WDMA Looks at the Future of Housing

By John Swanson
November 1, 2006
Meetings & Events

Las Vegas—Home building is “going vertical,” with more multi-family housing and higher density single-family developments. That was one of the predictions made by a panel of builders and residential architects discussing housing in the year 2020 as part of a panel discussion here at the fall meeting of the Window & Door Manufacturers Association.

A variety of other speakers covered topics ranging from the demand for green to selling to women. Kicking off with a day of technical and business meetings, the event also featured the introduction of Joel Hoiland as WDMA’s new president, and discussions of the association’s more aggressive plans for the future.

In the panel discussion, moderated by Bill Lurz of Professional Builder, Jeff Lake, a residential architect based in Southern California noted, “They’re not making anymore land. Particularly in populated areas the density is only going up.” Pointing to developments with more than 10 detached homes per acre, he said that designers and builders have no choice but to make the footprints of houses smaller. That translates into three-story homes in many areas.

James Rivello, an East Coast designer echoed those sentiments, adding that the major trends he sees suggest there will be many more multi-family projects. First, he pointed to mixed use, urban redevelopment projects, which, he added, aren’t limited to big cities, but are appearing more and more in smaller cities and older suburbs. Second, Rivello pointed to continued demand for oceanfront living. Finally, he said, new Americans—the growing immigrant population—will be demanding more starter homes.

Tim Hernandez of New Urban Developments, a builder based in south Florida, sees government policies increasingly mandating dense, compact green development. “Many in the building industry thought that was waning. Now it’s increasing dramatically,” he said. Some policies are “implemented by carrot,” he continued, pointing to tax incentives and exceptions to zoning requirements, but they are also being implemented “with the stick.” He pointed to the demand for impact glass in Florida as one example of the affect of increasing government mandates.

Higher density housing is also likely to be driven by market fragmentation. “We’re targeting generation X and generation Y. We’re targeting singles, young couples, gays—75 percent of households don’t have children—they’re the ones going back into the cities, going into original, inner-ring suburbs.”

Higher density may not mean fewer windows and doors, however. The panel all seemed to share the view that people continue to want “lots of natural light” and “an open feeling.” Jack Miller of the Drees Co., a large private builder based in Ohio, noted, “one size does not fit all” in the housing market, and it won’t in the future. He does see a trend, however, toward more multipurpose rooms. Those include kitchen/great room combinations and master bedroom suites. In both cases, he noted later, those multipurpose rooms are likely to require at least two walls of glass.

“Everyone wants a whole wall of windows. Everyone wants light and airy,” said Alan Simonini, a builder based in Charlotte, NC. He pointed to two challenges on that front. He still sees room for improvement of energy efficiency of windows. He also sees a need for window and door dealers to be the installers more and more. “Manufacturers have to make it foolproof, or they have to have the distributor do it,” due to problems associated with bad installations and the liability issues created. His company saw this need for its own operation and started a separate company to install its windows and doors, and perform installation for other builders.

Simonini also suggested that home exteriors are moving to becoming completely synthetic, noting that clad wood windows and doors are increasingly seen as a potential problem and vinyl is being viewed as the material of choice in nearly all houses, with the exception of the very high end. Miller echoed that viewpoint, saying vinyl is perceived as higher quality than wood in the markets his company targets.

The panelists suggested one limitation, for windows and doors in general and vinyl products in particular, was a lack of color choices. “If I don’t want white or bronze, it’s triple the price,” said Hernandez. “Color is key,” added Lake. The whites and tans don’t meet the needs of many historic building styles popular in new homes being built in Southern California, the Southwest, and many other places around the country.

“It’s an exciting time for WDMA,” said Jim Hackett of Jeld-Wen, currently chairman of the board for WDMA, opening up the group’s general business session at the meeting. “We’re completely unencumbered to pursue our goals to be the leading voice for our industry.” Looking to the future, he continued, WDMA’s expectations are for its members and its staff to be more focused and more nimble. WDMA will be more recognized in the industry as a resource. The good news, he added is that volunteers from member companies are already stepping up to the challenge. “There’s a lot of enthusiasm. People are ready and want to commit more time to WDMA.”

Joel Hoiland, who recently joined WDMA as president, greeted attendees noting that he was eager to learn about the window and door industry and how WDMA can better serve the industry. Echoing Hackett’s view that WDMA will be aggressive, he said a group right now is reviewing the organization’s 2001 strategic initiative, and that a new updated plan will be ready by the time of the group’s next meeting in February. Reviewing what he’s learned, as WDMA’s chief executive so far, he noted that the window and door industry is unusual in that so many companies are family-owned or privately held. “They’re really great companies and they’re engaged and involved.” Looking at WDMA specifically, he added, “We have the top notch companies of this industry involved in this association. It’s a real asset.”

