Multi-Panel Doors Go Mainstream

More product options propel systems beyond the warm-weather, million-dollar home market

Multi-panel sliding and folding doors that open up virtually the entire wall of a room to the outside are going more mainstream after years of being a product geared largely toward million-dollar homes. The drivers: more homeowner interest, an expansion of sales beyond warm-weather climates, and the entry into the market of large door and window manufacturers.

 
 LaCantina Doors’ aluminum, thermally controlled, impact-rated multi-panel door system combines contemporary design with high performance, according to the supplier.

“This [market segment] is picking up very quickly at the dealer level,” says Elizabeth Souders, director of product marketing for Jeld-Wen, which introduced its first non-custom, multi-panel folding door six months ago.

“Homeowners want to personalize their home with some of the touches they see in dream homes,” she says. “They want to bring the outside in and make an exquisite statement about their view. They paid a lot for the view and want the feeling of openness. We definitely see it as a product with a significant opportunity in the marketplace.”

“There still is a lot of room and growth in the upper-end market that hasn’t taken place yet, but the concept has also gained broader marketplace appeal,” says Steve Donner, general manager, Weiland Sliding Doors & Windows Inc., Oceanside, Calif.

“More people are now looking to have that seamless transition to the outside and a more seamless indoor/outdoor lifestyle,” he says. “It is all about maximizing the view and the glass. That seems to be the biggest driver of this growing segment.”

As a result, multi-panel doors are now going into homes priced anywhere from $400,000 and up, he says.

“As awareness of the product increases, so has demand; and demand has crossed over to homes in that mid-range,” agrees James Thornton, president of Centor North America Inc., the Batavia, Ill., manufacturer of multi-panel folding and sliding door hardware. “In the next few years, I anticipate a lot of our products will be installed in mid-range homes.”

Jeff De Lonay, executive vice president of Kolbe & Kolbe Millwork Co. Inc., Wausau, Wis., has observed the same market movement. “It’s a trend we started to notice last summer,” he says.

Multi-panel doors also are gaining traction outside of traditional markets such as coastal regions and the warm-weather climates of California, Arizona, Hawaii and Texas.

 
 From Panda Windows & Doors, the S.83 Thermally Broken Multi-Slide system is designed for large openings in more extreme climates.

“We have seen a lot of growth the last two years in the Mountain states like Colorado and Utah, and in places like Lake Tahoe,” says Ryan Higman, executive director of premium products at Pacific Architectural Millwork, Brea, Calif. “I also think you are going to see a surprising number of sales in boom towns in North Dakota where there is oil-fracking money.”

Additionally, there has been an uptick in sales in the Midwest, the Northeast and the Pacific Northwest, Souders notes.

Scott Staedter, senior manager of brand development for Hufcor Inc., Janesville, Wis., agrees. “We are seeing a real trend toward homeowners in northern climates purchasing these products for their lake homes, their river homes and their vacation homes to create 30-foot views or more.”

Additional growth potential
Exactly how large the market can get for multi-panel sliding, folding and lift-and-slide doors is unclear. Companies agree there is growth potential, but don’t offer specifics in regards to units or dollar volume when discussing the size of the current market.

 
Hufcor recently introduced Monarch by Hufcor moveable glass wall systems and lift-and-slide doors, developed through a partnership with Canada’s Monarch Glass Wall Systems. 

“Because of the economic conditions, the growth in the market in recent years has been minimal,” reports John Campacci, program manager, patio doors and window and door profiles, Royal Building Systems. “But in the next year, you are going to see 10 percent to 15 percent growth in this particular segment.” The Woodbridge, Ont.-based manufacturer launched its Overture folding doors last summer.

Campacci’s not alone in his optimism. Several manufacturers say there will be double-digit growth annually over the next few years because of the improving economy, more homeowner interest, and improvements in hardware that make it easier to open and close the doors, as well as technology that permits wider frame openings.

There is also a general consensus that the market is getting a boost from large window and door manufacturers. Jeld-Wen, Kolbe, Andersen Corp., and Marvin Windows & Doors have all added multi-panel door products for large openings geared at the mainstream market in the past two years.

 

Future Design Trends

 

As the market for multi-panel door systems develops, doors will get taller and wider, thermal efficiency will continue to get better, and designs will incorporate even more glass, suppliers say.

“I don’t think we’re going back to smaller openings,” says Functional Fenestration's  Renner. “We will see larger openings, more glass, more sliding products.”

Brio's O’Connor agrees. “You will see the individual door openings growing in size” from the standard 8-foot by 12-foot opening.  “We are starting to see doors 10 feet to 12 feet tall, and 16-, 20-, or 24-feet wide. As time goes on, widths and heights will increase.”

But what will drive more market inroads will be technology advancements that improve thermal efficiency and weather sealing, and permit more glass to be used inside the frame, suppliers say.

“Other than glass, everything is being made narrower to improve the view out the doors,” Renner explains. “All the other profiles and components are being scaled down.”

Hoppe's Matt Taylor agrees. “We are working on a trim solution that will be flush on the panel so the panels can slide past each other or into a pocket,” he says. “Hardware can be pretty crucial from a pure application standpoint. We have to be fairly creative in both product design and manufacturing.”

“Improvements in the insulating and thermal values of products have helped considerably in driving sales, and will continue to do so,” adds Centor's Thornton. “Thermal efficiency is a major factor in driving sales into more markets.”

