Now You See 'Em, Now You Don't

Suppliers see more screens becoming less visible altogether or retracting out of the way when they’re not needed

Screens play a crucial role keeping insects out, but few would argue that they enhance the look of windows and doors. Two types of products enhancing that downside of screens are gaining momentum in the market.

Emerging recently, but potentially transforming the market quickly, are screens designed to be less visible. “The word’s getting out,” says Alan Gray, VP of sales for Phifer Inc., who predicts some of the newer products that improve visibility will be virtually the standard on most replacement and upper end window lines in the next 12 to 18 months.

This window featuring a conventional screen on the left and Gore’s inLighten screen on the
right shows the enhanced view to the outside offered by these type of products.

Not as new, but continuing to gain in popularity, retractable screens disappear altogether when not in use. They have gained significant traction in the market in recent years—particular in the retail and aftermarkets. These products have caught on for numerous door applications—and are gaining ground with high-end windows, as well as wide-opening door systems, suppliers report.

Better Visibility
When Andersen Windows rolled out in 2006 its TruScene insect screens, made of a high-strength stainless steel material that is highly transparent and durable, the company highlighted a need that many didn’t even realize was there, Gray states. No one really talked about the visual impact of screens, from the perspective of looking out the window or its impact on the look of windows and doors. Andersen’s research identified the fact that homeowners often viewed screens as “a necessary evil.” “We give them a lot of credit,” Gray notes. "They found a need and brought this idea to the public.”

The improved visibility is delivered by using a yarn or wire diameter that generally smaller than that of traditional insect screening, so it blocks less of the view and allows more light transmittance and airflow, he explains. Although the mesh openness is increased to improve the view, the holes in the mesh are still as small as or smaller than that of traditional insect screening to provide the needed insect protection.

"Until now, people didn't realize that you could have a screen that would help, not hinder, your view," says Maria Smith, business leader, strategic marketing for Gore inLighten Screens. "The traditional screen appears black and dark on windows. This is lighter, and brightens up the whole room. People tell us it's like looking through glass." The company, which initially launched its enhanced visibility screens with Pella Corp., is now rolling its line out to other manufacturers, as well as the consumer public. "This isn't a new idea,” she states. “Our challenge has always been, how do you keep bugs out without blocking the view?"

A number of window manufacturers have rolled out better visibility products in the past few years, Gray reports. He puts these products into two categories—eVis, or excellent visibility insect screens, and iVis, improved visibility insect screens.

Andersen’s TruScene and Gore’s inLighten products, he puts in the eVis category, noting that these products come at a higher premium. The improved visibility screens, such as his Phifer’s BetterVue mesh, he states, don’t carry as high a price tag. For this reason, he suggests, they will become more of a standard. Gray points to the history of low-E glass, noting that it once came at a premium. Now, it is the standard for many manufacturers.

“These cost two to three times a typical window screen,” Smith reports, speaking of Gore’s inLighten product. But, she adds, "Think about it in relative terms. Our product is more upscale. For someone who is buying premium wood windows, the upgrade to inLighten is maybe 10 percent of the cost." Highlighting the benefits of better views and more daylight in a home, she adds, “the other factor is value. You will probably have these for the time you are in the home."

Gore uses a proprietary polymer material in its screen rather than fiberglass, which the company notes, is not only stronger and more durable, but easier to clean and maintain. “There is a significant airflow benefit,” says Smith. “You never have to take it out. It's invisible, it will not break down,” she says. “You can just hose it down."

One application where better visibility insect screens, especially the higher end products, may not be appropriate, are doors, Gray notes. Because they are harder to see, the chance that people will walk into them and damage them are there, he explains. If homeowners don’t want to look at screens on their doors, retractable products will probably remain the better solution, he states.

Retractable Screens
Suppliers of retractable screens see their products as a better solution in many applications, and suggest that the homeowner public is beginning to say that too. "People love the 'now you see it, now you don't,'” says Randy Brown, director of marketing for ODL Inc., which offers retractable screens for doors through retailers. “There is definitely more awareness of the category now,” he continues. “People look at it and say, ‘That's cool, why haven't I seen that before?' when it's actually been available for years."

“We sure have come a long way,” states Ron Somers, VP of sales and marketing for Phantom Screens. Awareness levels of the product are steadily increasing, creating many new opportunities in the market, he reports. On the retail end, he foresees strong potential for DIY products, an area where his company’s line is expanding. For professionally installed products, he sees the increasingly popularity of wide-opening doors boosting demand for retractable products. “People like the big openings, but then customers ask, ‘What am I going to do to keep the insects out?’”

Phantom Screens sees increased use of its products in wide-opening door systems.

This particular trend, he says, is helping spur more window and door OEM interest in retractable products. “They start talking to us about options for their new doors, then they look at retractable screens for their regular product line.”

Because of the price point of retractable products, Somers sees OEM demand coming from wood window makers primarily. There may be demand from upper-end vinyl window manufacturers in the future, he suggests, but they are still looking for “the right solution” as far as integrating the retractable screen into their products.

One wood window and door manufacturer that has embraced retractable products is Kolbe & Kolbe Millwork Co. Inc. The company uses retractables for three of its products—its push-out casement, the Sterling double-hung and its lift-and-slide doors. “The retractable screen trend is growing slowly,” reports Lance Premeau, product manager. “Eighteen months ago, when we started it, it jumped out to 25 to 30 percent of the market. People want to get rid of the screen whenever they don't want to see it."
As for customer willingness to spend more, he reports, “It's truly situational. You'll always have customers where cost is king. But if you can get in front of a homeowner and show the retractable, most times you'll sell it,” Premeau states. He not only points to the improved appearance of not having a screen when you don’t need it, but also easier maintenance.

ODL's Brown also sees consumers willing to spend more on these retractable products in retail market. "Retractables can be anywhere from $129 to $159 per screen, while a standard replacement might be $35 to $45. But it's an investment in a much cleaner look, and in not having to deal with removing screens. People are embracing that perceived value."

Pleated retractable screens are very popular in Europe and Genius expects them to see
gains in North American market.

"We continue to see growth in retractables, from the entry-level to the higher-end,” states Randy Deering, VP and GM of Genius Retractable Screen Systems. A new development he sees in the market is increased interest in pleated fabric screens. "It's the hottest product in Europe. Pleated fabric is very elegant and attractive. It's easier to use, as it does not use a spring element," he explains.

"You will see this in big box retailers this year," he predicts. Genius, in particular, has developed a pleated version for doors that is custom sizable in the field. One benefit he points to is the fact that it does not need a bottom rail, which makes it wheelchair accessible and ADA friendly. "Dealers can link several panels to fill larger/taller openings, like in bifold or lift and slide systems," he also notes.

Phifer’s Gray points out that the improved visibility screens are likely to have a positive impact on the retractable screen market. The new meshes can roll up tighter and fit into smaller cassettes when not in use, he explains, giving product designers new freedom. Additionally, the new screen materials will allow retractable products to cover longer drops and wider spans more easily.

The changes in window and door screens are making this segment of the industry optimistic.
"We firmly believe 2009 will be a strong year,” concludes Deering. “Retractable screens are evolving and adapting. The economy is partly responsible for people staying home more, and thus wanting to stay comfortable. We're seeing presales that indicate 2009 is going to be a good year.”

“We are delivering consumers a great new value in the home. It’s comparable to the development of low-E,” Gray states, referring to enhanced visibility products. “Consumers now recognize the benefits of low-E and expect it when they buy windows. We see the same thing happening with the iVis and eVis products.”