Atrium Windows' Loren Sloane Provides Insight For Homeowners Choosing Vinyl Windows
Atrium Windows has made an indelible mark on the vinyl window landscape through its vertical product integration that stretches over time and geography. It is the parent company of the brand that introduced Americans to vinyl replacement windows 50 years ago, creating a love affair that has never been more prominent than it is today. In addition to its own line of replacement and new construction windows, Atrium has multiple private-branded regional lines to reach all American markets.
Though the names may not always be familiar to consumers, countless people have Atrium windows in their homes, apartments or places of business. We spoke with Atrium’s Director of Marketing Loren Sloane who gave us valuable insight on vinyl windows and a few tips for home owner consideration.
RWFD: Loren, more people choose vinyl windows today than any other material. As a specialist in vinyl, why is it so popular and what does Atrium offer that is unique to the market?
LS: Atrium is the largest manufacturer of residential and light commercial vinyl windows in America and we’re in every market. This can make things complex but it also gives us several advantages. Through our regional distribution channels, we can provide a well-rounded view of things for consumers to meet their needs. Incidentally, the first vinyl replacement window was introduced to America by an Atrium company, Thermal Industries, 50 years ago.
In terms of vinyl itself as a window material, there are some big advantages. It has energy efficiency that now rivals wood and in some cases it’s even better. Vinyl eliminates traditional wood window problems like maintenance, rotting and painting. While it’s not ‘no maintenance’, it’s very low maintenance. It doesn’t have to be stained; it doesn’t mold, rot or chip; and it doesn’t require a lot of care. The other thing about vinyl is that there are virtually no limits to the shapes that you can make with it. You’re limited in terms of the size and shape of a raw material like wood but vinyl is flexible in terms of design.
Lastly, vinyl remains a much less costly option than wood and fiberglass windows. Those materials are costly to acquire and produce whereas vinyl is not. So energy efficiency, low maintenance and cost have all worked to propel vinyl to the top of the market today.
RWFD: Speaking of vinyl’s flexible nature, what are some of the latest replacement window trends that home owners are looking for with regard to design?
LS: The evolution of replacement windows in terms of design and size and shape tends to change as the age of housing stock changes. During much of the 1980s, most windows ripe for replacement were post-WWII steel windows. The architecture from those period homes had relatively small windows and not a lot of curvature or angles. So that was the style that was leading replacement windows then.
As new architectural house styles changed in the 1970s and 80s, windows became larger as people wanted lots of light in the house. Aluminum was a big trend then so the frames were very small and the windows were narrow. Now it’s those windows that are being replaced 30 years later so we are seeing bigger, geometric, narrower frames with more glass area as the big trends today.
RWFD: What are the major reasons you see people replacing their windows?
LS: The cost of energy and the green movement in general has really pushed people to replace their existing and inefficient windows. You look at the old single-glazed aluminum windows that keep a house cold in the winter where everyone huddles on the couch to stay warm. The exact opposite happens in the summer as they let cool air out and the house heats up and everyone’s uncomfortably hot. Windows today are so efficient that home owners recognize it from a comfort perspective and from a money-saving one.
There are also the physical attributes of old windows that eventually need replacing. They may be rotting or they might not operate properly. The finish on wood windows might be gone and refinishing is very costly so people weigh that against replacing with new.
Resale value also comes into play. The National Association of Realtors puts out an annual list of the most cost effective home fixes when it comes to getting your money back when you sell. Last year, windows surpassed kitchens and bathrooms in many parts of the country which is really astounding considering that kitchens and bathrooms are always the top things to do to increase your home value! Unlike remodeling your kitchen or adding a new bathroom which can takes weeks on end, replacing windows isn’t inconvenient at all. A good installer can do the job in just a couple of days depending on the scope of the replacement. So we see a lot of home owners electing to do that to increase value.
RWFD: As you mentioned, energy efficiency is at the forefront of consumer’s desire when it comes to replacing windows. Does Atrium have a wide selection of Energy-Star compliant windows?
LS: Yes. Most of what we build is Energy-Star compliant. At this point, we’re actually going well beyond the current compliance by offering R5 high performance replacement windows which are a significant step above the current Energy-Star compliance.
RWFD: Does Atrium offer different products for particular regions that consumers should consider in addition to Energy-Star if they want comfort and efficiency?
LS: Yes. Our size and scope gives us a tremendous breadth of products across the continent. Windows are naturally regional- the needs and desires of home owners are based on climate, architecture and other things. The wants and needs of people in Seattle are far different than what home owners need in Phoenix, for instance. One of our strengths is our local agility. We offer exactly what consumers need for their particular area.
Based on where you live, consumers need to choose windows that meet not only their aesthetic desires and energy efficiency, but safety requirements as well. If you’re in Florida, you need a window that can take heavy wind loads so we manufacturer several lines that are hurricane impact resistant for that market.
Increasingly in the last decade, people want to go urban for a variety of reasons and one thing they need to consider is noise. In the last housing boom, prime real estate was expensive and scarce so builders were moving to infill areas closer to airports and highways where noise is a huge factor. We developed a line of acoustic windows through our Silent Guard brand that dampens outside noise. So there are many things that each home owner should consider.
RWFD: With big box stores and DIY-savvy home owners, can people install Atrium windows themselves?
LS: We certainly try to make our products as easy to install as possible because installation is a huge part of making sure the window performs the way it is meant to perform. For instance, we created a particular kind of window that makes replacing windows in stucco homes, which can be very difficult, easier. We do a similar thing for replacing wood windows with vinyl, which also can be tricky. We sell our products through all the major retailers like Lowes and Home Depot- some through private labels for people wanting off-the-shelf windows. But for most replacement windows, you’ll need to measure or get an estimate for the precise size and then have it ordered.
RWFD: In January of 2010, Atrium filed for voluntary Chapter 11. Has restructuring affected customers and what do you say to potential Atrium customers who may be concerned?
LS: The Chapter 11 filing was a balance sheet restructuring to eliminate an untenable debt situation. We have always been profitable before filing Chapter 11, during the process and since that restructuring. Actually, we were ahead of our commitments and have never fallen behind on orders or payments. Consumers shouldn’t be alarmed. This was done by accountants and lenders to make the company better, financially speaking. If anything, we’ve become a much stronger company today than we were prior to restructuring.
RWFD: Loren, thanks for taking the time to educate us on Atrium today. Much appreciated.
LS: Thank you!