It's A Wrap

By Ellen Wuagneux, Associate Editor | April 17, 2006

roofing and construction markets expand to meet new demands for high performance weatherizaton products

Photo courtesy of DuPont
If there’s one thing producers of nonwoven-based roofing and construction products are seeing these days, it’s an even stronger push to keep weather elements where they belong—outside rather than inside of building structures. Heightened product requirements have spurred new products specifically engineered to offer top quality and performance through breathability, moisture barrier, durability and energy efficiency.

This evolution can be traced clearly in the housewrap category, a segment that was created in the 1980s to initially serve as air barriers. Today, the category has evolved into moisture barrier products and the days of housewrap performing exclusively as air barriers are over. Guarding against moisture is no longer a trend—it’s a requirement.

In terms of size, the North American roofing/construction market (U.S. and Canada) consumed about $180 million worth of nonwoven materials at the producers’ price level, according INDA, Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry. “These materials were used primarily as housewrap/underlay and as roofing substrates for the production of modified bitumen roofing materials,” explained Ian Butler, INDA’s director of market research and statistics. “Sales of housewrap/underlay nonwoven materials were about a third of the total and nonwoven roofing substrate the balance,” he said.

New, Newer, Newest

When it comes to new products, nonwovens producers have been busy rolling out innovations in both the roofing and construction sectors. One recent introduction is Enkaroof Vent from Colbond, Inc., Enka, NC. The product features a three-dimensional, entangled net Enkamat core bonded to a water-resistant fabric. It is used for sound attenuation, ventilation and keeping water out of the structure.

For its part, roofing specialist Johns Manville (JM) is partnering with Tarco, a roofing underlayment manufacturer, to create a new asphalt synthetic underlayment called EasyLay. EasyLay is Tarco’s new Leakbarrier product that employs DuraBase, JM’s innovative weatherproof technology.

The latest innovation from JM’s Engineered Products Group, DuraBase employs the proven technology of asphalt with a new high performance nonwoven polyester reinforcement. DuraBase technology also allows the EasyLay product to unroll flat in warm and cold weather. Additionally, EasyLay offers greater waterproofing performance and better protection, as it employs DuraBase technology, which provides sealing around nails.

“JM is the only manufacturer with the ability to produce this combination of asphalt and nonwoven polyester, which means we can offer builders and contractors this innovative product that provides the performance of synthetics with the benefits and value of felt,” said Zain Mahmood, vice president and general manager, construction materials and systems for JM’s Engineered Products Group. “Our partnership with Tarco’s strong roofing products distribution network will enable us to bring JM’s DuraBase nonwoven technology to our customers through EasyLay in an efficient and effective manner.”

In addition, JM has also launched Gorilla Wrap, a synthetic polypropylene-based nonwoven housewrap.

Another producer, PGI, produces a range of products for the building and construction industry that satisfy market needs from below grade to roof top. Offerings include fibers for reinforcing concrete, pond liners, construction hoarding and curing blankets and roofing membranes. “The latest product introductions from PGI’s Fabrene Group make use of its high strength spunbond assets,” offered Eric Henderson, vice president sales and marketing for PGI Canada.

In December, the company introduced Matrix, a three-ounce roofing membrane with a unique grid pattern to make installation of shingles easier. “Building and construction is a growing market and PGI plans to continue to make new product introductions in this area,” Mr. Henderson said.

Specifically in the area of housewrap, in the past year BBA has added a series of peel and stick and flex flashings as well as an upgraded tape product. “The important thing is offering a complete weatherization system around the house,” offered Pat Marcouiller, business director of construction for BBA. “Not many companies around are doing that. We are also now offering the builder and homeowner a 10-year warranty that covers damages and offers replacement products,” he said. Later this year BBA will introduce a housewrap product specifically designed for coastal areas with high winds and high humidity. Mr. Marcouiller declined to offer further details on the upcoming product introduction.

DuPont is also in the business of offering complete weatherization systems for buildings. Tyvek HomeWrap is a highly vapor permeable, water resistive barrier designed to protect buildings from weather while improving the comfort of the occupants and improving the energy efficiency of the home. DuPont FlexWrap is a unique flashing material designed to protect windows and doors from water intrusion, reducing the risk of mold and wood rot.

