Energy and Style Top Priorities for Vinyl Patio Doors

Manufacturers and extruders suggest some movement toward larger openings too.
John G. Swanson
August 1, 2010
FEATURE ARTICLE | Products, Aesthetics & Style

Homeowners want energy efficiency. They want designer options. Priorities in the vinyl patio door market are not too different than they are in the vinyl windows, manuafcturers and suppliers agree. There are a few trends unique to vinyl doors, however, including some movement toward larger openings.

“We're seeing that energy efficiency is very high on the list for both windows and doors,” reports Sid Spear, VP of sales and marketing for Simonton Windows. When it comes to doors, “style is perhaps higher in a decision making process—for example, do I want a hinged door or a sliding door?” he continues. “However, once that decision is made, next up is energy efficiency. Homeowners especially have been educated repeatedly now that open spaces need to be filled with energy efficient products.”

As with vinyl windows, homeowners are opting for interior laminates and color exteriors in vinyl patio doors, according to manufacturers like Soft-Lite.

Energy efficiency is just as important in choosing sliding glass doors as it is with windows, agrees Mark Gallant, VP of marketing at Atrium Windows & Doors. “Perhaps even more so for solar heat gain considerations, since a sliding door unit carries so much glass area where heat gain control becomes more of a home comfort factor to consider,” he adds.

Offering the same high energy performance numbers for its vinyl patio doors as it does for its windows has enabled his company to increase its patio door business 30 percent, reports Greg Irving, VP of marketing at Soft-Lite LLC. “It enables our dealers to do a better job getting the whole house.”

Extruders offer a similar perspective. “The most common and major trend currently visible within the window and door industry is all about energy efficiency,” says David DeFelice, business development manager at the RoyalPlast Division of Royal Window and Door Profiles. “Fabricators try to sell their product offering as a complete package deal with energy efficiency as the main marketing avenue.”

“Because of the strong interest in energy savings, we’ve had OEM interest requesting more efficient vinyl patio door designs and materials,” reports Rich Anton, marketing director, Mikron Industries. “During our EnergyCore launch, we have had strong demand for a triple IG patio door system.” 

"We have customer that are already producing .30/.30 doors and are looking to increase the energy efficiency," adds Jon Hauberg, director of product research & development at Deceuninck North America.

Fashion Statements
Beyond energy efficiency, fashion is one of the most important factors influencing both vinyl window and door decisions today, says Simonton’s Spears. The company sees a growing desire for “personalization” of the home. “In many cases, the economy is restricting a homeowner’s ability to upgrade to a new home—but not the desire,” says Spears. "So homeowners are making fashion and energy efficiency changes that can make their existing homes newer to them. This often includes replacing existing windows and doors with those that are more aesthetically pleasing to complement the overall home’s decor along with being more energy efficient to save on utility bills.”

Designer options are gaining momentum across the board, agrees Gallant. “We see expansion of vinyl colors beyond basic white or tan, or the applied laminates,” he notes. “The patio door rides along with the window package to match with the balance of the look throughout the home.” 

“For many decorative features, like interior woodgrains or exterior colors, the homeowner wants the complete house package,” Irving agrees.

“They want the same look on the windows and doors. But designer features can also be more important on doors,” he adds. "That’s especially true for hardware. They want the nickel trimsets, where they may not be so concerned about the sash lock.”

Gallant makes the same point. “In the replacement market, you'll generally find extended handle hardware finish choices, but that choice usually narrows to a basic handle set for new construction applications.”  There are some trends unique to doors, however. Gallant points to growth in blinds-between-glass offerings, as an example, noting that his company has seen steady volume growth for this option over the past several years.  He also reports more use of decorative contour grids for a more French-style door look.

Larger Openings
With oversized bi-fold and lift-and-slide door systems enjoying much attention and finding a growing niche in upper-end homes, one would expect vinyl versions of such products to be gaining momentum.  Few manufacturers and suppliers see it happening yet, but they do report that vinyl doors are becoming bigger, at least.

“We have seen demand from manufacturers producing larger, multi-three and -four panel configurations, as homeowners want more outside-in viewing and entertaining,” reports Mikron’s Anton.

"We are doing a lot more testing of larger sizes," adds Deceuninck's Hausberg, pointing to 8 x 8 foot two panel models and 12 foot wide x 8 foot high three-panel doors and impact products.

Simonton sees vinyl patio doors getting larger than in the past as people want more access to the outdoors. 

“What we are seeing is that more access to the outdoors is important to people,” says Spears. "So, homes, whether new built or in renovation mode, are adding in more patio doors than in the past. People want access from a kitchen to a deck; from a home office to the outside; from a bedroom to a balcony, etc.” 

Spears, like most of these executives, does not see the bi-fold and lift-slide systems gaining traction in the market yet, however.

“These types of applications are very custom and require an architect to be able to retrofit or design into new construction,” says Hausberg. “ In the current economy, it would be hard for the average door manufacturers to justify the costs of getting into this specialty market. This will remain in the specialty shops for some time.”

Royal’s DeFelice suggests lift-and-slide and bi-fold doors are “beginning to make some rumblings” in the vinyl patio door market, however. He sees them moving into more high-end home and custom projects, but, he adds, their high cost makes it unlikely they will replace traditional sliding patio doors in most new construction and small renovation applications.

“Our dealers haven’t been pressing for it, but we’re looking to expand into new markets for us, like Florida," reports Soft-Lite's Irving. "There people expect the larger openings and I think the lift-and-slides and bi-folds will become a bigger factor in the vinyl door market.”