Nonwovens for Roofing & Construction In Demand

By Tim Wright, Editor | April 17, 2013

As construction activity heats up in the U.S., opportunities abound for nonwovens producers that sell into these markets.

Nonwovens are integral components to the homes and buildings we see being built on the construction site and offer many advantages in the construction market.

Through 2016, the fastest growth for nonwovens will be in the nondisposables markets, which comprised roughly 29% of nonwovens sales in 2011. Nonwovens demand in most nondisposables markets was sharply impacted by the 2007 to 2009 recession, marked by declines in construction activity and motor vehicle production, and reductions in manufacturing levels of many durable goods.

Construction—the largest nondisposables market for nonwovens—is set to post double-digit gains, fueled by a recovery in building construction, providing opportunities for nonwovens in house wraps and roofing products.

U.S. housing starts on the rise

U.S. builders started more homes in February and permits for future construction rose at the fastest pace in 4.5 years. The increases point to a housing recovery that is gaining strength.

The Commerce Department said recently that builders broke ground on houses and apartments last month at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 917,000. That’s up from 910,000 in January.

And it’s the second-fastest pace since June 2008, behind December’s rate of 982,000.

Single-family home construction increased to an annual rate of 618,000, the most in 4.5 years.

Apartment construction also ticked up to 285,000.

The gains are likely to grow even faster in the coming months. Building permits, a sign of future construction, increased 4.6 percent to 946,000. That was also the most since June 2008, just a few months into the Great Recession.

And the figures for January and December were also revised higher. Overall housing starts have risen 28% higher during the past 12 months.

The U.S. housing market is recovering after stagnating for roughly five years. Steady job gains and near-record-low mortgage rates have encouraged more people to buy.

In addition, more people are seeking their own homes after doubling up with friends and relatives in the recession. That’s leading to greater demand for apartments and single-family homes to rent.

Last year, builders broke ground on the most homes in four years.

Still, the survey noted that the outlook for sales over the next six months rose to its highest level in more than six years.

Johns Manville optimistic about market growth

Based on economist projections and leading indicators, it appears that the worst is behind us and that housing starts will continue to rise. “This trend is expected to continue throughout the year,” says Mike Lawrence, vice president and general manager for Johns Manville’s engineered products Americas business. “Housing starts may close in on one million starts by the end of 2013.”

JM is a Berkshire Hathaway company and a leading manufacturer and marketer of premium-quality products for building insulation, mechanical insulation, commercial roofing and roof insulation, as well as fibers and nonwovens for commercial, industrial and residential applications.

In business since 1858, the Denver-based company has annual sales of approximately $2.5 billion and operates 45 manufacturing facilities in North America, Europe and China.

Residential re-roofing continues to be the primary driver for construction nonwovens in JM’s markets. “Although the roofing market has declined somewhat since its peak in 2006, it is exciting to see some new growth,” says Lawrence. “In fact, over the last twelve months several roofing manufacturers have announced additional investments in production capacity to be brought on-stream within the next two-to-three years.  Johns Manville is executing our own business strategy in order to ensure that we will have nonwovens capacity to support this in the long-term.”

In addition to housing starts and new builds, other key indicators to the health of the roofing and construction market include employment, GDP growth, the overall health of the U.S. economy and its effect on commercial investment. “These factors drive our markets to a large degree,” says Lawrence. “During each of the last several years, the entire industry has also seen sporadic surges in demand due to severe storm activity in several regions of the U.S., specifically in wet-laid fiber glass mat.”

In terms of news, Lawrence says JM remains excited about its most recent investment in an EPDM membrane manufacturing plant in Milan, OH, which started production in summer 2012. “This investment increases Johns Manville’s ability to service a wider customer base and to further expand our product portfolio for the commercial roofing segment,” he says.

Additionally, JM acquired Industrial Insulation Group, LLC (IIG) in 2012, a manufacturer of insulation for industrial, commercial and fireproofing applications. “This acquisition allows JM to offer an even broader continuum of solutions that meet the insulation requirements for any project,” says Lawrence.

Challenges ahead include raw material inflation, a concern for all producers. “Within all nonwovens segments, the base cost of polymers and chemical binders remain at high levels and are expected to remain at these levels through the duration of 2013,” says Lawrence.

Sustainability is becoming a bigger and bigger factor within the overall construction market. “Cool roofs and the demand for more recycled content and for ‘cleaner’ raw materials in this industry’s products remain a focus for all nonwovens producers,” says Lawrence.