DuPont has just launched two new products into the construction market: Tyvek AtticWrap and Tyvek ThermaWrap, two revolutionary nonwoven construction membranes made with DuPont’s flashspun polyethylene process coated with a breathable aluminum layer. “Tyvek AtticWrap is the first roofing air barrier membrane to completely seal the building envelope,” commented Arturo Horta, DuPont roofing market manager. “Tyvek AtticWrap is a breathable roofing membrane that helps create a drier, healthier, more environmentally friendly living space by protecting attic areas that are prone to drafts, mold and mildew,” he said.

Because Tyvek AtticWrap creates a continuous airtight building envelope up to the attic space, homeowners can expect up to a 20% reduction in heating and cooling costs, according to DuPont. Although Tyvek AtticWrap creates a sealed attic, it is breathable and vents the roof, allowing moisture to escape while locking out water and air. “Tyvek AtticWrap creates a sealed attic and a vented roof: the best of both worlds,” opined Mr. Horta.

Tyvek ThermaWrap is an insulating breather membrane with a combination of thermal resistance and high vapor permeability. Designed to help control condensation and prevent mold, it features higher UV resistance than conventional building paper. Tyvek ThermaWrap adds R-2 insulation value to a wall, when installed with an air space. It allows up to a 15% reduction in heat flow through walls, significantly helping reduce energy costs. “As a low emissivity (low-e) surface, Tyvek ThermaWrap helps increase the installed thermal resistance value, or R-value, of the insulation and works all year round to increase energy efficiency, reducing the amount of heat loss during the winter and reflecting radiant heat out in summer,” Mr. Horta explained. It also helps reduce cold-bridging by providing thermal insulation at the studs, making it a highly valued construction product.

PGI is also active in this sector, where the company has witnessed growth in housewraps and multi-layered products. “Our housewrap products have gained a large share of the market in the last five years,” offered Mr. Henderson. “We also have focused our efforts on more technical and specialized end uses. We have brought some very sophisticated multi-layered products to market, such as a termite barrier and chemical resistant fabrics for containment liners.”

Up On A Roof

One key trend in the roofing market is growing interest in environmental and (fire) safety applications such as cold applied and liquid roofing. “The market is growing, partly due to hurricanes,” observed Rob Noppen, Colbond’s business manager.

There is also continuing growth in synthetic roofing underlayments, a trend that is being driven by their ease of installation and durability. Here, bicomponent fabrics are used for strength, integrity and tear resistance while microporous films offer holdout and breathability. “We definitely see this new roofing underlayment category expanding very rapidly,” said DuPont’s Mr. Horta. “Roofing manufacturers have already launched a product into this new category or are in the process of launching it. The market potential is very significant and the growth rate is double-digit,” he said.

Photo courtesy of Freudenberg
Manufacturers are also reporting a sustained trend in the market to replace the traditional 15- or 30-pound roofing asphalt felt by modern lightweight nonwoven roofing membranes. Some new synthetic roofing underlayments have anti-slip treatments that increase their coefficient of friction, making them much safer to work with, improving the grip of the roofer’s shoes when walking on the underlayment, especially in wet conditions.

Additionally, there has been an increase in demand for energy-efficient products and energy-saving building solutions, designed to help builders achieve the Energy Star ratings, differentiate from the rest and be able to market that advantage to their clients.     According to Mr. Henderson of PGI Canada, the benefits of nonwovens in the roofing industry are many. “The strength, stability and longevity of synthetic nonwoven membranes make them attractive in comparison to other products for the major companies that are installing 25-year roofing systems,” he opined. “Breathability and anti-skid properties for safety, particularly when wet, further enhance their appeal. Synthetic materials offer excellent strength-to-weight ratios, are light weight, feature easy installation and are much cleaner for the environment. PGI Canada’s Fabrene Group combines the technological capabilities of our traditional nonwovens business and our extruded business to develop a superior product for this market,” he said.

Global Growth?

