Correcting Consumer Confusion as Vinyl Grows Up

By Eric Thompson, Quanex Building Products
February 14, 2017
THE TALK... | Materials & Components

For more than a little while in the residential window market, consumers have been faced with a choice of wood or vinyl windows. That choice seemed to be clear cut—though generally available at a higher price point, wood windows offer consumers the look, feel and performance they desired in a premium product, while, especially in new construction applications, vinyl windows were always seen as the “bargain” option.

While perception has more or less remained this way, reality has shifted. Take some recent industry reports: The Freedonia Group recently released information showing vinyl windows and doors can expect the most rapid growth through 2020. Meanwhile, consumers are always looking to find bargains enhancing their home designs.

High-end vinyl and composite windows may first appear to meet  the compromise between luxury, performance and price, but market pricing presents a different picture. End users generally expect high-end vinyl windows to cost much less than wood products. But advanced vinyl window systems are now engineered for higher performance and quality—offering exceptional value, just not at as low of a cost as consumers expect.

Yet consumer perception holds that, because it’s not really wood, it must be cheaper—and that’s a challenge we must overcome if we’re going to continue the market growth of these high-quality, high-performance products.

Consumer expectations related to price and the proven capabilities and benefits of these products are pulling in opposite directions. The housing market is slowly regaining strength, as reported in Window & Door’s Industry Pulse Report, and we should anticipate demand for high-quality products will rise.

It will take a concerted effort for our industry to transform the lingering “cheaper than wood” stigma of high-end vinyl offerings in order to see the market growth it can and should see.

What are you doing to help change the reputation of vinyl products? Do you feel it is still an uphill battle or are homeowners becoming more aware of the benefits of vinyl? Weigh in on this week’s poll, post a comment and/or email your thoughts on the subject. 

Survey Results for 02/15/2017: Do you think vinyl still carries the stigma of a cheaper product?
Yes, and we do our best to fight it.
  
 
64.14%
 
No, our customers are well-informed of the benefits of vinyl.
  
 
15.86%
 
The conversation is changing.
  
 
10.34%
 
Yes, and I've come to accept it.
  
 
9.66%
 

 

 

Eric Thompson is a national account manager for Quanex Building Products. Email him at eric.thompson@quanex.com.

 

 

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Having been "in the trenches" when vinyl windows first surfaced back in the 1970's and '80's, When I started my career, wood and aluminum windows were the only options. Believe or not, wooden, then later, aluminum storm windows were in the highest demand. I'll relate the truth as gently as I possibly can. The first vinyl windows made were sometimes known to us as "sunny day" windows. On clear sunny days, no problem. When it rained, all hell broke loose! This first vinyl window manufacturers of any consequence, shall remain nameless to protect the guilty.

The "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval" was hastily issued to these first manufacturers for their very first vinyl window product. Evidently, Good Housekeeping applied the seal before it began raining! Not only did they later pull their seal almost immediately, they once even vowed that, "No Vinyl Window Will Ever Carry Our Seal Again!" (Thanks goodness, acknowledging tremendous improvement by our industry, they later changed their minds and their attitude.)

What caused the problem? Initially, in order to make a vinyl window, most cost effectively, both jambs, the header, and (hard to believe) but THE SILL of the window, were all assembled utilizing the same u-shaped vinyl extrusion shape. Flat sills, like flat tires, are a disaster. If it drizzled, no problem. But whenever it rained, "like a fire hose on a flat rock," the water had nowhere to go but inside the home.

Why did vinyl window manufacturers feel it was okay to have flat sills in vinyl windows? They probably never did feel comfortable with it. But, reality established the criteria. Extrusion dies, used for decades to extrude sections used to produce aluminum windows, cost a maximum of about $1,000. at that time. Some dies to extrude sash shapes, cost as little as $150.00. Vinyl extrusion dies complicated the situation. In contrast, they cost thousands of dollars (for each individual shape required to produce a window). Thus the more different shapes required, the more accelerated the cost. So flat sills became the choice. The wrong one, but nevertheless, the choice.