The reason? Improvements in thermal technology increase the insulating properties of the doors—reducing heat loss in cold climates and preventing heat gain in warm climates. Similarly, improvements in weathersealing provide the water and wind resistance necessary in areas prone to hurricanes and strong rains such as Miami and Dade County, Fla.

“We see a trend toward high-performance products,” Renner reports. “Better glazing, tripled glazing and improved low-E coatings on glass are providing better thermal protection. The high performance of windows and doors allows you to create better views, wider panels.”

Not surprisingly, many technology advances are focused on making multi-panel doors products appealing year-round.  “The improvements in technology are turning three-season rooms into four-season rooms and giving homeowners a full view of the lake on their property, even in winter when the doors are closed,” says Huffcor's Staedter.

Even as they endeavor to grow sales of multi-panel doors, manufacturers have their eye on what might be next in the market as well. “The sister to a folding door is a folding window,” notes Kolbe's De Lonay. "That could be the next spin-off.”

“Every major manufacturer has adopted some form of this product,” says Robert Renner, president of Functional Fenestration Inc., Hawthorne, Calif., which makes door and window hardware, lift-and-slide systems, sliding door hardware, and track systems for sliding doors. “They see it as a mainstream product and a good investment. It certainly raises the awareness. In the last six months, there has been enhanced interest and inquiries about these products.”

Weiland’s Donner agrees. “The larger companies have helped the growth of the market, and that’s helped us, too. They are exposing more people to this product line, and as people investigate what’s available, they find us,” he says.

“The major companies have brought more awareness of the product” to the market, agrees Lee Maughan, general manager of LaCantina Doors, San Diego. “We’ve seen a pickup in activity in probably the last six to 12 months. We are expecting some substantial growth this year.”

LaCantina will shortly bring to market the company’s first multi-panel sliding door. “It will be out in about two months,” Maughan says. “Our customers were asking for it. Folding doors have more flexibility, but multi-panel sliding doors have more glass and provide a larger view.”

Product trends
Vinyl products are also making their way into a multi-panel door market that has been almost exclusively dominated by wood, aluminum and wood-aluminum products.

Royal introduced a vinyl folding door system this year at the International Builders’ Show in Las Vegas, and MGM Industries Inc., Hendersonville, Tenn., has launched an all-vinyl, telescoping, four-panel folding patio door for 12-foot door openings that it developed at the request of a North Carolina tract home builder.

Abe Gaskins, president and one of three co-owners of MGM, knows that the four-panel door will be a niche product, but he says it will help MGM sells its other products.

“There are so many catfish in the pond and only so much oxygen, so a niche product can help draw people in to look at your entire product line,” Gaskins explains.

Likewise, Hufcor—a manufacturer of interior glass panels and operable folding partitions—threw its hat into the large-opening exterior door market this past January, when it introduced its own multi-panel sliding door brand.

Its new Monarch by Hufcor moveable glass wall systems and lift-and-slide doors were developed through a partnership with Canada’s Monarch Glass Wall Systems, based in Barrie, Ont. Monarch—which has sold such systems in Canada the past three years—will manufacture the wall system; Hufcor will provide the glass sub-assembly for field applications.

The increasing number of products to fit large openings in homes was clearly visible at the IBS show in January. “I’ve never seen as many large-view doors showcased as I did at this year’s show,” says Kolbe’s De Lonay.

Whether folding doors, sliding doors, or lift-and-slide models will emerge as the multi-panel system of choice depends on who you ask.

“We see more demand for folding doors than sliding doors,” De Lonay reports. This is definitely a market shift, he says. “Five years ago, we probably wouldn’t even have been talking about a multi-panel folding door system.”

Other companies have experienced stronger growth in multi-panel sliding doors and lift-and-slide systems.

“We see more sliders than folding doors,” says Pacific Architectural’s Higman, whose company concentrates on the high-end residential market. “But our strongest growth is in our slide-and-seal door”—introduced in late 2010—that automatically seals when it is closed.

“We have seen a turn in the last six to seven months, with a big push for lift-and-slides because the driver in the market is what the opening looks like when the doors are open,” says Tad Shurtleff, East Coast regional sales for Panda Windows & Doors in North Las Vegas, Nev. “The lift-and-slide also allows you to do large panels—both taller and wider—and create a more open view.”

In terms of price, lift-and-slides are typically at the high-end of the spectrum; multi-panel sliding doors at the low-end; and multi-panel folding doors somewhere in-between, according to most manufacturers.

This wide array of multi-panel doors is a boost to dealers looking for greater profitability.

“These are products that can bring them higher margins,” says Kevin O’Connor, president of Brio USA, the Rochester, N.Y., manufacturer of hardware and screens for sliding and folding doors. “It wasn’t so long ago that the dealer interest was almost non-existent. But that has now changed.”

“Demand is really good,” adds Centor’s Thornton, whose company moved into a new building, 18 months ago, that is triple the size of its previous facility. “We are starting to see acceptance of large opening doors at the distribution level catch on.”

“For the last five years, multi-panel doors have been the number one or number two most-requested products by our dealers and distributors,” concurs Scott Staedter, senior manager of brand development for Hufcor. “Wider, more open spaces is what America wants. These products can provide dealers with new opportunities and higher margins.”

However, to sell them, dealers must have the capability to install walls, headers and tracking systems, manufacturers caution.

“The key for the dealer is to have installation expertise, be aware of the options that are available, and know when it is appropriate to say to the customer: ‘I’ve got an idea for you. How about this,’” Souders concludes.

 

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