In terms of growth, leading U.S.-based producers such as DuPont and BBA are reporting strong sales primarily in the Northeast U.S., although the Southwest is also starting to enjoy significant growth, especially in the roofing tile market.

“Products are growing across the U.S.,” noted BBA’s Mr. Marcouiller. “There is a growing awareness of the value and benefit that housewrap can bring in the southern half of the U.S. Most markets in the northern states have already been penetrated. Weatherwise, there are opposite conditions in the south and this is currently where faster growth is occurring,” he said.

Similar market observations were made by Freudenberg Politex’s Richard Shaw, business director for North America. “In North America the market in recent years has shown no sign of decline and in 2005 the demand was further driven by reconstruction needs after the disasters caused by hurricanes. The demand is expected to carry-over into 2006,” he predicted.  

Jeffery Umberger, Freudenberg Politex’s senior regional manager in the U.S., confirmed that overall market demand together with the reconstruction business continues to drive optimism in the roofing industry for polyester nonwovens and other nonwoven products. “Key growth areas are underlayment sheets of all types and configurations: asphalt based, peel and stick, woven polypropylene, lightweight polyester etc. Furthermore, cool roof leads technology and potential legislation to mandate these types of roofing systems; also the long-term impact of code reviews resulting from the hurricane damage to commercial and residential buildings,” he said.

In the roofing sector, the North American market continues to surprise the players with more than 10 years of growth in the residential shingle market. “This growth is expected to decrease with the recent slowdown of the new home building boom,” commented JM’s Mr. Mahmood. “Western European construction is expected to grow this year with a 4-5% increase. Central and Eastern Europe is again expected to grow at a rate of 10% or more. Asia remains the most robust growth area with China, the Middle East and India all expected to surpass a 10% growth rate (in construction spending),” he said. “Latin America, especially Brazil, Chile and Argentina are all expected to grow this year as well.”

As for growth rates, housewrap as a category is growing faster than housing starts in the U.S. Key factors driving growth in U.S. markets are codes, legislation and builder and homeowner awareness of both air quality and damage caused by moisture. Not surprisingly, degradation of building materials due to mold remains a top issue.

Along with growth has come increased competition, with many new manufacturers entering the market to try to capitalize on current growth rates. The majority of entrants are at the low price/low performance end, offering basic perforated products that target a different segment than more specialized bicomponent products combining nonwovens and film. Consequently, manufacturers of high end roofing and construction products do not necessarily see these new entrants as competitors because custom builders generally know they need to use more specialized products.

That said, however, producers worry that builders are using these specialized products either simply to meet codes or in response to recently increased litigation regarding mold. The challenge, they agree, is educating builders. “The builder who knows why he is using housewrap is an easy sell,” pointed out one industry observer. As for homeowners, they typically know the problem they don’t want to have but may not be well educated when it comes to specific product characteristics. In the building process, homeowners may be more interested in interior upgrades such as granite kitchen countertops than in the highest performing housewrap or roofing membrane.

Around The World

From a global perspective, manufacturers are seeing pockets of growth in central and eastern Europe, South America and Asian countries such as China and Japan. In Canada, there is a higher percentage of housing starts for houses that use housewrap than in the U.S. In general terms, wherever there is stick construction—as opposed to block houses—there is potential for housewrap growth.

Photo courtesy of Johns Manville
Headquartered in Novedrate, Italy, the Freudenberg Politex Group has seen growth in regions such as the Middle East and Eastern Europe. A leader in the production of high tenacity staple and spunbond polyester nonwovens, mainly used as reinforcements for bituminous roofing membranes, Freudenberg Politex describes Western Europe as a mature and mainly stagnant market, with only some Mediterranean countries showing a growth trend. “Freudenberg Politex has over the years been able to differentiate and expand its sales toward other markets,” explained Federico Pallini, business director Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America. “This is why we decided to invest in a new production line in Russia that beginning in the end of 2006 will be able to strengthen our position in markets that are constantly growing, such as Eastern Europe and Asia.”

Mr. Pallini added that in these areas there is not only overall growth within the construction industry but also a process of substituting lesser performing inlays in favor of polyester. “Polyester offers membrane manufacturers the highest performances and technical characteristics at a competitive price,” he said.

