In a booming home improvement world, siding is poised for growth.
When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the Moon in 1969, they wore a lot of protection. They were covered by a suit called the Integrated Micrometeoroid Garment. Made up of 13 layers of material that included a rubber-coated nylon, five layers of aluminized Mylar, four layers of Dacron, and a bunch of other hard-to-pronounce materials that protected the astronauts from thermal solar radiation, micrometeoroids which could puncture the suit, and from the overall vacuum of space.
While we may not be building on the Moon quite yet, today’s homes are just as well protected by siding. Engineered to be the outermost protection from solar radiation and the harsh conditions of the elements, siding is the first line of defense and the one that makes the strongest visual statement. And right now, the siding industry is booming. Material shortages, however, combined with a manufacturing world that is straining to ramp up to pre-COVID-19 levels, present challenges the savvy LBM dealer will need to navigate to best provide the products that are in demand along with the solutions their customers need.
The positives of a pandemic
When COVID-19 first reared its ugly head here in the U.S., a large segment of the population was forced into lock-down and businesses shifted to work-at-home situations. While restrictions are easing across the country, there’s been a permanent shift in how much time people spend in their homes—for work and for leisure. As a result, they’re treating their homes and outdoor living spaces to significant upgrades. “One of the big trends is the idea of home as a family’s haven, office, and everything else,” says Trinh Le, head of marketing for the siding business at LP Building Solutions. “We saw tremendous growth in upgrading outdoor spaces, like creating sheds as offices and living spaces.”
Ben Drury, brand manager for Boral Building Products, also sees a tremendous increase in demand for siding and trim. “Many homeowners spent quarantine finally tackling their to-do lists, and the exterior façade was a great place to start,” he explains. “We saw an increase in interest from DIYers, particularly in simple exterior projects that make a big impact, such as replacing aging siding, adding gable vents or decorative mounting blocks, or installing decorative trim. These simple swaps can go a long way to improving curb appeal.”
Steve Booz, vice president of marketing and product development for Royal Building Products, echoes these thoughts. “In the past year, our industry has seen a sales lift as a result of homeowners investing in their outdoor living spaces and spending more time at home,” he says. “The homeowner demand for low maintenance, beautiful exterior products has increased exponentially and as a result we are seeing a growing demand and increased sales across all of our siding and trim lines.”
Because of this supercharged mix of demand combined with a robust housing market and low interest rates, the next 12 months look exceptionally positive for the siding segment. “We believe both new construction and remodeling will continue to be strong for the remainder of 2021 and well into next year, barring any major crisis or a sudden hike in interest rates, which is highly unlikely considering the forward stance of the Federal Open Market Committee on furthering economic recovery,” says Jon Lapp, siding product manager for ProVia.
Of course, all of this is predicated on manufacturers being able to meet demand, which could easily be outpaced by demand. As Jeff Adams, president and CEO of Arcitell, LLC (the manufacturer of Qora Cladding) explains, “The first quarter of 2020 saw an increase in demand of 9.5% in residential construction from 2019. As a result of COVID, manufacturers scaled back production. Q1 of 2021 saw a 12.7% rise from 2020 in square feet and an 18.9% rise in value. That trend will accelerate throughout the year as capacity tries to catch up with demand.”
Manufacturers, he says, could be taking 20 to 30% more orders daily if materials and labor were available. “It is a good problem for those selling products and bad for the builders and homeowners trying to get their projects completed and into their new homes. The supply issue is a reason why alternative products like the composite siding we manufacture are gaining traction. Firms like ours, which have recently opened and are adding capacity, are prepared to ship to job sites quickly.”
Amanda Vincent, marketing specialist for RoyOMartin, echoes Adams’ comments. “According to data from Freddie Mac, the U.S. is currently short 4 million homes,” she explains. “With housing starts at 1.7 million year-over-year, yes, we could be in this market for a while. Siding and trim should grow in demand along with other wood products and building materials as the demand for housing continues to grow. Innovative, affordable, and readily available products will be the fastest growers. The truth of the matter is that we are experiencing extremely low supply levels and working around the clock innovating and trying to meet demand.”
