Opening to New Trends

July 21st, 2021 by Nathan Hobbs

When it Comes to Entry Doors, Manufacturers Aren’t Afraid to Go in Opposite Directions

By Drew Vass

It might not be the sexiest category out there, but entry doors are far from closed and locked off from innovation. On the surface, today’s six-panel doors might be, well, six-panel doors, but even so, it’s what’s underneath a door’s skin and all that surrounds it that’s changed. Other new doors show innovations on their surfaces, such as wrought iron designs and eclectic styles with hinges that pivot instead of swing.

In a category that’s viewed mostly as static in terms of form and function, “I think when true innovation takes place, it grabs attention,” says Greg Wozniak, founder and CEO of Glenview Doors.

If you’re a door and window dealer who is wondering what to stock next, the answer might be: A little of everything, if the latest trends are any indication. And don’t be afraid to take chances, as what sticks with consumers these days often borders on fringe.

Door manufacturers aren’t like Apple; they don’t innovate products that fit in our pocket and change life as we know it. But most manufacturers have a group of innovators who are charged with continually rethinking how we get into and out of our homes, and what those experiences are like for the user. Pella, for instance, has a group of around five innovators, says Nicole Willits, product manager for the entry door category. Therma-Tru has an entire team and an Innovation Center, says Donna Contat, director of product management.

“We also have communities with both consumer and rep showcases, where we can unabashedly go in as ‘not Pella,’” Willits says. “They don’t know it’s us. And so we’re able to ask more pressing questions without the brand halo that comes along with it.”

Trends That Grow

With or without major innovations, the fact is: Entry doors are constantly changing. Three to four years ago, the prices for fiberglass doors were decreasing. Wood door manufacturers said they were focused on durability, to compete with the increased competition from fiberglass and other materials. Manufacturers across the board were busy integrating more composite materials into their sills and jambs for durability. When it came to aesthetics, styles were busy shifting from traditional to more modern, with features like flush-style glazing. Most of those same trends continued across 2019.

Last, but not least, anyone who’s been to a few trade shows over the years will attest: doors have steadily grown larger. As they reached as much as 4-0 by 8-0 sizes, architects and designers said they were looking to go even bigger. In response, as many as eight door manufacturers said they had plans to push the limits further.

There’s reason to believe that the trend in oversized doors isn’t going away. According to data gathered by Home Innovations Research Labs, wall heights in residential construction have trended away from eight feet and toward nine and even 10 feet over the past few years. With architects and designers calling for floor-to-ceiling entryways, manufacturers have spent the past few years exploring means for dealing with the added weight, in some cases shifting it away from side hinges and wall framing.

Glenview Doors, Kolbe with its VistaLuxe, Sierra Pacific and Western Window Systems are just some of the companies that have introduced pivot-style hinges. By operating on hardware mounted to the top and bottom of doors, around a third of the way across the width of the slab, pivot-style hinges shift weight away from the side of a door and wall framing and to the floor, where concrete can bear the brunt of it or framing can be reinforced along joists and rims, adjacent to foundations.

Showing Caution

Even with the trend toward oversized doors and pivot hinges years in the making, some manufacturers remain in a wait-and-see status.

“Sometimes we spend more time in development, or maybe we learn from others, or as the opportunity size grows,” Contat says. “I think we’re more methodical in how we go about doing things, versus kind of throwing it against the wall and seeing what sticks.” When it comes to pivot hinges, “This is definitely a space that’s interesting to us,” she explains. “In terms of how niche or how mainstream certain things are going … we’re absolutely watching those spaces. We know that big doors continue to be a trend, and we want to make sure that we figure out how best to enter some of these spaces if we choose to do so.”

There are reasons for being slow to adopt, especially in certain areas. Just three to four years ago, for instance, most door manufacturers said they were leaving the addition of things like wifi-enabled locks and sensors to hardware and electronics manufacturers. But as early as January 2015, Pella got into the game with its Insynctive line of wi-fi-enabled features, including
a deadbolt sensor for its Architect Series doors. Andersen offered Verilock—a line of status sensors. But, “When Insynctive was launched, you know, Alexa wasn’t in your home,” Willits points out, regarding Amazon’s in-home smart speaker and assistant. As it turns out, the company missed that pairing by about six months, which may have been crucial. Pella is now rebooting its Insynctive line by reintroducing its mobile apps and offering the technology on all of its doors, Willits says.

Aesthetics

One thing that’s become obvious in recent years includes the fact that manufacturers don’t always move in tandem with their offerings of style choices or ideas. When it comes to aesthetics, for instance, two divergent themes emerged in 2019: one simple and modern, the other age-old in appearance. Companies such as GlassCraft, Jeld-Wen and Masonite have leaned on styles that utilize the look of metal or wrought iron. Masonite introduced door glass frames to achieve those appearances. The attention-getting style of wrought iron, some manufacturers suggest, is at least
partly driven and utilized by big box retailers. If so, that’s not surprising, considering that according to statistics gathered by Home Innovations Research Labs, 69% of entry doors are purchased from home improvement warehouses, with the majority coming from Home Depot. Second is Lowe’s at around 34%.

