Manufacturers of engineered trim have been busy introducing new products, a trend that’s likely to continue. This influx of innovation is rapidly expanding the choices available to builders and homeowners.
A 2012 survey by John Burns Real Estate Consulting, in Irvine, Calif., identified “neighborhood street appeal” as buyers’ second priority, behind location. That finding is echoed by architects, builders, and manufacturers. For instance, Philadelphia architect James Wentling, who owns Wentling House Plans, says that while his most popular plans have simple, traditional forms, they also include custom touches.
But while homeowners want customization, their builders are more concerned about longevity and maintenance. That’s especially good news for engineered trim.
A big driver for builders is their perception about the quality of today’s wood trim. One such builder is John Siefert, a third-generation contractor on Eastern Long Island, N.Y., whose luxury home projects range from 3,000 to 10,000 square feet. “The wood available today isn’t the same as what my father used,” Siefert says. “The pre-primed pine we used to use wasn’t bonding very well to exterior glues, and the boards were starting to rot after just a few years.” He says that other builders in his area report similar issues.
Siefert’s homes have lots of crown moldings, curves, columns, and other exterior touches. Today, he makes all of them with PVC, which he says weathers even the fiercest coastal storms.
It should be no surprise that the Northeast is a strong market for PVC, given the region’s traditional architecture and bad winters, but interest in it and other engineered trim products is growing in all regions. Though there are no hard numbers for the total market share of alternative trim products, estimates range from 20% to 30% nationwide, depending on whom you ask. The averages given by manufacturers are 8% to 10% each for PVC, other synthetics, and wood-based composites.
Manufacturers won’t release the exact sales numbers, but most are happy to estimate market growth. For instance, Versatex estimates a 4% to 5% annual growth rate for PVC trim overall, Nichiha says that annual growth in the fiber-cement market has been around 20% for the past three years, and LP reported a doubling of sales for its SmartSide trim from 2008 to 2013.
Rising demand has led to a slew of new products. Some recent examples:
- Boral rolled out a 11⁄2-inch-thick version of its TruExterior polyash trim, a blend of coal ash and polymers. The new trim is reversible, with a smooth surface on one face and a wood grain pattern on the other. The company says that polyash is more stable than PVC and can be painted dark colors without concern for expansion.
- Wolf and National Industrial Lumber Co. are now selling moldings made from the Boral product. It can be glued up and run through a shaper just like wood.
- Fypon is trying to compete on speed, having just announced a four-week lead time for custom and non-stock polyurethane products, which is half the time it used to take to get those products.
However, most of the innovation seems to be in PVC.
- Azek, Kleer, and Versatex now all have PVC column wraps that can be installed by a single carpenter. They have notched edges that snap together when wrapped around a 4x4 post.
- Versatex recently introduced a 11 1/2-inch-thick PVC trim board. “Getting to 11 1/4 inch was easy, but getting 11 1/2 was like climbing Mt. Everest,” says Versatex president and COO John Pace. “It took a lot of engineering to get the material to foam that thick without collapsing on itself.”
- CertainTeed’s new InvisiPro and Versatex’s new Stealth trim are rabetted along one edge so that they lap over the ends of siding runs, eliminating butt joints.
- More big names are getting into the business. For instance, Ply Gem began national distribution for its new PVC trim this year. The product is embossed with a woodgrain finish.
Another growth area: custom moldings made from PVC, which can be routed, shaped, or bent into nearly any profile. Some builders make their own custom shapes on the jobsite, and some dealers and distributors offer milling services. For instance, users of Azek trim can go to the company’s website and search for local fabricators.
Kleer and Versatex have decided to offer their own custom millwork programs, but have structured those programs so as not to take business from dealers and distributors that have in-house operations. “It’s a complementary service for dealers who don’t have this capability or are too busy to meet current demand,” Pace says.
Manufacturers expect innovation to continue over the next few years. Pace says that his company is working on including tapered columns, trim boards that can be installed without nails, and beadboard that looks like stained wood. The company is also looking at products that can better withstand heat and intense sunshine, perhaps by topping the PVC with a cap stock, as is common with composite decking. Enduris, a manufacturer of fence, deck, and railing products, already makes a PVC fencing with an acrylic cap stock.
The bottom line is that customers looking for alternatives to wood trim should have no shortage of choices, and dealers who are knowledgeable about these products should have no trouble selling them.