Why a Wood Window Maker is Turning to Cellular PVC

The market is demanding resistance to rot, and a number of factors
By Steve Kahle, Lincoln Windows
April 15, 2002
FEATURE ARTICLE | Materials & Components, Close-Ups
At Lincoln Windows, we’re known for making quality wood windows and doors. We’ve been in the business for over 50 years. During that time the company has integrated changes in our products as a result of technology, market demands, and product integrity. Recently, we pulled all of these reasons together to solve a nagging problem associated with wood—rot.
In today’s business climate, we have to be progressive and manufacture products customers are going to trust, or they’re going somewhere else. For us, that means addressing customer requests for a rot -resistant product.
Factors Affecting Wood
When it comes to wood products, we found that many manufacturers, including ourselves, have experienced short-term product failures. Why? Several factors. First, the wood we use is mainly second- or third-growth timber. This wood has a more open and porous grain than does the old growth material used in previous generation of products.
Second, wood treatments that meet today’s health and environmental standards do not perform as well as some earlier products. For example, old products such as “Penta” were, and are, environmentally unfriendly. They did, however, do a great job at protecting wood.
Third, and probably most important, because of paint product issues, the quality and thickness of paint is not what it once was. Paint is no longer applied with brushes using several coats. Now, painters use spray guns and sometimes cut the paint to allow it to flow through their equipment. One coat also seems to satisfy most customers. The compounds in paint have changed and so has performance.                                                                         

These factors all combine to make sills and exterior casings much more susceptible to rot. Our goal has been to produce a worry-free product for our customers. We began looking at the application of cellular PVC to our wood windows.
What is cellular PVC? It’s the material created by adding blowing agents to PVC compounds. Once blowing agents are activated by heat, the PVC compound expands to create a filled profile. The profiles can be extruded with either a hard or soft skin, depending on the application of the part.
We have been studying these PVC products for several years. However, until manufacturers were able to guarantee stability, we really couldn’t seriously consider them. And even after the products were made more stable, they still had to become somewhat competitive price-wise with wood.
Making the Change
We could see the benefits associated with a cellular PVC application to our wood windows, so we made a decision to go forward with finding suppliers and investing in manufacturing changes. Even though cellular PVC is still considerably more expensive than wood, we feel it has come close enough in price for us to make the change.
From a manufacturing viewpoint, the investment is offset by the production of a better product that meets our customers’ needs. We also discovered production benefits such as a demand reduction on our machining equipment. Currently, we buy the PVC material cut and machined to length, so we no longer have to mould or tenon our casings.
Instead of machining in-house, we are using a couple of different extruder suppliers to provide us with different parts. We’re working with suppliers that specialize in various components, so we tap into each company’s expertise.
“The added capacity in our machine room is one big benefit, plus cellular PVC has no defects comparable to those of wood, which often has knots, splits, and warping problems,” reports Jeff Roberts, plant manager. “That saves us time and money. It also gives our customers the advantage of rot proof casings and sills.”
Roberts notes that initially, there were some minor challenges with fastening, but the company was able to overcome these problems relatively quickly.
At this point, Lincoln uses cellular PVC for many applications, including:
  • Primed double hung sills, nosing, blindstop, and brickmould;
  • Sub-sills on clad double hung products; and,
  • As brickmould and nosing on casement products.
Market Response
So who’s buying? In planning for making necessary manufacturing changes and adding cellular PVC to our products we looked at our customer base to identify those who were asking for rot resistance. We discovered that there were several markets that seemed to be well ahead of the curve in requesting cellular PVC. These included Kansas City, Boston, and Charlotte.
We also found that other, more traditional, markets still resist the new technology. It is evident that market demands vary from region to region.
As cellular PVC was a response to customer requests for wood windows that resist rot, we found one market area making requests was the Deep South. One of our customers looking for such a product was Auburn Millwork, Inc., in Auburn, AL. Russell Spratlin, sales manager explains that while wood windows were king for a long while, there were problems.
“Because of the weather down here in Alabama, wood windows just weren’t holding up. So, people were looking at clad and vinyl. But for those who wanted the look of wood, there were issues of rot because paints have been so regulated they just aren’t lasting as long. In addition, people don’t do maintenance like they used to do. They just don’t have time. So, to get the look of a wood product, we almost have to go to the cellular PVC because it’s not going to rot,” says Spratlin.
He also says that it’s the cellular PVC products that are really bringing back the demand for wood windows in his area of the country. “We’ve had the product for about six years and when Lincoln Windows made products available we jumped on them.”
Spratlin says from his perspective, cellular PVC products are absolutely the solution to problems associated with rot found in wood windows. He says that while the cellular PVC products still require painting, he’s found about 30 percent of his customers from premium contractors to architects are choosing the new rot resistant wood windows.
“That’s why we brought the product into our stock in the first place,” reports John Horigan, inventory manager for Boston Lumber. “It provides low maintenance exterior for a wood window. And, it’s been a good product so far.”
Today, we manufacture about 30 percent of our product line with cellular PVC. As demand grows, we expect that to change to 50 percent. This is really something that looks to be a good alternative for cladding and complement to wood. It provides benefits that range from energy efficiency and rot resistance for our customers to manufacturing benefits for us. It’s a win-win deal. We’re excited for the future. Cellular PVC is here to stay.

Steve Kahle is sales manager of Lincoln Windows, a manufacturer based in Merrill, WI. He has over 25 years of experience in the window and door industry.  He can be reached by telephone at 800/967-2461 or via e-mail at srkahle@lincolnwindows.com. More information about the company’s products can also be found on its web site at www.lincolnwindows.com