Plastics Proliferation

Poly-based trim, moldings, and millwork continue to snatch market share from wood as contractor acceptance grows.

The molding and millwork category has been experiencing some quiet but notable trends that may give cause to re-evaluate your product mix. Builders are using more decorative millwork, inside and out; manufacturers have developed systems that ease molding installation; and style offerings are expanding. Intertwined with these movements is the steady growth and acceptance of poly (plastic) molding and millwork.

The challenging housing market is inspiring many home builders to add molding and millwork to their homes to create greater curb and interior appeal. Poly-based products are gaining favor because of their durability, ease of use, and styling options. The poly category has grown to such a degree, in fact, that the Wood Molding & Millwork Producers Association (WMMPA) has opened its membership to poly manufacturers. "The reason we took [requests for membership] seriously in these last couple years is because we saw that almost 9% of our market was going to exterior poly products," says WMMPA executive vice president Kellie Schroeder. "This last year, we put their market share at 12%."

New-home construction's demand for plastic molding and trims is expected to increase by 4.4% annually through 2009 while repair/improvement's demand will increase by 6.4% annually through 2009, according to a recent study by The Freedonia Group. Competition is one of the driving forces behind this growth. "One of the areas builders are concentrating on now is differentiating their homes, and that bodes well for millwork because that's a sure-fire way to increase the curb appeal of a house with window and entry trims," says Greg Wolf, director of marketing for Fypon.

Cellular PVC products [such as those offered by AZEK, Koma Trim Products, Gossen Corp., Fypon, Royal Mouldings, Wolfpac Technologies, Kleer Lumber, and others] constitute the fastest-growing segment of the exterior trim category and also are gaining traction in the exterior decorative moldings segment, according to AZEK president Ralph Bruno, because of the material's workability, durability, and resistance to environmental conditions.

These characteristics of poly products are helping shift molding and millwork preferences from wood to poly in the luxury segment and in coastal and humid climates, particularly for exterior use, according to Danny Gonzales, national sales manager for Timeless Architectural Reproductions, maker of fiberglass-reinforced polymer millwork.

Also winning favor for exteriors is polyurethane millwork, offered by companies such as Chemcrest Architectural Products, Architectural Ornament, Custom Decorative Mouldings, Focal Point Architectural Products, Century Architectural Specialties, and Fypon, due to polyurethane's resistance to the elements, light weight, and ease of installation.

Both cellular PVC and polyurethane offer design flexibility similar to wood. For example, cellular PVC trimboards can be heat-formed into curves and can be milled into architectural profiles by millwork shops and end users. Simple, unornamented molding profiles also are available. Polyurethane products can be ordered directly from the manufacturer in many molding profiles, including built-up crowns, with detailed surface ornamentation; columns, balusters, railings, medallions, and curved profiles also are available.

While poly-based moldings and millwork are coming on strong, they typically are two to three times the cost of wood products–or more. Many builders will still require lower-cost products like MDF, while others will always prefer working with solid or finger-jointed wood. "The solid and finger-joint market survived the MDF onslaught, and poly is now just another competitor entering the race," WMMPA's Schroeder says. "We know the poly products will take market share" from wood, she adds, but how much depends on how well those manufacturers create pull from end users.