Clean and classic dominate aesthetics
When it comes to siding and trim, product trends point to an aesthetic that combines clean lines, authentic details and unique customizations that enable one home to stand out from its neighbor. Remaining popular are both the Modern Farmhouse and Craftsman styles, both of which utilize board and batten as well as shake siding— oftentimes in combination. “Vertical and board-and-batten siding are quite popular right now,” says Boral’s Ben Drury. “These installation approaches are an easy way to add dimension and visual interest to the home exterior. Vertical applications also can help elevate gables and other accent areas.”
Other manufacturers share similar thoughts. For example, Royal Building Products’ Booz says his company has seen demand for board and batten increase by approximately 30%. “In terms of product trends, the Farmhouse design continues to maintain popularity, driving demand for board and batten white exterior siding with dark trim accents.”
ProVia’s Jon Lapp agrees. “Board and batten vinyl siding continues to gain popularity in nearly all styles of new homes and remodels—the popular ‘modern farmhouse’ design has brought attention to this siding profile in recent years,” he explains. “Another trend gaining traction is the Craftsman style home, consisting of bold shake or board and batten accent gables and dormers, a direct nod to the square and straight design lines and edges found in many traditional home styles.”
Complementing these style trends is the growing use of dark siding colors along with a hefty use of mixed siding materials. “We are seeing a rise in dark siding colors, which continue to trend,” says Booz. “Homeowners are seeking out bolder shades, especially shades of deep blue and dark gray that will make them stand out in their neighborhood.” Says Arcitell’s Adams, “The most dominant trend is multiple cladding materials on the home. Take a drive through new communities in Denver or Atlanta. You’ll see house after house with three to four different materials on the walls and two or even three different roofing materials. Architects and builders are spicing up the looks, and that demands alternative transitions from one material to another.”
Low maintenance a must
While the interest in low maintenance siding and trim materials is nothing new, manufacturers report it as one of the single biggest differentiators when it comes to purchase decisions. “Everyone wants the look of real wood, but they don’t want the overall maintenance that can come with real wood,” says Guy Campbell, sales manager for Carolina Colortones. “There are more and more products being offered pre-stained to mimic real wood. These coatings have proven to last longer than your average solid color paint job as well, giving the end user a very durable and long-lasting product.”
Ask Royal Building products’ Booz about the need for low maintenance products, and he’ll point to the growth of the company’s Cedar Renditions aluminum siding, which has tripled in the U.S. since its launch in 2019. “Homeowners and builders are seeking out low maintenance materials that replicate the look of real wood (especially with the rising costs of lumber), and we are continuing to introduce new siding and trim products that fit with those needs,” he points out.
One only has to look at current manufacturing trends compared to pre-housing crash numbers to see the importance of low-or no-maintenance products. As Arcitell’s Adams explains, “As we entered the new millennium, vinyl siding and brick were the mainstays of exteriors. As a former CEO of a brick company, I can tell you the industry has been devastated by trend changes and labor. The brick industry shipped 9 billion bricks in 2005. Last year the sector came in around 4.5 billion. Where did that volume go now that housing starts are back to pre-crash levels? The first answer is cultured or concrete stone. Since 2000, the use of stone on fronts of houses has grown dramatically. We have seen the dramatic growth of fiber cement and pre-finished sidings during the same period. These materials have allowed consumers a dramatically broader palette. Color availability and home shows touting curb appeal have whetted the consumer’s appetite for more choices.” As well, vinyl remains a strong low-maintenance option, and LBM dealers and distributors need to keep it in mind when building their inventory and product offerings. “The opportunities for vinyl siding are tremendous in new homes as builders look at smaller footprints and more affordable options,” says Booz. “It remains the most cost-effective and sustainable product on the market according to data released by the Vinyl Siding Institute, which positions us well with the Millennial homebuyer and homeowner. Vinyl siding is also the most cost-effective solution for homeowners and boasts one of the lowest life cycle costs (dollars and environmental impact) as compared with other siding products.”
Success lies with solutions
Beyond understanding trends and consumer desires, it’s more important than ever for LBM dealers and distributors to be able to provide creative solutions for their customers. With the difficulties presented by potential diminished product supply and a weakened workforce, it’s vital for dealers to become information databases.
