Among the largest durable markets for nonwovens, the roofing and construction market is largely dependent on macroeconomic trends like housing starts, interest rates and employment trends. While the U.S. market has not yet seen the boomtimes of the early 2000s, when housing starts were consistently topping one million, it has slowly started to recover as economic conditions have improved and the housing market has faced shortages.
“Escalating prices for new homes have grown 5.6% in the 12 months ending in November and were likely driven by a very low inventory of starter homes and historically low interest rates,” says T.J. Stock, portfolio manager of construction specialist Johns Manville. “But builder confidence is at its highest level since July 2005, so 2017 is expected to have a strong growth rate. As growth in housing and commercial markets continues, nonwovens will benefit by supplying both roofing and specialty mats that are engineered to provide the most cost-effective solutions.”
From roof underlayments to house wrap and flashing materials, nonwovens’ role in construction is more often than not one of protector, keeping water out and heat and air conditioning in. Manufacturers supplying to this market are constantly looking to increase the barrier resistance of their products to keep buildings warm, dry and free of rot.
A few years ago, Kimberly-Clark parlayed its expertise in the development of nonwoven, breathable technologies into a new business opportunity—the house wrap market.
Calling his company’s entry into this market another example of how Kimberly-Clark leverages its nonwovens expertise to provide trusted performance to its customers, Scott Tennison, global director of building materials, says K-C spent serious time and effort learning customer needs and requirements for this product. “We connected with top customers in the industry to develop an advantaged product for the market that aligns with our primary product platform—superior protection for our customers and consumers,” Tennison says.
Block-It house wrap relies on a patented, cloth-like nonwoven material to allow it to resists tears (with 35% stronger tear strength than the competition), abrasions and punctures. It does not snag on tools or nails and offers a non-slip surface even when wet. This durability makes Block-It House Wrap quick and easy to install.
“We believe you shouldn’t have to spend more to get quality drainability in a house wrap,” Tennison says. “Our Kimberly-Clark technology delivers more than 98% water drainage efficiency, setting us apart from competition and all at standard flat wrap pricing. Block-It House Wrap is self-sealable, so there’s no need to use cap nails or cap staples when installing. It also is resistant to surfactants such as soaps and cedar oils. Many house wraps in the market do not have those capabilities.”
Kimberly-Clark has recently expanded the Block-It portfolio to include all sizes from three to 10 foot widths and lengths from 75-150 inches and has launched a co-branded house wrap offering allowing builders and contractors to showcase their logo along with the Block-It logo on the house wrap. As part of the complete weatherization envelope, K-C has both 48mm and 72mm seam tape as well as a full range of straight and flex flashing tapes to ensure its Block-It builders have the right tools for the job, Tennison adds.
“Nonwovens provide the best weatherization system for keeping a structure dry against the elements while also allowing water vapor to escape the home,” he adds. “Woven and perforated house wraps, along with coated OSB, may meet code in some locations, but the overall performance is poor in keeping water from penetrating the wall cavity. This should bring concern from anyone choosing a woven or perforated house wrap or coated OSB as the primary goal is to keep the structure protected from mold, mildew and rot caused by water damage.”
According to Martin Kleinebrecht, marketing & portfolio management leader, Nonwovens Europe & Asia at Johns Manville, the European construction market has bottomed out and has started a careful recovery at a slower pace than everyone would have hoped for. “As in previous years we still observe a very mixed picture depending on the sub-market and especially depending on the respective country and region,” he says. “There are some success stories thanks to ongoing growth over the past several years, but also many pockets where growth just returned two years ago.”
According to Eurostat data, the recovery of the construction industry since 2014 and into 2017 will only cover one-third of what had been lost between 2007 and 2013. But JM is confident that ongoing renovation, an upward trend in housing starts and regulatory requirements related to energy conservation will positively influence future developments.
In Europe, BREXIT is not expected to have a strong influence on the construction industry overall, but certainly this is a risk JM will watch going forward, Kleinebrecht says.
Meanwhile, in North America, the housing market continues its slow but steady growth as an estimated 536,000 new homes were sold in 2016, up 12.2% from 2015. However, even though 2016 marked the fifth straight year of growth, the housing market is well shy of the housing boom of the early 2000s when the annual build rate topped one million for four years in a row.
Also helping nonwovens’ role in construction is their constant evolution of the materials into new areas of the construction market. “While we do not see major trends with nonwovens being replaced by other products, we have seen nonwovens enter into new spaces in the construction industry,” Kleinebrecht says.
An example of this is the globally-growing market of luxury vinyl tiles (LVT), where nonwovens can play an important role in the future of this market.
“We’ve also been successful in getting glass fiber nonwovens to be increasingly used in flame-retardant applications where they offer superior performance compared to traditional materials,” he adds.
In North America, nonwovens for roofing continue to evolve through more demanding reinforcements due to code and cost. Additionally, specialty markets continue to evolve and nonwovens provide growth paths due to advantages in cost and engineering. Reinforcements in a more diverse market are considering using nonwovens to a greater degree than ever before.
To help it capitalize on these trends, JM is constantly investing in capacities and line enhancements to address the needs of its global customer base. Recent examples of this are the completion of a glass fiber mat line rebuild in Waterville, OH, and the upcoming enhancement of one of its glass fiber mat lines in Wertheim, Germany. The upgrade in Germany is focused on boosting JM’s offering for specialty applications, especially where aesthetics play an important role. JM has also just completed several important upgrades of its polyester spunbond lines in Bobingen, Germany, that serve the bituminous roofing industry.
In new product terms, in addition to an expanded portfolio of LVT, JM has been incorporating its nonwoven products into flame retardant applications as well as working closely with its customers on formaldehyde-free solutions, which are frequently in demand. This requires extensive research into proprietary binder systems, using new and innovative materials and often renewable resources. Most of JM’s developments are tailor-made for individual customers and widen the moat for them in terms of performance and cost position.