SANTA ANA, CALIF. - Skylight makers are beginning to benefit from energy-conservation efforts to use daylight inside commercial and industrial buildings, and plastics play a big role.
``A lot of big box retail and warehouse buildings are using more natural lighting products,'' John J. Holland, president and chief executive officer of Butler Manufacturing Co. in Kansas City, Mo., said by telephone.
The current power situation is ``certainly creating some forces out there demanding more energy-efficient products,'' said Bob Sampson, marketing and technical director with Wasco Products Inc. in Sanford, Maine.
Butler's Vistawall Group unit, Wasco and Brisolite Fiberlite Inc. of Santa Ana are the principal domestic skylight manufacturers.
Bristolite, for example, is supplying skylights for the eventual 1.8 million-square-foot Western North American distribution center near Lebec, Calif., for home furnishings retailer Inter Ikea Systems BV. Also, Bristolite skylights brighten facilities of retailers Costco Cos. Inc., Home Depot Inc., Target Corp., Toys R Us Inc. and the Ralph's division of Kroger Co.; manufacturers Hewlett-Packard Co., Steelcase Inc. and Heritage Paper Co.; and service providers Federal Express Co. and the U.S. Postal Service.
Bristolite General Manager David Harris noted that a retail structure with skylights can stay open during a power blackout, relying on batteries or back-up generators to run cash registers and coolers. However, in a concession to potential blackouts, work at Bristolite starts at 5 a.m. with a shift going to 1:30 p.m.
``We must have electricity to operate,'' Harris said.
Fiberglass-reinforced plastic skylights account for about 60 percent of Bristolite's volume; the remainder involves blow molded or thermoformed acrylic, polycarbonate and some glass.
Bristolite employs 120 and has annual sales approaching $20 million. The firm's two plants total 92,000 square feet and make liberal use of skylights. Aubrey Doell founded Bristolite in 1970 in Santa Ana, seeing promise in a patent he acquired from an uninterested employer. Randy Heartfield purchased the business in 1997.
Skylights typically pay for themselves in energy savings in 12-24 months, Harris said.
Terrell, Texas-based Vistawall recognizes that the energy situation has ``certainly increased interest in skylights,'' Michael Boyd, business manager for Vistawall's Naturalite business line, said in a telephone interview.
``The whole situation suffers from the perception that [a skylight is] an energy waster. Simply the opposite is true,'' he said.
Vistawall recorded 2000 sales of $224 million, up from $202 million in 1999.
``Plastic/fiberglass is a significant portion of our [skylight] business'' and is likely to grow with the emphasis on energy conservation, Boyd said.
Sampson said Wasco employs 130 and occupies a facility with 200,000 square feet. All three firms push architects to make skylights part of basic designs.