A Replacement Dilemma

Jim Snyder
August 19, 2014
COLUMN : From the Field

This month, I’m revisiting an important subject: the future of the window replacement industry. My last column on the matter—in the October 2013 issue of Window & Door—addressed the increased difficulty and reduced replacement options we will face in the years ahead. Ironically, this will result from technological advances in new construction fenestration and wall interface that make traditional replacement products less applicable and full-frame replacements less practical. I recently spoke on this topic at the WDMA Technical Conference, and when preparing for my presentation, I had a revelation: For the replacement industry to remain strong, we must keep replacement practical for the industry, and affordable for the consumer. And here’s the problem: We’re not. I realized this could potentially devastate the replacement market…and the industry as a whole.

Are we recognizing the replacement challenges of tomorrow in the new construction of today?

Here’s why: The fenestration industry has two primary markets: new construction and replacement. Based on U.S. Industry Statistical Review and Forecast data of recent years, replacement—and remodeling—has dominated market share based on number of units sold.

In a new construction downturn, replacement is necessary to sustain our industry. We are using better technologies in new construction, but in doing so, making replacement less possible. We just haven’t felt this impact yet.

The Dilemma

The difficulties presented by next-generation replacement are flying under the radar. This is not due to any one event, new construction technique or new construction fenestration design. It’s cumulative and gradual.

And we are inadvertently the cause of the problem. As our new construction fenestration products and practices evolve, so must our replacement systems. At this point, we don’t have replacement systems up to the challenge.

Several installation-related industry committees in which I participate are revising older installation best practices or creating new ones, such as FMA/AAMA/WDMA Standard Practice for the Installation of Windows into Walls Utilizing Foam Plastic Insulating Sheathing. Driving these efforts is the need for better installation standards to improve performance and accommodate new technology wall systems. We continue to add more steps to the new construction installation process, which means for future replacement—primarily full-frame—there will be more to “unwrap” while attempting to do no harm to the interface.

Call To Action

We have to balance our two sales markets: new construction and replacement. In doing so, we have to consider the effects that new construction technology will have on future window replacements. This goes beyond the fenestration industry to include component manufacturers (membranes, structural wall systems, claddings, etc.) and other tradespeople like architects, builders and framers.

Consider this a call to action to understand the replacement dilemma and find a solution, before we dig ourselves deeper.

Jim Snyder is an AAMA-certified FenestrationMaster and InstallationMaster who shares his years of installation field experience as an industry writer, speaker, trainer and project/product consultant for dealers and manufacturers. A member of various industry organizations, Snyder also is involved in instructional document creation and revision. Contact him at jim@windowjim.com.