You might think that the struggling economy and the still-depressed housing market would deter companies from trying to carve a new niche in the already-crowded decking and siding industries or from introducing products made with new materials and processes. But that's not the case.
Even as wood-plastic composite decking makers introduced next-generation products, and siding companies weighed in with expanded offerings, two relative newcomers and one building materials leader were among firms that used the International Builders' Show to showcase products they hope will take the industry by storm. The show, held Jan. 19-22 in Las Vegas, was sponsored by the National Association of Home Builders of Washington.
* With its first product set to be shipped to distributors in March, Tech-Wood North America hailed its Wood 2.0 Tech-Plank siding product as the next vinyl for the siding market.'
* CertainTeed Corp. of Valley Forge, Pa., predicts that its CedarBoards-brand double 6-inch clapboard insulated vinyl siding with 60 percent recycled content, introduced in mid-2009, will outsell its traditional insulated vinyl siding this year.
* LifeTime Composites LLC of Carlsbad, Calif., claims its fly-ash LifeTime lumber product which is extruded and encapsulated with a polyurethane layer will deliver what President James Mahler Jr. said other wood composite decking products only promise.
We will quadruple sales this year from $1.2 million to $5 million, Mahler said of his firm's composite lumber. The product is made through a continuous extrusion process at the Brodhead, Wis., plant of LifeTime's sister company, Woodbridge Corp., which manufactures polyurethane products, such as armrests, for the automotive industry.
LifeTime has been making ranch and fencing products since 2004 from the composite, which uses up to 60 percent fly ash, a residue produced when coal is burned to make electricity.
But last October, after development work improved the material's aesthetics, LifeTime moved into the decking market with a product that has the same strength but is 25 percent lighter than many wood composites, Mahler said. The decking product was fire-code-approved for use in California's rural Wildland Urban Interface areas the same month.
People are tired of other products that have failed on their promises, Mahler said. We are very competitive from a price standpoint with wood composites and cellular PVC, and this product won't have the problems of wood composites because there is no wood in it. ... [It] is not going to rot, termites won't eat it, it won't absorb water or collect mold or mildew and there are no expansion or contraction issues.
In the siding segment of the industry, CertainTeed believes it will dominate with its CedarBoards vinyl siding with 60 percent recycled content.
I believe that it is going to be our largest requested profile in that line this year, said Drew Brandt, marketing director for the firm's sidings product. The recycled-content siding is extruded at CertainTeed's plant in Jackson, Mich.
It has a smaller carbon footprint, a smaller environmental footprint, a superior life-cycle assessment, the same performance and is sold at the same price as the firm's vinyl siding made from virgin resin, Brandt said. All that makes it superior to regular vinyl siding, he said.
CertainTeed will submit life-cycle analysis data to the National Institute of Standards and Technology's Building for Environmental and Economic Sustainability program to obtain third-party verification of its claims for the product, Brandt said.
We think vinyl and polymer products are the future for siding, but there is a lot of negative press about vinyl and polymers, he said. The only way to combat that is to provide science and facts to prove their scientific performance and provide that transparency to homeowners. You have to do this because people are tired of greenwashing, and if you haven't started to back your products with scientific evidence, you are doomed.
Vinyl still has the largest share, 33 percent, of the siding market.
But that hasn't discouraged Tech-Wood North America President and CEO Peter Kotiadis even in the sluggish economic climate from introducing its Tech-Plank siding, made from liquefied polypropylene and oriented long-strand pinewood fibers. Kotiadis hopes Tech-Plank will eventually overtake vinyl as the top choice for siding.
This has the ability to be the next new market technology and the future of building products for the next 25 years, said Kotiadis, who claims a new product comes along to change the siding market every 15-20 years. He pointed to the introduction of vinyl 35 years ago and to the more recent addition of fiber cement, which moved into the siding arena 15 years ago.
The cycle shows that this is the right time for a material to be introduced, he said.
The company has invested more than $10 million to bring Wood 2.0 to the North American market, where it holds exclusive rights to the product through a license from Tech-Wood International Ltd. of Birmingham, England. Tech-Wood North America launched manufacturing at its 120,000-square-foot plant in Greenwood, S.C., in November.
Tech-Wood North America is a 2-year-old independent company with financial backing from a U.S.-owned and controlled investor group. It has no connection with Tech-Wood International BV of Rotterdam, Netherlands, which filed for bankruptcy this month.
We are not just a siding company, Kotiadis said. Wood 2.0 technology works well in decking, fencing, roof columns, railings, interior molding and trims. But siding is the first true place we can be disruptive. This is our first real product in the market.
Tech-Wood North America claims that Tech-Plank, which it calls polymer-enhanced wood, is twice as strong as fiber cement and 35 percent lighter. The siding is made by encapsulating resin-free, bone-dry oriented long-strand pine-wood fibers with liquefied PP, through a continuous extrusion process, Kotiadis said. The fibers make up roughly 75 percent of the product, PP 25 percent. We have tricked the wood into absorbing a liquefied polypropylene, and use a patented barrel-and-screw design to align the pine fibers, he said.
We have created a product without any premium or additional cost that has the high-end look of wood and yet installs like vinyl siding. It has greater strength and mass than fiber cement siding but without the maintenance and installation issues, he said. Tech-Plank costs more than fiber cement siding, but the installation price is the same, he noated. It is sold unfinished or pre-finished in 10 standard colors and four semi-transparent stains.
Our plan is to have a complete Wood 2.0 siding system including corners, soffits, J-channels and fascia boards, with the first accessory pieces in the third and fourth quarters, he said. After that, windows and door profiles could be next, or it could be decking or fencing both of which were on display at the company's booth at the builders show.
Kotiadis said the company does not expect strong sales this year, but is looking for market acceptance and a successful launch track record that is, no call-backs for builders and no high-visibility failures.
To introduce this product in the current economic environment is a challenge, he admits particularly given the capital requirements to bring the product to market. We need to be able to see slight hints of normalcy in the economy, in consumer spending and in construction activity to succeed. But, fortunately, we have seen positive momentum that there is going to be activity in the market this year.
Also, Kotiadis believes in the Wood 2.0 technology and the products it can produce. I believe that someday I can build an entire house out of Tech-Wood and, other than pure wood, I don't think you can do that with any other material, he said.
We have the ability to become the next Ply-Gem, the next Crane, the next Goshen, he said. We are not a one-trick pony.
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