For the last several years, low housing starts have been the story in the construction market, particularly in North America, where economic woes severely impacted the housing market. While companies doing business in construction were able to make up for this lag somewhat in the renovation segment, it was not enough.
As the world continues to slowly put its economic woes behind it, housing starts are finally starting to turn around and are expected to be in the mid 700,000 range in North America.
“We are actually off to a pretty good start this year,” says Douglas Baker, North American business director DuPont Business Innovations. “We’ve seen good growth across the U.S. and we are attributing this to a number of factors—one thing is the weather which has cooperated with building schedules—another thing is the housing starts number which is definitely improving.”
As North America improves its position, Europe remains a mixed bag. In some countries, growth is being driven by legislative actions mandating insulation improvements and other efforts toward sounder, and greener, building practices are opening up new doors for nonwovens. Meanwhile, in some countries, namely Italy and Spain, a housing surplus exists, limiting opportunities for new builds.
“Europe can not be classified as one economy,” says Martin Kleinebrecht, marketing leader Nonwovens Europe for construction specialist Johns Manville. “It’s many different economies going in different directions at different times. Some are doing well and some are not.”
Amid this economic uncertainty, the nonwovens industry continues to develop innovative new products that can cut down on costs and up the environmental profile of buildings and renovations.
RKW US recently introduced two new products—Aptra Elements and RoofTopGuard Craftsman—to global roofing markets. Designed to differentiate the company’s strength in the roofing underlayment and construction industries, “These products are designed to advance roofing and construction business in a way that our customers want most,” says Morris Collins, president of RKW US Inc. “We see a new era of opportunity to provide greater value to our customers by expanding our cornerstone product.”
Aptra Elements is a metallic, highly reflective roof underlayment that reduces home and building energy costs; RoofTopGuard Craftsman roof underlayment, is based on RKW’s RoofTopGuard II technology but weighs 40% less and installs faster and easier than #30 lb. felt paper.
Aptra Elements keeps the house warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. The advanced material maintains strength and flexibility without the metal surface rub-off or oxidation.
“The nonwovens industry is definitely coming out with some interesting new products,” says Collins. “Innovation and product improvements are enabling nonwovens to reach a broader market. This exposure is allowing them to be used in areas where they are not traditionally noticing them.”
Advantages of nonwovens include lower weights, cost effectiveness and better flexibility. Whether on their own or in combination with a woven, film or another nonwoven, products using nonwovens are targeting applications from housewrap to roofing underlayments to insulation materials within the housing and construction market.
Roofing and construction specialist Freudenberg Politex reports that 2011 difficulties stemmed from pressures on raw material prices, which forced the company to agree to higher-than-normal prices in order to satisfy its customers’ demands. “As a consequence, we were obliged to increase our sales prices and to apply strong cost-cutting policies,” says Federico Pallini, business director. “Our long term orientation and solid relationships with customers allow us to maintain our global market leadership, thanks in particular to a continuous monitoring of our entire supply chain and to customers’ orientation.”
With operations in Georgia, France, Italy and Spain, Freudenberg Politex is able to respond quickly to trends in roofing and construction. Its latest investment, an expansion at its Russian site is going after growth in the eastern European markets.
Through the roof
As it continues its efforts to beef up its industrial fabrics business—a strategy implemented long before the sale of its hygiene business to Fitesa late last year—Fiberweb has launched a new brand of premium roofing accessories under the Climat brand name. Climat is a comprehensive system of vapor permeable roof and wall membranes as well as vapor control layers.
This new brand will rely on a strong collaboration between manufacturing specialists and application professionals to serve new segments (i.e. national building merchants) with superior quality and service gaining closer proximity to the end market.
“In Europe. Fiberweb has become one of the most trusted
manufacturers providing customer branded product solutions,” says Ralph Kussmann, business development director of Fiberweb’s Industrial business. “Climat was introduced in response to the market requirements for superior products to meet the building standards of tomorrow, combining manufacturing and application expertise. The need to improve energy savings is stronger than ever, placing increased demands on the entire insulated roofing system to provide protection against the elements while simultaneously allowing water vapor inside the insulation place to escape.”
The science behind Climat is a functioning film, which is the invisible “science” behind vapor permeable membranes. Fiberweb’s LinoporeUV+ microporous film technology has set new benchmarks in terms of thermal heat and UV resistance. In external accelerating aging tests, Climat products with LinoporeUV+ technology exceeded the current European norm requirements by more than 40% and have been tested at 100°C versus the norm requirement of 70°C. Climat vapor permeable roof membranes are further equipped with double-sided adhesive tapes to provide a sealed roof installation. A wide range of complementary accessories also enable the installer to provide a sealed yet breathable roof system.
All critical components of the roof and wall membranes are being manufactured in Germany at Fiberweb Berlin. They incorporate the very latest in material and production expertise.