Additionally, Freudenberg Politex’s new line for the production of spunbonded nonwovens started up in mid-2005 in its Pisticci plant in Southern Italy. It offers additional capacity to the most demanding markets and again to the growing markets in the Middle East and Asia.

Up, Up, Up…

While there’s no doubt the pressure of raw material price hikes is being felt throughout the nonwovens industry, oil-based roofing products are being hit especially hard. “The industry is facing strong raw material price increases as raw materials are related to the oil industry,” commented Colbond’s Mr. Noppen.

Echoing this sentiment was Don Brown, senior account manager for Colbond. “Material pricing is a huge issue with many industries, but especially with roofing due to the oil-related materials used in both polyester reinforcements and bitumen coatings,” he said. “We have entered a new age of pricing for these materials, based not only on world supply and demand, but also concerns about stability and unrest in many parts of the world. Therefore we believe we will continue to see high prices, which must ultimately be born by users of the products. This applies not only to our customers but also to users of final roofing materials,” stated Mr. Brown.

Increasing energy costs—in particular, the high level and continuous growth of bitumen costs—are also worrying Freudenberg Politex’s Mr. Pallini. “Bitumen is in fact the driver of the roofing market as a key raw material. Prices are forecast to remain at record highs as long as crude continues to trade over $60 per barrel,” he said.     

Freudenberg Politex’s Mr. Shaw added that in the U.S., again as a consequence of supply interruptions caused by Hurricane Katrina, utility costs doubled in late 2005 versus early 2005 and all petrochemical-based raw materials (fiber and binder) were in short supply and therefore increased in cost from mid-2005 through the present.

DuPont’s Mr. Horta also commented on the strong impact of rising polymer costs on the whole roofing industry. However, he said that DuPont does not expect this to slow down the shift from asphalt roofing felts to modern nonwoven synthetic underlayments. “The product benefits surpass the higher cost,” he said.

Mr. Marcouiller of BBA added that rising petro chemical costs have been passed through to the market in varying degrees by different competitors. “The key to success is how effectively you can manage this pressure. Balancing home builders’ willingness to pay versus higher costs—this is the challenge,” he said.

For The Future

Looking ahead, despite growth obstacles such as raw material costs and strong competition, producers remain optimistic. “Without a doubt, energy efficiency will have the most impact on the roofing/construction industry in the future,” remarked DuPont’s Mr. Horta. “Integrated PV (photovoltaics) to produce energy for the home and roofing air barriers to seal attics to reduce the energy consumption of houses will be two major trends that will reshape the current roofing market status quo,” he forecast.

“The U.S. government is supporting research of new building technologies to reduce energy demand,” Mr. Horta added. “We believe that new revolutionary roofing technologies, like the sealed attic system, are cost-effective, sustainable ways to deliver a step-change in reducing the energy loads for heating and cooling of buildings going forward.”

Mr. Noppen of Colbond predicted a continuing trend toward thinner polyester-based carriers with excellent dimensional stability. He also pointed to future globalization of the nonwovens industry from a few suppliers (mainly in Western Europe and the U.S.) to an increasing number of producers around the globe in areas such as Central and Eastern Europe and Asia. He expects the industry to continue to foster an interest in high and consistent quality nonwovens to complement demand for commodity products.

According to BBA’s Mr. Marcouiller, building codes will play a key role in the future. He explained that the IRC (International Regulatory Code) commission has recommended to every code writing body that housewrap be included. “Despite the fact that building paper is recognized as housewrap according to this code, it’s still a major step for IRC to acknowledge the value of housewrap. This will increase awareness of the category, along with more publicity on moisture and mold damage and more attention on indoor air quality,” he predicted.    

Mr. Marcouiller went on to forecast that the category will continue to grow but companies’ ability to succeed will be tied to three things: first, offering products designed to perform the function of housewrap; second, effectively managing costs against great fluctuation and upward pressure on manufacturing and raw material prices; third, providing education to the market. “The focus has to be on working with the builder and homeowner, not just making a quick buck. Ultimately it is the builder and homeowner taking the risk,” he concluded.

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