Through the looking glass: Windows trend toward more selection, style and finishes

Replacement windows, unlike many other remodeling materials—faucets, paint colors, decorative hardware and appliances—tend not to be as unabashedly trendy.

But as vinyl has continued to eclipse other materials for windows, and regional differences between window preferences have become more pronounced, even this sometimes-staid long-term homeowner investment has shown signs of trendiness.

“What we are seeing more trend-wise is vinyl,” said Christopher Burk, product manager for Simonton Windows. “As it becomes more mature in the market, a nice-looking vinyl window that has some exterior facades is a trend, especially in the New England area.”

Windows offering a facade that is very natural in its appearance are most popular, he said, including “angled brick molds” and colonial styles with more trim along the sides. Adding sills that have the appearance of real wood also have been popular, he noted.

For remodelers, vinyl windows have become the third most often purchased building material item, following entry doors and molding, according to a study by the Home Improvement Research Institute (HIRI).

Of general remodelers, 77 percent said they purchased vinyl windows in 2006, up from 69 percent in 1998, the only kind of window that saw an uptick in remodeler purchases, according to the study. Those who said they purchased vinyl or aluminum clad wood windows fell to 63 percent, from 71 percent in 1998. Those who purchased wood windows fell from 47 percent to 41 percent, and aluminum windows fell 28 percent to 21 percent.

At W.I.T (Whatever it Takes) Windows and Doors in Redlands, Calif., vinyl windows with faux flourishes have not only been popular with remodelers, but with the retailer as well.

“Our store is in a church that was built in 1925, and we’re in a town that is really big on historic renovation,” said Claudia Mitchell, a manager at W.I.T. The one-location dealer renovated the church with vinyl windows that included some retro architectural touches, she said.

Specialty stores and LBM dealers still hold a significant portion of the window sales marketplace. According to another HIRI study on consumer spending practices for windows, doors and millwork, LBM dealers and specialty supply houses account for 40.1 percent of total consumer sales for those products. Home Depot accounted for 30.2 percent of sales, Lowe’s for 23.2 percent and Menards for 5.9 percent.

One trend that has taken over nationwide, but particularly in the West, has been a propensity for consumers to want more windows overall.

“We do notice that people want more windows and more natural light in their homes,” said Kim Flanary, an engineer at Tacoma, Wash.-based Milgard Windows. “I know there was a time in the ’70s and ’80 s when 10 to 15 windows per home was the norm. Now, it’s not unusual to see 30 or 40 windows per home.”

Mitchell, in fact, said her store recently sold 60 windows for a large home project. Some of those larger homes, in spite of their size, imitate a “bungalow” style that has led to further changes in the windows consumers are seeking.

“On the newer houses, we’re getting people who are putting in more window sills. Craftsman style has become very popular out here,” she said.

As with many other home improvement products, such as appliances, doors and plumbing fixtures, windows have seen an increase in the amount of decorative hardware used for latches and handles. Camlocks, crank handles and casements on windows have been embellished with brushed nickel and oil-rubbed bronze decorative hardware.

“It’s a nice way to quickly, and pretty inexpensively, update a look,” Burk said. Simonton offers options for contractors to swap out decorative hardware on various window styles, he added.

“I do get asked a lot more questions on finishes,” Flanary said. “For wood or wood-clad windows, decorative finishes are relatively common, but a lot of pressure to start putting those on vinyl has started as well.”

Having a distinction of styles is important—just as in the case of plumbing fixtures, windows don’t come in just one color or flat style anymore. Remodelers said “having a variety of styles, sizes and colors” available was one of the most important factors in their buying decision, according to HIRI.

In Redlands, Calif., on the outskirts of Los Angeles, many upscale communities are still seeing a good amount of renovation in spite of the slowdown in the housing market, Mitchell said. She agreed that offering a large number of colors and styles has contributed to healthy sales at W.I.T.

“We have a lot of building of what we call ‘McMansions’ around here. And, there hasn’t been much of a slowdown in people remodeling,” Mitchell said. “I think having a good selection and priding ourselves on good service is the most important thing.”