June 1, 2005

housing styles fuel nonwovens growth

The average home dweller doesn’t know it but nonwovens are everywhere in their homes. While glass mat and spunbond polyester substrate for roofing are probably the largest and most recognized markets for nonwovens in the construction market, nonwovens are actually found all over buildings, particularly in new construction, where they are replacing other substrates such as paper and felt. According to industry estimates, the use of nonwovens in construction applications is growing in the mid-single digit range. This growth can largely be attributed to innovation at the roll goods level as producers are finding new ways to apply their products in construction. In fact, many producers think of themselves as total “building envelope” providers, offering complete barrier protection for homes in the form of housewrap, roof liners and flashing products.

“Nonwoven membranes are playing a big role in our mission of establishing a total building envelope business,” explained Mark Vergnano, general manager of DuPont Nonwovens, Wilmington, DE. DuPont’s Tyvek-based building products are only a portion of the company’s immense construction business and executives are working in tandem with builders and architects to find out how their products can help secure buildings.

In addition to flashing, nonwovens are found in insulation, wallboards and roofing substrates. While this market has been impacted in recent years by an economic downturn as well as the rise of mass market building product retailers such as Loews and Home Depot, nonwovens producers are still viewing construction as a market where the opportunity to add value still exists. Furthermore, opportunities for both the residential and commercial growth as well as increases in developed and developing regions, are making this a truly diverse market.

Tight As A Drum
The use of nonwoven-based housewrap, made from flashspun or spunbonded materials, continues to rise in construction applications. Seeking improved energy efficiency, waterproofing and insulation, builders are choosing nonwoven products over felt, paper or nothing in both new construction projects and renovations.

These products are widely distributed by DuPont, BBA Nonwovens and Georgia-Pacific, although many smaller producers are looking to penetrate the segment. For the nonwovens industry, the increasing popularity of housewrap is a good example of nonwovens meeting an unfulfilled need by providing a function not previously found in construction and allowing their users to create an overall better final product.

DuPont’s FlexWrap for windows is building on the success of Tyvek housewrap.
Now that the use of these materials is widespread, particularly in the U.S. and Western Europe, roll goods producers are looking to take it a step farther by improving what is already on the market. For Nashville-based BBA this mission led to a total redesign of its Typar brand housewrap material in 2003. The improved product extends its role as an air and filtration barrier by offering better water management. “The new material allows the wrap to be weather resistant, protective against mold and mildew and is able to keep water either in our out,” said BBA spokesman John Russell. “In today’s market, high permeability rates are not the only issue when it comes to housewrap.”

Made from spunbonded polypropylene, Typar housewrap has good tear resistance and a high strength-to-unit ratio. It can also be exposed to elements such as strong winds without ripping.

BBA is among those companies looking to offer a total envelope solution to builders. The company has already launched a synthetic roof underlayment with lighter weight and better resistive properties and tear resistance than felt, and it is about to introduce a window/door flashing material to prevent intrusion around door and window frames. “This is an area we can add value and promote the use of this material,” Mr. Russell added. “The market is very responsive to value that you add in the converting process.”

Perhaps the most well known housewrap on the market is Tyvek. Manufactured by DuPont, this product is better know for its brand name than its manufacturer, a fact that sits well with with company executives. DuPont launched a huge branding initiative for Tyvek several years ago to build equity in the brand. Construction was a key area for this initiative as homes, under construction, covered in Tyvek housewrap are providing a literal billboard for the material.

While Tyvek is found in several key markets—protective apparel, medical packaging and envelopes—construction is particularly fast-growing , and executives are contributing to this growth in two ways. For one, the company has touted the benefits of using its housewrap and flashing products in areas where the practice is not widespread; for another, it is developing new products for specific applications such as FlexWrap for windows and a roof-sealing product. Tyvek’s biggest competitor in these markets is people not using anything, according to executives.

The result of these efforts has been programs that teach builders how flashing systems can protect buildings from damage. These programs are particularly widespread in Europe, Japan and South America where building codes and practices differ from the U.S. Working closely with the users of these products, in DuPont’s eyes, is a key to success.

As a whole, its core efforts center on barrier protection and have so far yielded its Advanced Composite Technology, which features polymer flexibility. Originally targeting the medical garments market, ACT will soon begin targeting more business areas. Certainly construction will be a top priority, according to Mr. Vergnano.

Mr. Vergnano predicts that DuPont’s strides in barrier protection will not end with ACT. In the next several years, DuPont will roll out several new nonwoven products that will not only feature properties not seen in the nonwovens industry but will also penetrate new areas for nonwovens. “These next generations of so-called ‘smart membranes’ will allow DuPont to provide a better barrier, in many areas, than it does today,” he said.

Roofing Still Rules
The use of nonwovens in the roofing market has grown steadily for the past three decades or so as end users crave the benefits that several types of nonwovens bring to the final product. Basically, two types of roofing mats use nonwovens technology—wetlaid glass and spunbond polyester. According to industry estimates, these two types of roofing mats comprise about two-thirds of roofing systems used in modern roofing styles, and their greatest share is found in steep slope roofing styles commonly found in residential construction. Residential roofing projects have been on an upward climb in recent years thanks to lower interest rates that have influenced homeowners to invest in their homes.

Glass mats have traditionally been found in built-up roofing, a style in which the roofer dips the glass mat into asphalt on site and than layers the mats onto the roof. Usually about four to five layers of glass mats are used to build up reach roof. Meanwhile, spunbond polyester is typically used in modified bitumen or mod bit roofing styles. In this style, the nonwoven material is impregnated with asphalt at the factory. The roofer needs only to lie out the strips, usually about one by nine meters, onto the roof.