“Builders and contractors often see LBM dealers as experts and key advisors when they are purchasing trim and siding products,” explains LP’s Trinh Le. “They will look to them for information on anything from new products to product claims or warranties. In the end, they want to be confident in the product they are purchasing. Being armed with credible research to support claims at point-of-sale can make all the difference when closing the deal.”
For years, physical displays have been a mainstay of product information and a key method for conveying how a product will look once installed. But that was then—this is now. In addition to the tried and true, the successful LBM dealer will avail themselves of virtual tools to help impart product knowledge.
“Seeing is believing,” says Boral’s Drury. “Providing pro and DIY customers with the tools to see how products will look is important to help them make decisions and even try new products. This includes creating vignettes and other physical displays as well as leveraging manufacturers’ design tools. For example, Boral Building Products offers the Virtual Remodeler, an online tool that showcases how the home exterior will look with different profiles, textures, and colors of siding, trim, shutters, and other accessories.”
Ralph Bruno, CEO of Derby Building Products, echoes Ben’s thoughts on being able to show a customer how a product will look once installed. “We discovered that using visualization tools is a great way to sell when the pandemic has restricted in-person contact,” he explains. “LBM dealers and their customers have relied more on virtual design tools and apps.
For example, Tando’s My Tando Home Creator is a free online tool that provides accurate visualization of home exteriors. The tool creates designs for TandoStone, Beach House Shake, and TandoShake. The visualizer allows contractors to narrow down product selection and close the sale with homeowners with minimal physical contact. Our free visualization tool offers QuickView for fast, and easy visualization. The program also features affordable professional design services, including 3D modeling and project measurements to provide accurate material takeoffs.”
It’s not as simple, however, to just show options and provide information. Ask the manufacturers, and they’ll point out how important it is for the LBM dealer to deliver a strong and diverse product base that gives customers options. “Keeping inventory stocked, and offering higher-end products like insulated siding, board and batten, shakes and scallops, and trending colors is the smart move,” points out Jonathan Berry, siding sales director for ProVia. “And considering current circumstances, clear communication when it comes to product lead times, availability, and pricing is just as important.”
Arcitell’s Jeff Adams shares these sentiments. “In the next 12 months, LBM dealers need to have as much inventory as possible. I’m not saying that because I’m a manufacturer. I’m saying it because supply is short, and builders will be scrambling to find what they can. There is no better time to consider some of the new materials on the market, like Qora Cladding, where the supply is available. It is a great time to add new products to a dealer’s line that they have not been able to touch before.”
Because of these supply demands, it’s vital that LBM dealers over-communicate when it comes to product availability and delivery expectations. “This is not a bubble, this is not a phase we are experiencing,” says RoyOMartin’s Vincent. “What we are experiencing is unprecedented demand coupled with a 10-year undersupplied market. Builders need to pre-order what they can; those who wait for prices to come down have lost contracts.”
Gazing into the crystal ball
When looking at what the next year might deliver, it’s a pretty sure bet demand is going to remain strong. All the manufacturers interviewed shared a positive outlook regarding what the market might hold. This isn’t to say, however, that there aren’t challenges. Steep increases in lumber prices combined with shortages in raw material and labor are hurdles siding and trim manufacturers are facing head on. “A shortage of raw materials globally has had an impact on delivery times and product availability,” says Royal’s Booz. “This has impacted every manufacturer across the industry. The demand continues to outpace the supply of products and that is also impacting pricing.”
These challenges, however, also present opportunities. As Brett Collins, regional sales manager for UFP Industries, points out, “Many products are on allocation with the spike in the housing market during COVID-19, and alternative products have become more popular than ever to fill that void.”
By all industry predictions, consumers’ desires to improve their home’s exteriors is not going to wane. Housing growth is expected to stay strong as well, and when coupled with the soaring remodeling market, the future looks bright for the siding and trim segment. “The building industry was already booming prior to the pandemic,” says Carolina Colortones’ Guy Campbell. “That hasn’t changed at all in the last year.”
Michael Berger is the former managing editor for HANDY Magazine and has been writing about home improvement and construction for the past 20 years.