The evolution of vinyl windows was often even uglier. How about no interlocking meeting rails. Can you believe it? But they were sold! Mitered frames and sashes held together with screws, sometimes fell apart under the weight of insulated glass. Insulated Glass Packages often separated from the window frames. Exposed insulated glass edges weren't only unattractive, they were downright dangerous. Some home builders who often insisted on "CHEAP," contributed to the bad vinyl reputation (even after some manufacturers had an abundance of better products available).

From an aesthetic point of view, it was decided that the miters should have "liquid vinyl" applied where the miters met. It was sure to make the product more attractive, right? Wrong!! This technical sounding term meant nothing more than a "caulk job." The early material used looked fine for a couple of months, then turned bright yellow! This was quite a contrast on white windows. (Years later, even the compound used in liquid vinyl was vastly improved.)

Early colored vinyl windows, particularly earth-tones, weren't color fast, and whole windows quickly faded from their intended (original color). Sash rails color varied from the main frames and vice versa.

Wood window manufacturers took these earlier, serious defects and "RAN" with them. Till today, they use those unfavorable reviews from decades ago, and treat them as if they represent the current situation. They consistently try to convince consumers that those initial vinyl windows problems still exist. They have no incentive to be fair. They'll continue to fabricate, in their marketing approach , using those terrible conditions from the '70's and '80's as if the vinyl window industry has stood still since 1978.

Another fact wood window manufacturers will completely ignore is that some high-tech vinyl windows out perform and have more impressive test results than their wood-clad counterparts! The steady progression that began with welded window frames and sashes initially made slight improvement. Four point welding technology came along and advanced the quality of vinyl windows even more. Progressively, new terminology such as dual-durometer glazing and glass optimizing methods, warm edge technology, and the like, helped bring vinyl windows products to the forefront of the market by the end of the 20th Century. Since then, sales of vinyl have skyrocketed even more.

Are all vinyl windows good? Of course not! As with anything else, buyer beware! But consumers today are more educated, thanks to the internet, comparative shopping, and window specialists (myself included) who get them to see through the smokescreen set for them by wood window manufacturers. With advertising budgets sometimes totaling in excess of 50-60 million dollars, it's easy for wooden window manufactures to continue to perpetuate and disparage vinyl. They continue to feed the fallacy to uneducated consumers.

Unfairly, even years after the problems were corrected and technical advances were made, some of them still call vinyl windows "trash, ready for the dumpster." The real bitter pill for some wood window manufacturers is that vinyl windows have seriously eroded their market share. Make no mistake, the success of vinyl windows has come at the expense of wood, wood-clad, and aluminum window manufacturers. There can be no doubt that as the decades have passed, vinyl products have developed and evolved into the lofty position that many of them enjoy today. Vinyl presently represents the lions share of the window marketplace, and will only continue to grow in the future.

Today, even more research and development, sophisticated vinyl manufacturing procedures, ever increasing technology, extreme high performance products, and composition products have provided consumers with many more alternatives, to wood windows. They provide, not only value, but many more options than the wood window industry ever conceived possible in windows. Performance continues to escalate even more dramatically. Some vinyl windows have left wooden windows in the (saw)dust!

Vinyl manufacturers have struggled for years to set the record straight. It's been an uphill battle, with the other side "fighting dirty," but vinyl window producers are succeeding!

Vinyl windows are perceived to be an inferior product because for the most part they are. Most vinyl windows from the 70's,80's and 90's need to be replaced. Vinyl is far from final. Strange they came up with that saying back in the 80's where I saw some of the worst windows ever and were made out of vinyl. Maybe if they didn't lie back then about vinyl being final they might be more believable now.

I felt like I was reading an article from 1995 not 2017. Vinyl has grown faster than wood every year for over thirty years. The cheap windows used to be aluminum, and there are still a ton of them out there that need replaced. There are cheap vinyl windows, there are cheap wood windows and surprisingly the cheap vinyl windows last longer than the cheap wood - vinyl doesn't rot.

High end vinyl windows have been around for over thirty years. Yes the technology has gotten better, the engineering and design has gotten better but high performance vinyl windows started back in the 1970's with the Thermal Gard line. Vinyl is final and it's been a better product than wood for many years.

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