Despite predictions in the late '90s that composite products were going to be a big player in the 21st century window market, composite windows have not taken off as quickly as once expected — at least not in the form of entire windows. Alan Campbell, president of the Window and Door Manufacturers Association (WDMA), says composites certainly represent a greater percentage of the market now than they did six years ago, though only a little over 1%.

“There's still a learning curve on composites,” he says. “Vinyl has been the market leader since the late '90s, and vinyl and PVC have achieved broad acceptance in the marketplace.” Campbell says builders and homeowners just aren't as comfortable with composites as they are with vinyl and PVC.

Growth in Components

Campbell says he's seeing increasingly more use of composite parts in windows, such as composite sills, and that this is where the growth is. According to statistics from the American Architectural Manufacturers Association (AAMA), composites as component parts of windows are growing at a rate of as much as 20% per year.

“When we say composite windows, however,” Campbell is quick to note, “we mean the whole window is a composite.” In 2003, out of nearly 63 million window units sold, composites represented just over 1% —some 800,000 units — according to figures from AAMA. Four years ago composites represented less than 1% of the window market. “Composites are still just a fraction of the marketplace,” Campbell says, “but we expect the use of composite windows to continue to grow.”

Renewal Takes Off Renewal by Andersen, for instance, is one of the fastest growing window franchises, a feat the window manufacturer pulled off by attracting some of the country's most successful home improvement contractors as dealers. Renewal windows combine wood fiber and a thermoplastic polymer to create products that resist decay, contraction, bowing, and cracking. As wood becomes scarce and builders and consumers become increasingly more concerned with energy efficiency, long-term durability, and environmentally friendly products, composites as a market segment will continue to expand. Manufacturers say composites offer a couple of advantages: They're stronger than pure vinyl, while offering the promise of a maintenance-free product. But even so, Campbell does not expect composites to take off in the same way vinyl and PVC windows have in the foreseeable future. “There are still a lot of window and door companies researching composite materials,” he notes, “and those products still have a lot of research and design costs that need to be recaptured.” — Deborah Huso. This story originally ran in REPLACEMENT CONTRACTOR.