Preferences between the two styles tend to be influenced by factors such as cost, climate, region and housing style, but generally roofing companies are looking for: longer lifetime, high installation quality, good end product stability and first bitumen. Additionally, companies want to use the least amount of material per roof as possible, driving down costs for raw materials and labor.

“We are seeing a growing demand for specialties with an added value,” said Rob Noppin, business manager of construction at Colbond, Arnhem, The Netherlands. “These specialties will allow roofers to improve their performance and image. Furthermore, house owners are more willing to invest in their houses for quality improvement and longer product lifetimes.”

Colbond offers nonwovens for a number of construction applications.
With roofing and construction applications at the forefront of its business, Colbond supplies polyester-based nonwovens globally under several brand names. Colback is a bicomponent polyester/polyamide nonwoven that has been thermally bonded without binder glue or needlepunching, giving it unique properties over staple fiber and spunbond nonwovens as well as glass mats. Colback’s open structure makes it easy to saturate and allows increasing production speeds.

The main application for Colback is waterproof bitumen membranes for roofing. Because the product is less thick than other membrane products, it can lie smoothly on the roof; its lack of binders makes Colback flexible in hot and cold climates.

Colbond also offers Colback glass reinforcements which incorporate glass scrims or mats. Called Colback SDF, these products not only give an excellent process and dimensional stability but also have fire retardant properties. Therefore, Colback SDF can be used in many applications in which fire retardancy is required. Colback SDF meets the Nordic Test as well as the German DIN Test for fire retardancy.

Executives expect more products to roll out as customer demand and government regulations become more specific. “We expect more and more pressure to reduce applications with so-called open fires, like BUR and torch on,” said Mr. Noppen. “For this reason we already see a shift to applications without use of fire, like peel-and-stick (cold self-adhesive), cold applied and liquid roofing. In Europe, mechanical fixation is also popular, especially in one-layer systems. It is said that open fires are causing safety and fire risks as well as air pollution.

The changing needs of the marketplace have influenced other roll goods producers to mix up their product lines, and many of these products blur the boundaries between built-up roofing and modified bitumen, and by extension glass and polyester nonwovens, in roofing applications. One such product, introduced by Owens Corning, is a glass mat substrate with polyester backing for roofs in high hail areas. The polyester backing provides the shingles with more give when exposed to hail storms. It is applied to the roof in a built-up style.

Freudenberg Politex, a joint venture between roll goods producer Freudenberg and roofing specialist Politex, has also embraced this trend. Where once the venture, which has operations in Europe and the U.S., had a strictly polyester-based line, its Texbond R product is reinforced with fiberglass in the machine direction during manufacturing. The fiberglass keeps the polyester from shrinking back to its original size when exposed to heat on a roof. Used in mod bit roofing styles, this product was first incorporated into Freudenberg Politex’s business in 1999. Since then, 100% of its U.S. lines and about 90% of its European business has incorporated fiberglass.

Meanwhile roofing specialist Johns Manville, Denver, CO, has developed Dowlastic, a nonwoven glass mat with a self-adhesive edge, which combats leakage problems that occur after installation, and Dynagrid, a self-adhesive roll product containing glass nonwovens. Meeting the need for flame retardency is is Duraspun, a premium glass/polyester sandwich construction. The glass mat prevents burn-through while incorporating the benefits of polyester. As the only roofing provider that manufacturers both glass and polyester, JM enjoys the advantage of not having to outsource to develop niche products. The company can manipulate all aspects of the composite structure to ensure maximum performance, according to executives.

“Our goal is to offer high-value products that give our customers the ability to differentiate themselves on the market,” said Enno Henze of Johns Manville’s European division. “This can mean the introduction of high-end products that are popular in areas where companies are forced to adapt to certain standards or it can simply mean the ability to offer consumers a choice.”

The Look For Less
In addition to function, the look of the roof is becoming more important to consumers who are generally becoming more concerned about the exteriors of their homes. In the past several decades, the role of the roof has moved from functional to becoming a part of the streetscape, requiring suppliers to offer more variety in their products. “The real trend we are seeing is that finished products perform and look better than ever,” explained Bill Ricketts, president of Emco Building Products, Montreal, Quebec. “Roofing is more colorful and better looking than it used to be with more shapes and sizes,”

As the look of the roof has become more important so has the size of the homes it is covering. The size of the average new house in the U.S. has more than tripled since 1950 and experts expect this trend to continue in upcoming years. This has also increased the size of new roofs, requiring a need for products that are easier to apply over large spaces. Of course consumers want these larger, more beautiful roofs without paying a high premium.

“Price is always an issue,” said Zehn Mahmood, global business leader of roofing for Johns Manville, Denver, CO. “While the goal is always to increase performance, you have to make sure there is a customer willing to pay for that performance.”

BBA has improved its Typar brand of housewrap.
Demand for construction materials tends to vary heavily by region and cultural factors as well as climate issues. In developed areas such as North America and Western Europe growth can largely be attributed to rebuilds and renovations, and the goal of nonwovens producer is to offer new products to meet shifting demand. For instance, Western European markets are becoming more interested in dimensional stability on roofs while California legislation has led to a need for more flame retardency in roofing styles

However, growth is really being driven by economic development in Eastern Europe, Asia and South America. As these areas develop, building materials are becoming more sophisticated. While regional preferences still exist, nonwovens manufacturers are trying to tailor their products to meet these needs. “We are really good at finding the right products for the right markets whether it’s China, Russia or North America,” explained Zehn Mahmood. “There are eight billion people in the world and only 500 million of them are using nonwoven materials. As income levels go up around the world, this number can only go up so we are putting ourselves in growth areas to be ready when the time comes.”

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