With building codes and industry trends emphasizing energy efficiency and higher building performance requirements, and with a continued robust building market, one thing you can say with confidence when it comes to insulation and housewrap is that the future looks bright.
In its “Insulation to 2019” report, Freedonia Group reported that U.S. demand for insulation is forecast to rise 7.0% annually through 2019 to $10.4 billion, and manufacturers echo the report’s optimism. “The housing demand is still strong, despite steadily rising interest rates,” explains Brian Kirn, senior marketing manager for CertainTeed Siding. “Builders and contractors are also more educated on the benefits of a well-designed building envelope, so we should see premium housewrap sales stay steady for new builds, as well as remodeling projects.”
According to its October 2018 report, the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reported that privately-owned housing units authorized by building permits in September were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1,241,000, while actual housing starts were at 1,201,000. In regard to building permits, while this number is 1.0% below the same period last year, it is 2.9% above August’s revised projections, thus indicating a continuing strong trend in building growth and stability. Likewise, 1,162,000 housing completions were reported, a figure that is 7% above September’s rate the year before.
Sam Sprague, vice president of Huttig, concurs. “Insulation manufacturers are predicting moderate growth for 2019 with higher growth from high performance insulation systems that address the need for more effective insulation and improved air sealing.”
And it’s not merely new housing starts that has the industry feeling confident; remodeling is playing its role as well. “We expect the market for insulation and housewrap to grow in 2019 as the overall construction market will still be strong,” says Ian Daniels, regional sales and technical manager for Tamlyn. “One category especially that we see getting stronger is remodel as the length of home ownership is going up and people are looking to invest in their residences. It’s also a time to improve overall building efficiency both in energy and moisture management.”
Energy efficiency on the rise
When it comes to the trends that are driving product category growth, no one thing is responsible; rather, it is the influence of multiple drivers, including issues such as continued demand for energy efficiency, the continuing shortage of employees in the trades, and an overall shift across the market towards longer home ownership. “The wind is at our backs,” says Alan Hubbell, residential marketing manager of Performance Building Solutions for DowDuPont. “Organically we see growth. Building codes continue to emphasize energy efficiency, which then is driving the demand for improved thermal performance and tighter building envelopes.
“These trends, in turn, drive increased use of continuous exterior insulation and weatherization products and installation details that help limit air infiltration.”
It should come as no surprise that energy efficiency, increased product performance and moisture management remain prime product development factors—it’s not as if energy efficiency standards will be rolled back. But the levels of efficiency continue to improve across the product segment, and competition will drive manufacturers to be the first to market with innovative new offerings. “Increased thermal performance and improved moisture management and air tightness are key,” says Ted Winslow, manager of CertainTeed Building Science, Systems and Technical Marketing. “As homes and buildings are being built tighter and tighter for energy efficiency, we have to use smarter products so that we are not trapping moisture in our walls—what we call a ‘moisture sandwich.’ Walls that block air to keep the building efficient, but let moisture escape, are the trend.”
Tamlyn’s Daniels echoes Winslow’s thoughts on moisture management being key. “As a trend, we are seeing the rise of drainable WRB (weather-resistant barrier) products that can be used under a number of different cladding materials,” he says, “making them great for any environment and building style.”
“We’ve seen even more diversity in how builders and architects are using
different combinations of structural and sealing products to achieve an air- and water-tight enclosure for their unique project’s design,” says Jason Darling, general manager of ZIP System Products. “For example, some net-zero builders are using ZIP System liquid flash in all roof and wall seam sealing, in addition to areas where it’s commonly used for transitions from foundations or window and door applications.”
No labor? No problem!
Still, without the skilled labor to install these products, the best energy efficiency is for naught. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employers have been looking to fill an average of close to 225,000 construction jobs each month. And as reported in the latest “Commercial Construction Index” published by USG Corporation and the U.S.
Chamber of Commerce, 91% of more than 2,700 contractors, construction managers, builders and trade contractors reported having a difficult or moderately difficult time finding employees for those jobs. Because of these shortages, it’s more important than ever for products to be faster and easier to install. “We’re learning through our own research and experience that customers fiercely desire simplicity,” says DowDuPont’s Hubbell. “They are looking for easier-to-install products and clear guides to reduce complexity in their working process and manage the risk of incorrect installation.”
Jeff Key, senior marketing manager for Georgia-Pacific, echoes the need for time-saving products. “From a housewrap perspective,” he says, “we’re seeing more interest in integrated products like Georgia-Pacific’s ForceField Air & Water Barrier System that come with an air and water barrier already affixed to the structural panel. Because they eliminate the need for housewrap, they help save up to 37% in time compared to installing housewrap and they require less skilled labor.”