Johns Manville’s efforts are governed by a Sustainability Council, which includes members of the company’s executive leadership team. Johns Manville publishes a Sustainability Report annually detailing its initiatives in renewable raw materials, reducing its carbon footprint and waste and tracking the overall progress toward its goals. The report is available at www.jm.com/sustainability.

Ziegler: Coming up with new ideas

While the U.S. construction market is showing signs of positive growth, the situation in Europe is quite different. The low number of housing and building construction in southern Europe due to the economic trouble in these countries certainly has had an effect on the construction industry as a whole.

Despite the challenges imposed by economic turmoil in many European markets, J.H. Ziegler GmbH continues to innovate technology and grow its presence.

“During the last decades, nonwovens have been developed for many different applications,” says Peter Hartwig, Ziegler’s managing director. “Due to technical advantages they replaced traditional materials such as foam, webbings and knitted fabrics. There are interesting products made out of nonvovens for the use in roofing and construction, such as insulation and membranes.”

Hartwig says that nonwovens will continue to become more and more important for this market. “Legal requirements for better thermal insulation are an important factor for the market development,” he says.

In terms of market development, Hartwig says the market is looking for highly efficient insulation materials with good human compatibility where itching is not a concern. “A sustainable and environmentally-friendly production is the basis for successful marketing. Polyester nonwovens fulfill these requirements to a wide extent,” he says. “Insulation is a growing market. Alternative products with additional benefits will be established more and more. However, one has to realize that the main competition in the insulation market remains glass wool and rock wool. Traditional insulations such as rock and mineral wool are dominating the market. But there is a niche for alternative products, if they offer for these markets benefits, which can be communicated well.”

Lighter, thinner, more efficient materials are being demanded by the market. “These requirements, which are familiar from automotive are valid in construction as well,” says Hartwig. “We can use our experience as a strong partner of the automotive industry, supplying acoustic insulation materials, in the development of new products also for the construction market.”

J.H. Ziegler has recently developed HACObond, a polyester insulating nonwoven. It has received a general technical approval (Allgemeine Deutsche Baustoffzulassung) from the German Institute for Construction Engineering (DIBt). A new production line in the Hungarian plant in 2011 provides the necessary capacities.

Next to the very good thermal insulation properties, Ziegler’s HACObond also has an excellent acoustic performance. The low moisture absorption guarantees consistently good insulation. “Stricter laws and regulations for saving energy for buildings support our success,” says Hartwig.

Architects like using green products. Sustainability is the basis for a successful product on the building market. Ziegler’s HACObond is made out of 100% polyester. The raw materials are derived from recycled PET bottles. This degree of purity means 100% recyclability.

The technical approval for construction products issued for HACObond confirms the good human compatibility of this insulating material, which is available in thicknesses of up to 300 mm. It can also be laminated for visual applications. The technical approval also confirms the excellent acoustic properties of the HACObond products. Furthermore, the very low thermal conductivities lead to a very good rating for the CO2 balance of these products.

“By expanding our capacity in Hungary, we can now offer our range from both locations, allowing us to react quickly and flexibly to customer requests,” says Hartwig. “Integration of both factories is so advanced that we can shift production in a very short time.”

Ziegler has developed into a globally operating company in recent years. In 2012, a branch office was opened in China to deal with the local market. This is the first step towards localization in this growth market. Activities have also been intensified in North and Central America to comply with the demand, particularly from the automotive industry among others, for a global market presence.

Fiberweb adds to roofing line

Fiberweb has launched a new line of premium roofing accessories under the brand name Climat. Climat is a comprehensive system of vapor permeable roof and wall membranes as well as vapor control layers that are based on three decades of experience in the production of complex technical nonwoven fabrics.

The range is based on decades of experience in manufacturing and the application of building laminates in providing private label solutions to some of the most well recognized names in the market. With Climat, Fiberweb’s European building segment now has its own brand, relying 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.

All critical components of the roof and wall membranes will be manufactured in Germany at Fiberweb Berlin GmbH, incorporating the very latest in material and production expertise.  The range of vapor permeable roof underlays is designed to meet the market demands for superior product quality combined with sound expertise from experienced technical experts directly from the trade. Fiberweb Berlin GmbH is recognized for quality  “made in Germany” and as a European market leader in private label vapor permeable roof underlays and vapor control layers.

One of the exclusive features of the Climat range relates to the latest generation of  “functioning film” technology known as Linopore UV+. This Fiberweb patented technology offers an SD value of 0.02 meters offering exceptional vapor permeability while simultaneously providing a protective layer against water ingress. In aging tests in line with the European norm EN 13859, Climat products surpassed the requirements by more than 40%, placing Climat products with Linopore UV+ technology among the most rugged and durable products in their class.

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