According to Kussmann, Fiberweb will initially target select markets in Europe, particularly in Germany, where it will be well positioned thanks to the country’s high quality building standards and Fiberweb’s reputation as a pioneer when it comes to developing energy efficient building systems. “Roofers are considered highly respected master tradesmen who pride themselves on the quality of their installation and their ability to exceed the installation standards today with their best building practices of tomorrow,” he says. “This is exactly the segment we wish to support with our best building practices of tomorrow.”
The Climat range includes a number of roof underlays in weights ranging from 130-175gsm as well as a complementary accessory range such as ridge and hip rolls, flashing and abutments as well as a comprehensive range of adhesive tapes and sealants completes the product offering.
Beyond Climat, Fiberweb’s offerings include Typar, which remains once of the most recognizable brands for high performance housewraps and is the market leader in China. Additionally, its Surround synthetic roof underlay targets the North American market with synthetic roof underlays that outperform traditional felts in terms of weight, coverage per roll and nail-tear strength, to name a few.
In Europe, where Fiberweb has traditionally focused on providing customer brands product solutions, Fiberweb offers products to meet the specific regional building stands. For example, Fiberweb is targeting Scandinavia, which has some of the toughest aging test requirements (700h of UV testing), Austria which requires products of 330gsm that can be sealed and France, where the “R3” classification requires tensile strength of 300N before and 200N after aging.”
A leader in the North American residential construction market with its line of Tyvek housewrap products, DuPont, Wilmington, DE, is now expanding its position in the commercial building market. The company hopes this will in part be achieved through the launch of its Tyvek Fluid Applied weather barrier system, which delivers the same benefits as Tyvek commercial wrap in a pressure rolled or sprayed applications. Unlike Tyvek rolled products, the fluid applied product can be applied to complex high-rise structures and buildings made of concrete. Applied product can be applied to complex high-rise structures and buildings made of concrete. “The fluid applied products, is ideal for heavier construction areas where you wouldn’t put a wrap but you still want the same water protection and vapor permeability qualities as Tyvek, says Douglas Baker, North American business director, DuPont building innovations. “It is for places where a wrap wouldn’t work because of the shape, for instance in concrete where they is just no way to adhere a roll good product.”
Baker says he envisions the fluid applied product, which was launched earlier this year, to be a part of a hybrid system where part of a building would use a traditional building wrap and the other would use this product.
“The Tyvek brand represents a kind of a performance promise in the marketplace around what it would do for moisture holdout and vapor permeability and what it will allow you to do when building a wall,” Baker adds. “When we roll our fluid applied product, even though it’s not a nonwoven, it has the same performance and characteristics as our traditional Tyvek wrap products when you put it on the wall.”
As it continues to expand its role in commercial applications, DuPont is focusing on educating builders in all areas of the construction market. To achieve this, the company has developed a digital tool called DuPont Code Sense digital wall builder that contains all of the codes specific to each state. “We want to help a builder or architect understand how to use a product to get the right performance out of a wall,” Baker explains. “Depending on where you are in the country, this tool will help builders understand what options they have to change in their construction practices to meet code. It’s a nice tool to take the ambiguity out of the construction process.”
Many of today’s regulations and codes center around the environmental friendliness of a product, and this is driving product development trends in roofing and construction applications. Here products offer environmental benefits in two ways. They can lower the energy usage of a building by aiding in insulation and water vapor permeability, and they can also do this through the use of recycled materials and other low impact products.
“We assume the responsibility for making our activities as environmentally compatible as possible,” says Richard Shaw, president and CEO of Freudenberg Politex. “It is our target to continuously reduce the consumption of resources through optimized business processes.”
One recent innovation developed by Freudenberg Politex are environmentally friendly panels for thermal and acoustic insulation sold under the brand name Ecozero. These panels are made with polyester recycled from post-consumer recycled bottles.
“Continuous improvement of process and products allow us to develop innovative and customized products following markets, regulations or customer demands,” says Pallini of Freudenberg Politex. “Very frequently, our innovations are carried out jointly with our customers in a spirit of partnership and long term orientation. In the roofing market, polyester is the only carrier able to satisfy the most demanding performances.”
“Our mission to ‘anticipate customers’ needs” is well fulfilled with our concrete actions in matters of sustainability. Following the growing request for energy efficient buildings and for sustainable materials, our customers are more and more asking for environmentally friendly products and for environmental profiles of products with recycled content. We are ready to answer any requirement in those sense by providing products and information compliant with regulations and sustainable building.”
Colbond is responding to this need by offering products made from recycled polymers such as EnkaRetain and Drain, which in the US qualifies for LEED credit and by minimizing the carbon footprint of the worldwide operation through reduced energy consumption and waste reduction.