“Focus is still on jobsite efficiency, especially considering stressed labor conditions,” points out ZIP System Products’ Darling. “This is one of the most common reasons we’ve seen teams switch to ZIP System sheathing and sealing solutions across various project types. In multifamily and light commercial projects, for example, having the ability to achieve a quick rough dry-in is a benefit we think will continue to be leveraged in next year’s project starts.”
It’s all about performance
Since the very first days of our cave-dwelling ancestors, keeping both air and water out of our homes has been vital to our comfort and health. With the advent of modern advancements in insulation and housewrap, that task has become exponentially easier.
Still, there are many factors that drive product choice. As Georgia-Pacific’s Jeff Key points out, “For the contractor it’s all about building a quality home more quickly and more efficiently. From a consumer perspective, they get the peace of mind that their home is going to meet newer, more stringent codes and help eliminate any callbacks during the construction process.”
In regards to insulation, the obvious decision-making factor is how well the product delivers thermal performance. Contractors and homeowners alike want to know that a given insulation product will save energy, but there’s more to the story than merely keeping spaces warm in winter and cool in summer. “Insulation, when chosen properly, should do much more than provide thermal benefits,” says CertainTeed’s Ted Winslow. “To achieve complete comfort in either residential or commercial spaces, we feel that the right insulation should control thermal performance, air tightness, moisture management and acoustics.”
When it comes to housewrap, the ideal product needs to protect against water damage by reducing air and water infiltration while still allowing vapor permeability—in other words, it needs to keep air and water out yet still give any built-up moisture a means to escape. “When choosing a housewrap,” explains DowDuPont’s Alan Hubbell, “the user should recognize its primary purpose of preventing air penetration and water infiltration in the wall assembly of a home or other structure. It’s essential to ensure it functions as an air barrier, provides bulk water resistance, offers moderate-high vapor permeability, but it should also be durable enough to withstand job-site challenges during installation.”
“Durability is key,” adds Tamlyn’s Ian Daniels, “so check that the product has good tear strength and will stay intact during construction. In terms of drainable WRB products, one major factor to consider is that you want the matrix providing the drainage plane to be non-compressible so that, in the field, the plane is maintained.”
It’s equally important to talk to the customers about overall product performance along with ease and speed of installation. “Our product focus is always on solving real-world challenges for both dealers and end users,” says ZIP System Products, Darling. “ZIP System building enclosure products are designed to streamline steps on the jobsite, while providing effective air, water and thermal management in the exterior envelope. To this end, we encourage dealers to emphasize how our products eliminate installation steps, thus helping to achieve a quick rough dry-in, so interior work starts sooner.”
Warranties battle the elements
If you watch national news, you’ve no doubt noticed that natural disasters seem to be happening with an alarming frequency, and as such, building codes are evolving to protect both homeowner and home. For example, it wasn’t that long ago that weather barriers weren’t required in home construction. Today,build codes demand them, and the increased frequency of events such as hurricanes and other severe storms will be driving these products to evolve and building codes to continually adapt.
“Much of what we’re seeing has been moisture-related with the prevalence of hurricane damage,” says CertainTeed’s Winslow. “Homeowners that are looking to rebuild are concerned about moisture and mold issues that can become prevalent in these coastal towns where damage has occurred. They want to not only dry out what has been damaged, but want to select products that will help protect them in the future.”
DowDuPont’s Alan Hubbell agrees. “Evolving building codes are driving resilience and efficiency. We encourage developers and builders to design projects above code when possible as it will benefit developers, builders and ultimately, the homeowners. Our products go beyond many of the codes around the country and are designed to prevent damage and help promote recovery after disaster strikes.”
“Insulation has undergone some changes with new ASHRAE standards,” explains Tamlyn’s Daniels, “and we think you will continue to see the codes keep shifting to tighter standards. We have also seen some local amendments push code. For example, Portland, Ore., now requires rainscreens or accepted drainable WRBs for residential projects.”
And it’s not limited to coastal areas that are prone to hurricanes. Areas in the Gulf Coast and along “Tornado Alley” have adopted resilient building standards tested and published by the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety’s Fortified Home program, points out ZIP System Products’ Jason Darling. “Within these standards, is a requirement for a roof deck to be sealed at roof seams to mitigate the risk of water intrusion should the roof covering blow off in a high wind event. Since ZIP System sheathing and tape is by nature a sealed roof system, this resilient standard is easily met with our products, so we’re seeing our integrated sheathing and tape system used not only in walls but in roofs, especially in these areas.”
A product lineup with strong warranties that back up performance claims can increase sales for distributors in these parts of the country. As DowDuPont’s Hubbell points out, “Our warranties help drive a systems sale. Customers get an enhanced warranty for using and properly installing a portfolio of products, and that is worth a lot to builders and developers.”
