Window manufacturers respond to consumer taste.
Story by Tracy Dickinson
Featured in May/June 2022
Not that long ago, homeowners’ most-coveted window features all concerned maintenance-easy to clean, easy to open and close, and low-maintenance exterior finishes.
Today’s window products are also a response to consumer tastes and preferences in many ways.
“No matter what style the home, it’s all about having lots of glass,” says Gilcrest Jewett’s Brad Schulte. “Even homeowners who like the look of a window with divided lites (also called muntins and grilles) are opting for more glass and fewer dividers.”
That trend is driven, in part, by the popularity of more-contemporary home designs.
“Homeowners are opting for large sections of glass,” agrees Colby Storey of Moehl Millwork. “That is by far the majority of our sales. Probably 80% of our customers are choosing large nonoperable direct-set products.”
Beisser Lumber’s John Murphy says, “Architects are limited to what manufacturers have to offer for residential customers, but options for those larger glass products continue to improve. Homeowners are really looking for products with the clean lines and sleeker look of more-modern architecture.”
Murphy says in order to achieve the look homeowners desire, some new construction projects opt for windows from a mix of manufacturers, choosing one product line for a particular area and another product line for other parts of the home.
As home designs have evolved to include higher ceilings and more open living spaces, the preference for larger windows has reflected that. “It used to be that home plans would incorporate sidelights or transoms to get that larger glass expanse,” Schulte says. “We rarely see that anymore since so many larger products are available.”
The preference for more square feet of glass has also been made possible by improvements in both efficiency of the window products and the efficiency of home HVAC systems.
“Less than half of our customers are opting for casement or functional windows,” says Murphy. “Between people dealing with allergies and the small number of Iowa days when it’s really nice enough to have the windows open, more homeowners are just choosing to have only the egress windows as functional units.”
Schulte says, “Home HVAC systems are so well-designed these days, there’s no need to have the windows open. Fixed units continue to grow in popularity because of the look and because homeowners aren’t concerned about opening them.”
Window professionals also say this reduces maintenance concerns.
“As soon as you cut an opening, you’re reducing the home’s energy efficiency and increasing the potential for maintenance issues,” Schulte says. “If the windows are fixed, there are fewer of those concerns.”
“Fiberglass was a game changer in the window industry when it was introduced in the ’90s,” says Storey. “We rarely get calls for replacement windows on homes that have fiberglass units.” However, according to Storey, all other windows that are built with materials not resembling the composition of fiberglass, like vinyl and wood, require frequent substitutions
Truth be told, this is not just a problem in Iowa, but also in other states like Long Island. Nonetheless, Iowa tops the list of places where window replacements are needed frequently. Because of Iowa’s extreme weather conditions, even vinyl can eventually fail in some applications. “Especially on southern exposures, the sun can heat the window to over 150 F, and that will cause them to warp or change shape,” Storey says. “Fiberglass can withstand up to 400 F, so it holds up to our temperature extremes more consistently.”
The trend toward contemporary designs has affected more than just the size and function of today’s residential windows. It’s also led to a greater selection of colors. “Dark colors, especially black, are very popular,” says Storey. “And today’s manufacturers are offering fiberglass products and units with an acrylic cap that is so durable even dark colors don’t fade.”
Moreover, homeowners may find it necessary to laminate the surface of the glass, enhancing its durability. In comparison to laminated glass, many homeowners prefer tempered glass for their homes.
Murphy says, “Beisser offers a vinyl product where the surface is treated with a laminate that actually sheds dirt better, so windows require less cleaning also.”
Although some manufacturers still offer window products with blinds installed between the panes of glass, Schulte says those are less popular these days. “Homeowners tend to prioritize efficiency and maintenance. The blinds just aren’t hugely popular.”
“Glass sizes continue to grow, and that allows architects to expand what they can design. We’ve even seen applications where an entire wall is made of glass with doors that open for an uninterrupted view,” says Storey.
As with everything else these days, product availability and supply chain delays have had significant effects on the window market.
“Windows are one of the toughest products to stock right now,” says Storey. “Manufacturers are affected by everything from the glass to the hardware, which causes production and shipping to get delayed.”
Murphy says, “The average manufacturer has had a 15- to 20-week lead time for the past several months. Some are less, and some are significantly more, and different color options are more affected.”
“We always discuss options with our customers,” says Schulte. “If they have their heart set on a particular product, and they’re willing to be patient, we can get it. But we can usually find an alternative to the products that have the longest lead times if homeowners aren’t able to wait.”
Whether you’re looking for more glass, less maintenance, or more design options, today’s window manufacturers are up to the challenge. And local professionals are up to the challenges presented by current supply chain issues. •
- John Murphy Beisser Lumber
- Brad Schulte Gilcrest Jewett
- Moehl Millwork Colby Storey