“Environmental sustainability is an increasingly important topic in the construction industry,” says Karl Wohlfahrt, manager sales & marketing for Colbond and managing director of Xeroflor Green Solutions. “Especially in building, we are seeing a growing market demand for product using recycled content.”
In March, Colbond’s parent company Low & Bonar reaffirmed its commitment to the environment through the acquisition of Xero Flor International, a long-established supplier of green roof solutions, based in Germany. The company will continue its operation under the name Xeroflor
Xeroflor is an innovative business with a strong position in the fast growing green roof market. Its core activity is in the design of value-added pre-vegetated mats used for both new and refurbished buildings.
Green roof systems developed by technology leader Xeroflor for almost four decades are supported by patents, which the company licenses to specialized industry partners. Xeroflor also supplies green roof components to this global customer network. High profile examples of Xeroflor green roofs are the Ford Motor Company’s truck assembly plant in Michigan, the Aldi logistics center in St. Augustin, Germany and the Kastrup power plant in Denmark.
Colbond has been selling drainage mats to the green roofing market for more than 30 years and hopes that the acquisition will strengthen its position here.
“The green roof market is still growing in Germany, France and Scandinavia and even in the US where they are becoming increasingly popular,” Wohlfahrt says. “This is a good fit with the group’s strategy incorporating environmental sustainability initiatives.”
JM’s Kleinebrecht sees the use of formaldehyde-free product as a huge trend shaping the insulation market. Here, he says, the challenge is not making the products but to make them at a cost reasonable to their customers.
“The industry seems to be moving more quickly than legislation,” he explains. “This is because we want to be there, ready with products, when legislation happens.”
Referring to sustainability as a huge concern for the construction segment as a whole,” Fiberweb’s Kussmann said he feels most of these efforts are demanded by consumer tastes, not legislation, but this could change.
“There are several perspectives on the topic ranging from the function of the product, the manufacturing of the product and the disposal of the product,” he says. For Fiberweb’s part, Climat’s range of vapor permeable underlays addresses the functioning component, as the technology allows building structures to maximize their insulation performance for longer periods of time. The greater the insulation performance, the less energy consumption is required. The efficient manufacturing process also addresses sustainability concerns by including up to 35% of recycled material.
Kussmann added that he sees the demands on building products becoming increasingly tough, as demonstrated by the many recent revisions in building standards requiring longer-lasting and higher performing products. “In Europe we are seeing an increased trend towards lower pitched roofs, which place increased demands not only on the primary roof material, but also the entire sub roof system,” he says. “There are increased demands for breathable sealed roof systems, using integrated adhesive tapes and also products that can provide a chemically bonded solution at the overlaps, a practice traditionally used in the flat roof market.”
Fiberweb has signed an exclusive multi-year contract with PulteGroup, Inc., one of the top homebuilders in the US. Fiberweb’s performance-leading Typar HouseWrap system will now be used on all of Pulte’s new home-builds across 28 states in the US, helping to secure the longevity and energy-efficiency of PulteGroup’s high-quality homes.
Fiberweb expects incremental revenues of about $6 million annually from this contract starting in February 2012. Fiberweb’s Typar Weather Protection System products will be supplied through its strong network of distributors and dealers to serve PulteGroup’s national operations.
“Pulite takes its drainage plane details very seriously. After evaluating five manufacturers in the areas of quality, cost competitiveness and ease of distribution, Fiberweb’s Typar product was the best value proposition for Pulte’s housewrap business,” states PulteGroup national purchasing & supply chain manager, Kemp Gillis.
“With more awards for customer satisfaction than any other homebuilder, PulteGroup embodies the values we look for in a strategic partner. PulteGroup believes in building quality homes for a range of homebuyer demographics and they do their homework to ensure the products they choose will serve their customers for years to come. Competing housewrap products were rigorously evaluated by PulteGroup’s research and development and quality teams and Fiberweb’s Typar Weather Protection System was determined to be the best,” says Jake Phillips, sales director for Fiberweb’s North American construction products.
The unique performance characteristics of Typar HouseWrap and its Weather Protection System continue to win over builders who focus on building science and seek out products that protect their brands and reputation.
The Typar Weather Protection System is designed to guard homes and buildings from the damaging effects of moisture and energy-stealing air infiltration. The complete system includes Typar HouseWrap and a variety of high-performing flashing solutions and construction tape.
“The demands on building products are becoming increasingly tough, as demonstrated by the many recent revisions in building standards requiring longer-lasting and higher performing products,” Phillips says. “In Europe, we are seeing an increased trend toward lower pitched roofs, which place increased demands not only on the primary roof material but also the entire sub roof systems. There are increased demands for breathable sealed roof systems, using integrated adhesive tapes and also products that can provide a ‘chemically bonded’ solution at the overlaps, a practice traditionally used in the flat roof market. A further trend is the increased use of solar panels, which provide increased stress on the roof underlay as temperatures can now reach up to 100°C.”