Aside from the look of wrought iron, more subtle techniques also have surfaced giving doors an aged look. In September, ProVia debuted glazed finishes for its Embarq and Signet fiberglass doors that provide a weathered, rustic look.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, Simpson offers its Clear Edge technology, which extends glass all the way to the edge of wood doors; Masonite rolled out Snap-Fit Frames, which utilize flat profiles for “sleek and modern” looks; TruStile introduced a new Tru&Modern series that combines vertical and horizontal kerfs. Those designs are a far cry from wrought iron and aged.

Somewhere in the middle of those opposite directions, manufacturers are embracing a trend toward styles, like Shaker, often with modern twists. And they’re doing it across multiple materials. In April 2019, for instance, Taylor Entrance Systems debuted a line of 22-gauge, flat-panel steel doors with Shaker styling. But rather than shift gears abruptly from yesterday’s to today’s trends, door stylists are blending traditional styling with modern features, like flush-style glazing. For example, in a unique twist on the Shaker style, Therma-Tru offers Shaker and barn-style doors with modern features like full lites of glass and satin etching.

If marketing materials are any indication, therein a next niche seems to be forming—one that some describe as “eclectic.”

“We also see the evolution of casual,” Contat says. “This is where you get into that modern farmhouse, craftsman cottage, simple barn look. You’re looking for things that are clean and sophisticated, and refined, and done in different ways—whether it’s through the style of the door, the glass or the finish. And then, of course, you have the ongoing appeal relative to more modern takes. So that’s another area in which modern and eclectic start to merge a little bit more when we see trends.”

Based on sales statistics, one could argue that the preference for eclectic over straight traditional has already made its mark. In the use of sidelites, for instance, the preference has shifted from using them on both sides of an entry door—a choice that’s decreased since around 2014 and entered a steep decline over the last couple of years—toward one sidelite. Transoms, too, have decreased in usage, while the use of double doors has risen slightly—a feature that’s often associated with contemporary designs.

Material Changes

When it comes to materials, in recent years there have been no mammoth-sized shifts in what consumers and builders show preference for. Among the estimated 3.3 million entry doors installed into new homes in 2018 (the latest available data), the largest share was in fiberglass, at around 1.45 million. Second was raised panel steel, at around 900,000, while wood reeled in around 525,000. Among front doors, fiberglass held nearly half (47%) of market share, while wood and steel roughly split the other.

In remodeling, steel continues to be the number one selection, at 41% of the market—a fact that’s not surprising, considering the material’s history for return on investment. But over the past couple of years, that stronghold has faded and is even in decline. That shift could be driven by the industry’s biggest consumers: large builders, as statistics show that the larger the builder, the more fiberglass they use. Builders of 51 or more homes per year use fiberglass in half of their homes, while builders producing one to 10 homes per year use wood in a third of projects (likely large, custom homes). In theory, that dovetails with another statistic: 40% of front doors in new, luxury priced homes are made of wood—an even larger share than fiberglass.

That’s not to say that steel and other metals are falling by the wayside. In fact, if 2019 is any indication, it’s just the opposite.

At the World Millwork Alliance Convention, Taylor Entrance Systems rolled out additions for its Trugrain line of steel doors, which are designed to have the look and feel of wood (and do so rather convincingly). At the International Builders’ Show, GlassCraft created a buzz with its new Thermaplus, 18-gauge steel doors—a product that later earned one of [DWM]’s 2019 Green Awards via its thermally-broken design. Therein lies one of the come-back features that steel door manufacturers hope will give the material a longer hold in a market that’s moving toward stricter
codes and greater energy efficiency.

Here Comes Aluminum

Improvements to thermal break and other insulating design features have also served to boost the appearance of aluminum in entry doors, manufacturers say, both as a primary material and cladding.

In 2018, Western Window Systems introduced a swing door to its Series 7000 family of aluminum moving glass walls. The 7900 Hinged Door achieves a U-value rating of 0.32 with standard, low-E, argon filled, dual-pane insulating glass. In August 2019, Kolbe announced that its new VistaLuxe collection would offer an AL Line, including fiberglass-reinforced polyamide strips to provide a thermal break in the aluminum framing members.

The same concept could provide a boost for wood doors, especially in colder climates. Glenview, for instance, offers thermally-broken wood doors that utilize a “sandwich” design, pairing real wood veneers with an insulating foam core. Those features, Wozniak says, not only give wood doors similar performance to fiberglass (with U-values below 0.3), but also corrects
issues like splitting and warping. In a technique that resembles the concept of engineered-wood flooring, “If you engineer it and the wood becomes thinner, the wood then, believe it or not, performs better because it’s not pulling itself in different directions by its own strength and density,” he suggests.

The good news is—no matter where the latest trends head, demand for entry doors is expected to grow by a rate of 3.2% over the next few years, according to market research firm Freedonia Group. That’s a more modest rate than the 7.5% growth shown between 2013 and 2018, albeit still heading in the right direction. As it stands, the largest growth is expected to remain with fiberglass, but with new materials like aluminum edging their way in, outcomes could be shifted by innovations.

Drew Vass is the editor of Door and Window Market [DWM] magazine.
dvass@glass.com

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