Fiberglass Opens Doors for Builders

As builders and consumers weigh the short-term versus long-term costs and as manufacturing techniques improve and distribution channels expand, fiberglass doors are slowly gaining market share and acceptance as a viable alternative to wood, steel and vinyl.

January 01, 2007

A

 Jeld-Wen


Milgard

Fiberglass door options from top manufacturers have expanded in recent years and can add curb appeal to the home. Manufacturers include Jeld-Wen (top) and Milgard (above).

s builders and consumers weigh the short-term versus long-term costs and as manufacturing techniques improve and distribution channels expand, fiberglass is slowly gaining market share and acceptance as a viable alternative to wood, steel and vinyl.

Changes in the fiberglass door market can be attributed to the slow but steady growth of fiberglass options from some of the top brands on the market: Jeld-Wen, Milgard, Pella, Weather Shield, Fibertec, Taylor and Therma-Tru, to name a few.

Fiberglass door features mimic the appearance of their wood and steel counterparts, making it harder to quickly tell the differences.

"Response from builders and remodelers has been tremendously positive. Because of how well fiberglass performs and the fact that it can be used in nearly any application, it's a great choice no matter what the climate condition," said Shane Meisel, a marketing manager at Jeld-Wen. "Trends in the industry include more options and choices than ever before. Builders, remodelers and homeowners are beginning to realize that there are so many exciting styles on the market, and doors can make a significant impact on the overall look of the home."

Jim McElroy, general manager of product marketing for Therma-Tru, agrees. "Some builders are actually ahead of the curve when it comes to fiberglass. It installs the same way as other doors and they don't have to worry about job site damage to the product."

According to NAHB, the fiberglass door industry has grown from seven percent of the door market in 2001 to 14 percent in 2005. The category's potential has led manufacturers to expand aggressively.

"The growth in the fiberglass door category makes good sense, given the fact that it weathers better and requires less maintenance than wood. It's also strong, resists dents and stands up to extreme weather conditions," says Meisel. According to Jeld-Wen, these factors resonate with many savvy builders looking for the next advancement. "Fiberglass is a low-maintenance, durable and secure answer to a trend," says Meisel. "Consumers want hassle-free products that they don't have to worry about and still want a traditional wood grain."

Fiberglass doors are being made faster and with more detail. Features include wood grains and other imperfections, or the solid-face appearance and clean lines that made steel doors a staple. Like their wood and steel counterparts, fiberglass doors can be painted easily, unlike vinyl options. Rick Baczuk, director of engineering design at Milgard, says "Fabricating has been tricky with traditional fastening methods depending on the type of door, too. Products also are easier to install due to the need to complete new homes faster and with increasingly less experienced installers."

"The manufacturing process now is only marginally longer than other door options. We stock slabs for fiberglass and can virtually turn around in a few days," says Colin Mori from Fibertec.

Adds Jim Sheehan at Milgard Windows: "Customers want choices. Since fiberglass is still really focused at the high-end of the market today, customers want high-end hardware and glazing packages."

But while response is good, the market for fiberglass isn't where some manufacturers would like it to be. "While we are experiencing a great growth curve, this is still a high-end product and is a relatively small but growing segment of the total market in units," Sheehan says.

Sheehan attributes the problem with consumer awareness to the relatively short amount of time fiberglass has been an option. "As with any new material being introduced into an industry, we must educate the customer to show that fiberglass is a viable product in our industry," says Sheehan, likening it to vinyl's reception as a replacement for aluminum.

Taylor

Taylor Door's Oakgrain fiberglass door.

Consumer awareness of fiberglass as an option, however, remains lower than steel or vinyl, despite the fact companies have offered fiberglass doors for more than a decade. While some door lines are relatively new to the marketplace, innovation and design are still playing catch-up. Manufacturers are trying to find ways to get the look, feel and design capabilities that the other door options have just right. "We are continuing to expand on the different styles and wood grain species we can offer with our proprietary AccuGrain process," says McElroy.

The latest high-end offerings may help consumers add perceived value and curb appeal to their homes. In Therma-Tru's National Home Valuation Study by independent research organization Taylor Nelson Sofres in 2002, consumers were asked to estimate the prices of homes based simply on the homes' exterior. Before and after photos were shown to consumers with the only difference being the entry door. Those homes that featured fiberglass entryways added as much as $24,000 to a home's perceived value — many times the cost of the actual installation of a new fiberglass door.

The main challenge, says Sheehan, "comes down to educating the customer on the features and benefits of fiberglass as we compete in the upper tier market where 'high-end' wood doors are being used. It is our job to differentiate ourselves from the low-tier fiberglass and wood door manufacturers. As more customers use fiberglass on a daily basis, the word will spread that this is the product of choice among builders. We certainly see a future in fiberglass."

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