Hoiland then invited four members of the association on the stage for a panel discussion of industry issues and concerns. Asked what “keeps you awake at night,” Dave Beeken of Eagle Windows said, “globalization.” It creates a lot of new risks, he continued, but also noted that it offers opportunities. There are concerns about low-cost competitors coming into the market. There is potential for lower cost offshore sourcing, he said, but using suppliers in places where there may not be a solid business infrastructure presents many challenges.

Suppliers to the industry are particularly concerned about new competition entering the North American market, said Cardinal IG’s Tom Kaiser. The glass manufacturer’s people travel the world “because we don’t want to be surprised.” Jeld-Wen is a global company, noted Barry Homrighaus, and has turned to global sourcing, but whatever market it is in, it wants to be a “local” manufacturer, so it to remains concerned about the potential for window assembly moving somewhere else.

Most agreed that globalization does offer opportunities. “When you look at the ‘elites’ in these societies, they want what we have in America,” Beeken said. “There’s good potential for our products.”

Hoiland also asked the panelists whether they expected consolidation to continue. Harry Reichenwald of Eggers Industries noted that the architectural door industry has yet to see the type of activity there’s been on the window side, but that it’s likely to occur. On the window side, Beeken and Homrighaus both predicted consolidation activity will continue, noting that the market shares of the biggest companies are still not that large. Jeld-Wen, seeking continued growth, has made numerous acquisitions over the years, Homrighaus said, and he foresees that continuing for his company and others. Acquisitions to enter new geographic markets or add new products are not the only factor, he continued, pointing to the pace of consolidation in the building supply channels. “It’s happening much faster there than in our own business.” It is also creating some very large customers that only large manufacturers can serve, he said.

WDMA started the event getting down to business, with meetings of its technical committees on the first day. A relatively new group within WDMA is the product technology committee, which focuses on materials and components used in windows and doors. Chaired by Dupont’s Tom Kopec, the committee discussed efforts to create standards and procedures for participants in WDMA’s Hallmark certification program to show their various components complied with various material requirements. PVC lineals are being tackled first, and Doug Cole of Mikron Industries outlined a validation program for these components. Cole noted that in addition to frame and sash components used by vinyl window manufacturers, the program will cover jambliners and nail fins used by wood window manufacturers.

The committee also received an update on efforts to develop a similar program for wood parts from Andersen’s Bruce Bohnen. Next steps, Kopec noted, are the creation of similar task groups to cover fiberglass and aluminum.

WDMA’s environmental stewardship committee is putting together a white paper on the green building movement and how windows and doors might fit into it. Still in the information gathering stage, the group is looking at the document as a first step in the possible development of a “green rating” as part of Hallmark certification. Numerous challenges to that were mentioned, but WDMA’s architectural wood door manufacturers are already seeing much demand for “green,” including the use of certified wood, thanks to the success of the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED rating program. “The more proactive we can be,” one noted, “the better off we’ll all be.”

Joe Hayden of Pella Corp., chair of the exterior products standards committee, updated members on the latest version of the AAMA/WDMA/CSA 101/I.S.2/A440 window standard that is currently out for ballot. The goal is to have it ready in time for the 2009 International Codes. Among the significant changes, he suggested, was the addition of an alternative minimum test size for residential products. The idea is to allow manufacturers to “test what you sell,” he explained, noting that in some cases, a product may never actually be made as large as the standard test size. The new document also adds performance standards for tubular skylights.

Mike Fisher, a code consultant for WDMA, updated attendees on the most recent International Code Council hearings. One clear message heard there, he noted, is that builders want flashing instructions from window and door manufacturers. He also discussed the next edition of the Florida Building Code, which he foresees incorporating new window labeling requirements demanding more information.

The government has passed a new Americans with Disabilities Act, Fisher also reported, which is now moving into becoming law. He predicted that eventually, it could become part of the International Building Code. Fisher also predicted more stringent U-factor and SHGC requirements in the Energy Star program. The codes are becoming as stringent as, if not more stringent than, Energy Star in some states, he said. The Department of Energy will eventually have to upgrade the minimum requirements.

WDMA’s technical committees are planning to gather again the first week of December. The organization’s next event is planned for February 24-28, when it meets on the Big Island of Hawaii. More information about that event is available at www.wdma.com.