategy offers an added valuable level of service remodelers appreciate.
“There’s no question that product is just one piece of it — the other piece is service,” she says. “We don’t sell through big box retailers because we believe in that one-on-one with the customer.”
Similarly, Pella counts on its team of in-the-field sales consultants who can take over the job of taking measurements at the jobsite — and may even interface with homeowners themselves. “We have a very hands-on approach with our local sales force,” Jacobson says. In addition to delivering directly to the jobsite, the company’s local offices also deliver in stages, for bigger jobs.
“If it’s a heavy remodeling project, sometimes some of the accessories aren’t necessary right away,” he says. “We actually hold the screens and hardware items to make sure they aren’t damaged on the jobsite.”