Ultimately, warranty coverage goes a long way towards product confidence for your customers, and by emphasizing the strength of those warranties, you’ll be ensuring your customers they’re buying products that will eliminate callbacks and deliver over the long run. “We have extended warranties for many of our Dow and DuPont solutions,” says Hubbell. “Some of our warranties include the DuPont Weatherization Products 10-year limited builder warranty for single-family and low-rise multi-family residential buildings and our 30-year thermal limited warranty for STYROFOAM Brand Insulation.”
Education is everything
In the shifting landscape of changing codes, energy efficiency requirements and manufacturing advancements, it is more important than ever for distributors to stay at the forefront of product education and emerging trends. “The building and construction industry appears to be ripe for disruption and innovation over the coming years,” says DowDuPont’s Hubbell, “particularly as it relates to improving construction productivity, new technologies and increased focus on resilience. All products are not created equally, so the more informed the distributor is, the easier it is for them to advise customers on the what products they should use.”
Georgia-Pacific’s Jeff Key agrees with Hubbell and stresses the importance of education. “There are so many new products introduced every year, and significant changes in building codes every three years that it can be hard to keep up,” he says. “We just encourage our dealers and distributors to keep themselves as educated as possible through continuing education classes, product knowledge training, and self-study through websites, home builder associations, industry publications and other avenues.”
Rather than seeing themselves as merely a vendor of various product portfolios, the most successful dealerships will take on the role of being resource centers for their customers (both contractors and installers as well as consumers and homeowners). “Overall, most distributors do a very good job,” says Tamlyn’s Ian Daniels, “but some of the best programs we have seen have been very education-based, having your vendors come in and give education programs in tandem with you for select customers, helping to strengthen your brand as the best source of product and information.”
“We encourage distributors to educate customers on proper installation techniques,” says CertainTeed Siding’s Kirn. “We offer detailed installation guideline instructions with illustrations for accurate application, offered not only by our sales team but also downloadable as a PDF from our website.”
Training equals knowledge
The most successful dealers are the ones that embrace the idea of being a true resource center for product training and education—both for the distributor and for the installing contractor. “We find many of our customers have a variety of audiences and a variety of needs,” says Georgia-Pacific’s Jeff Key, “so we try to tailor our support and customize our programs to those needs as much as possible. Among other things we do product knowledge training on air and water barriers to distributors, dealers, builders and subcontractors. We have an AIA-accredited continuing education courses that we have given to more than 500 architects over the last year. And we do jobsite visits and on-site training where needed. Again, it really just depends on when, where and how our customers need us.”
ZIP System Products’ Darling echoes Drew’s thoughts regarding multi-channel education, stressing that it’s important to keep building professionals in sync with industry best practices. “From our live, on-demand technical support team to our YouTube channel chock-full of how-to instruction to our traveling product demonstration experience, the Prove it Tour, we always strive to share the most relevant education,” says Darling. “We’re always looking for new ways to help solve jobsite issues or headaches for builders.”
DowDuPont relies on trained specialists to provide onsite hyper-focused product solutions.
For example, its DuPont Tyvek Specialist Network can educate suppliers and builders on issues such as updates to building codes, keeping up with current trends and challenges, and provide on-site product guidance and training. In addition, dealers can reference the Dow Answer Center, which is an online, self-service database of technical information about products to arm themselves with information that will help inform their customers.
For all manufacturers, it’s about working with suppliers and builders, instructing them not on just how an individual product functions but on how a group of products can better function as a whole.
“We aid as much as we can in providing our presence at various educational events put on by our dealers,” says Tamlyn’s Daniels. We have a number of merchandising aids and displays that we can provide to locations and at times can work to make them co-branded elements.”
“We encourage dealers to take a systems approach to weatherization and ventilation,” says CertainTeed Siding’s Kirn. “It is vital to understand the impacts that other materials have on a structure. For example, the moisture created inside the home needs to escape through the walls. If a weather barrier is not properly permeable it will trap that moisture in the walls and mold will develop. On the flip side, it is vital to have proper water- and air-resistance to protect in harsher environments.”
“We also offer the Build-It tour,” he explains, “hands-on training events at distribution centers across the country. A fully equipped trailer along with an expert trainer will come onsite and perform demonstrations for professional attendees.”
Taken as a whole, the immediate future for both insulation and housewrap is strong. With housing starts continuing to remain robust and with manufacturers constantly looking for ways to improve product performance, it should be no surprise to see sustained growth for both product categories. And while it’s impossible to see into the future as to what new products are still in development, one thing’s for certain—manufacturers will continue to push the envelope when it comes to keeping homes airtight, moisture-free, and comfortably cozy.