Slow Progress Seen for Low-Maintenance Glass

It may not be "the next big thing" some predicted, but it is establishing a foothold in market
Lorin Hancock
May 5, 2008
FEATURE ARTICLE | Materials & Components

Window manufacturers see the low-maintenance and self-cleaning glasses on the market today as good products that really work. And while they failed to capture the consumer attention some expected, these glasses are starting to gain traction and may eventually become the standard.

"I don't believe many people know it exists," says Wayne Gorell, president and CEO of Gorell Windows and Doors. "I can't remember seeing any consumer ads featuring it, ever." He talks about a recent case, when involved in a house-building project, where he spoke to two large regional builders about the possible inclusion of low-maintenance glass in the house. "Neither had ever heard of it-let alone homeowners." He says that the companies most successful with this product are the "true in-home professionals" who conduct in-depth product demonstrations and explain the features and benefits.
Spreading awareness about the product is slow-going, agrees Jeff Williams, senior brand manager for architectural marketing at Weather Shield. "Most consumers are not aware of the option until they begin shopping for windows-which is a purchase that most people only make a few times in their lives."

Sales of low-maintenance glass have "been up, relative to the economy we're in right now," reports Kyle Hendren, product marketing manager for Amsco Windows. He agrees, however, that most customers aren't educated about the product, but notes that offering something that people don't know much about is "a great way to differentiate a dealer." Selling windows on low-maintenance glass alone is not the way to approach the sale, he continues, but it definitely serves as an added bonus.

Some window manufacturers sell it as a distinct feature, but many see it progressing more successfully combined into an upgraded glass package. The Zo-e-shield glass package offered by Peachtree and Weather Shield features their EasyCare glass as one of five specific benefits that also include energy efficiency, security and UV protection. "Offering [low-maintenance glass] as a component of Zo-e shield has increased the use of EasyCare dramatically," says Kibler. "We still offer EasyCare Low E2, but in general, if people are going to upgrade glazing, they'll choose to upgrade to Zo-e-shield for all of its added benefits."

Williams agrees: "It's an added benefit of the Zo-e-shield; builders and homeowners are really choosing Zo-e-shield for the environmental benefits rather than the convenience of EasyCare."

Billed as self-cleaning by some glass manufacturers and low-maintenance by others, these glass products use photocatalytic technology, which uses the sun's UV rays to break up dirt and allow rain water to rinse it away and/or a hydrophilic technology, which keeps water from adhering to the surface to avoid water spots and dirt collection. Most manufacturers are satisfied with the technology available, and don't see that as the limiting factor.

"I think they're all pretty decent products and I think they really work," says Amy Zimmerman, vice president of marketing for Republic Windows and Doors. "They've gotten better, but being better is less important." She believes that there needs to be a better way to demonstrate the benefits to customers through comprehensive videos and "proper in-home demonstrations." She points out that as long as customers don't know about or understand the product, it doesn't matter how good they get.

"I see it as a slowly growing market, gaining share as people hear more about its benefits," predicts Gorell. "This market will grow, but I believe glass manufacturers expected it to be the next 'Low-E' and this just hasn't happened," he predicts. "It's our belief that it takes a specialty dealer to present the values [and] benefits of low-maintenance glass. People selling on price won't present it."

Zimmerman reports that Republic has one dealer selling low-maintenance glass as part of every window, offered as an extra, and this has helped them sell 35,000 windows per year. Marion Miller, in building and materials sales at Keim Lumber, agrees that it is best marketed as a bonus. "As a whole there hasn't been a huge demand for it," he says. "I don't think a lot of them really understand exactly what it does."

Dealers and manufacturers selling to the sunroom market have an advantage with the product. "In a room of glass," says James Ruppel, corporate marketing director of Four Seasons Sunrooms, "people say, 'Oh my god, how am I going to wash all this?' When you have roof glass it becomes more of a concern."

Gorell agrees, noting that low maintenance glass make perfect sense in sunrooms. "When homeowners buy a sunroom, they are envisioning the view they are going to enjoy. They don't want to think about all of the glass they are going to clean in order to enjoy that view. This is an easy sell."

But window and sunroom manufacturers remain cautious about selling the product too much. Ruppel worries about "unrealistic expectations if customers hear the buzz word." He says that people already intend to exaggerate claims in their minds, so one has to be very careful to explain what the glass actually does.

"We are having to explain to our customers that this isn't 'no' maintenance glass, this is 'low' maintenance glass," Ruppel says. "The expectations are very much that you won't have to wash your windows again, but this isn't the case." Gorell says that "because the product is difficult to demonstrate, some dealers are afraid to even bring it up-not because of price, but because of expectations of the product." He is concerned that as customers become more aware of the product and demand rises, homeowners' expectations for glass that they never have to wash will create a lot of disappointed customers.

Keeping the product from being a selling point leaves the homeowner happy that they have to clean their windows less, not upset that they have to clean them at all. Ruppel affirms that customers not knowing a lot about this product so far could be a good thing. He predicts that rather than becoming a 'buzz word' that customers are demanding, it will eventually just be expected. "Once a value-add, at some point these coatings will become standard. When that happens; I don't know," he says.

"Once consumers are made aware of EasyCare glass," says Williams, referring to Weather Shield's low-maintenance product, "they'll generally buy it because of the value it provides for little additional cost...It's such a small upcharge that it's worth the convenience." He also predicts low-maintenance glass "will become the quid pro quo industry standard in the near term. Very few windows will be sold without an easy-cleaning coating on the exterior surface."