Are We User-Friendly?
Survey Results for 02/10/2010:
Do consumers want easy to open products?
Yes, the subject comes up frequently and people would probably like better solutions.
Yes, the subject comes up, but people seem satisfied with available options.
It just doesn't come up as an issue.
It may not be the highest priority, but making windows and doors easier to open and close is apparently something to think about. Just over half our respondents think consumers might like new alternatives.
I heard from some manufacturers who definitely think it's a selling point. "I think as manufacturers in the U.S., we should take a look at easy opening products," says Tim Martin at ZechUSA, a manufacturer based in Washington state. His firm uses Maco Hardware on all its product lines, which, he says, allows the company to offer a triple sealing turn and tilt window with a very low air and water infiltration rating that's also ''very easy to close." The company also builds large lift and slide doors that can "be opened by the very old or the very young," he reports. "This has always been a selling feature focused on by architects with clients with special needs."
"Having grown up in this industry, I was there for the original side load block and tackle balance that were easy open, but very difficult to close. Then came the spiral for tilt windows, and they were tough to open but easy to close," recalls Wayne Gorell of Gorell Windows. When his company got started, he reports that ease of operation was one of the four primary criteria in developing its original products. "First and foremost was great performance, thermal/air/water; second was ease of operation; third was ease of installation; and fourth was great aesthetics," he says. "Keep in mind that great energy performance means a tight window, which is logically counter to ease of operation."
Because ease of operation was a high priority, he continues, a group from his firm went to Caldwell Manufacturing to closely review all the balance options. "That is how we ended up with these constant force special balances that we've used since day one," he states.
Constant force balances give his company "one finger operation in both directions on a 48" X 72" double hung window," Gorell reports. "It is one of the major points that convinces our dealers to give us a try, and they all point the ease of operation out to homeowners."
Dealers do pay attention, it should be noted, and based on a few responses I got, there is possibly room for improvement. "Yes I do see an opportunity," states John J. O'Brien of MasterCraft New England. Manufacturers would "jump on" alternatives or improvements to existing balance systems, he suggests. "We need a easy lift window to target the 55+ group."
Another dealer suggests homeowners themselves need to do more on the care and maintenance front to address the issue. "Being very familiar with Andersen, Marvin, Simonton, and several other windows, they all open easy, when they're new," states Richard Clauson of North Carolina-based Windows, Doors & More. "But after several years, depending on their location–I live in a coastal area–none of them works easy unless they're maintained by cleaning out sand, crud, etc., and lubricating. It's easy and fast to do..but no one does."
Changing consumer habits, I suspect, will be hard to do. But their preferences and priorities will evolve. The growing 55+ population people talk about today means, of course, a growing 65+ population and a growing 75+ population in the future. At least some of this industry's products will change as a result.