Exterior Trim Trends: All the trimmings

Much like Thanksgiving dinner isn’t complete without all the trimmings that go with the turkey, a house isn’t complete without all the exterior trim and detail that goes on the structure. Color, material, texture and design make a significant design statement. Although the individual pieces may be small in size, this product category is big in the statement it makes.

Maintenance matters

Trim is one of the few products that continued to grow through the recession, according to Mike Morris, business unit manager for building products at Palram. “More and more consumers are demanding products that are no or ultra-low maintenance. That’s the main driver behind the category growth.”

Rick Kapres, vice president of sales and marketing with cellular PVC trim manufacturer Versatex, sees architectural trim working its way back. “People are looking for more value and longevity when they build a home — they want to ensure they don’t need to put more money into it,” he says. “We’ve benefited from the fact that people are looking for materials on the exterior that are built to last with little to no maintenance. Our product provides that with the ability to withstand any environmental issue. We’re seeing more people understanding what the contractor/builder will put on the home, and they’re doing more research. That’s a good thing because they then understand our product won’t require painting, caulking or replacing in a few years. The market is moving toward lower maintenance.

Matt Michalski, product manager for Kleer Lumber, echoes the low maintenance sentiment. “The PVC trim category continues to grow and gain acceptance as an alternative to wood,” he says. “The most popular use is still as trimboard, but PVC is being used in more custom and unique applications every day. Contractors and fabricators of flowerboxes, custom arbors, pergolas, shutters and unique architectural designs are now using PVC because of its ease of use and minimal maintenance. You don’t need to worry about moisture absorption, rot or insects.”

LP Smartside Trim & Siding offers an engineered wood product that serves as a viable alternative to wood not available in the marketplace anymore, such as old-growth wood. Although it is a natural material, maintenance is still only minimal. Michelle Forchetti, segment marketing manager with LP, explains LP manufactures a primed product, and it is either painted onsite after installation or it goes to a network of preferred finishers who will bake on the paint in a controlled environment. The baked-on finish is the more resilient option because temperature and humidity can be controlled during application, which affects the process.

“Regardless of what type of trim, there will always be some sort of maintenance such as cleaning or repainting,” she says. “Nothing stays perfect forever. Even brick needs maintenance at some point in its life. Maintenance we do see can include repainting, repairs if something happens or washing it with soap and water.

Ben Bainter, trim product manager at CPG Building Products, parent company of AZEK Building Products, says, “AZEK Trim is a great product for exterior applications in all regions. It can stand up to the freezing saltwater along the Northern coasts as well as the squelching and arid climates of the desert. Because the product is not susceptible to moisture absorption, it is perfect for ground contact such as door surrounds along with other water-prone applications like window surrounds and material transitions.”

Technology and manufacturing

LP SmartSide strand substrate products begin their manufacturing process primarily with aspen trees, which are a renewable resource. “The logs are debarked by a machine and cut into strand pieces that are engineered to be a specific size and shape,” Forchetti explains. “Tensile strength is engineered into the strand product design. The wood strands are later put into a blender that tumbles the strands with resins and other advanced SmartGuard additives, and then they are laid out on a mat. At that point, the mat is 6 to 8 in. thick. A press machine then compacts the mat to a solid piece of product at specific thicknesses that we then cut into 8-ft. or 16-ft. lengths.” QR

Shane Short, general manager of Ply Gem Trim and Mouldings, says there has been major improvement in the manufacturing process of cellular PVC trim in the past five years. “Improved technology has resulted in better quality and better designed products that perform and look like wood,” he says. “Whereas wood has traditionally been the go-to choice for architectural detailing, professionals are turning more and more to alternative products that require less maintenance.

“With lower maintenance materials like vinyl, builders and remodelers often opt for simple accessories that are purely functional,” Short says. “Going beyond the basics and understanding the benefits of upgraded trim can help professional remodelers sell a more cohesive, high-design package. That means better looking and performing exteriors for customers and an improved bottom line for business.

“In the next five years, we’re anticipating demand for more dimensional options,” he continues. “For example, we’ll be able to offer additional column wraps and mouldings that are more flexible for different home styles. PVC lends itself to 3-D profiles and bending over exterior design elements such as arched windows. Wood or fiber cement cannot be molded in the same way.” Short hints at a new product in 2016 tailored toward fabricators. “We considered feedback we received from fabricator and distributor customers and look forward to introducing some specific features to meet the needs of this market segment.”

Bainter says, “The phrase ‘You only get out what you put in’ applies to more than personal progress. At AZEK, we believe the products we manufacture are only as good as the raw materials we use. We blend all of our raw materials in-house. This control allows us to maintain strict quality standards and verify every ingredient prior to entering the manufacturing process. Our commitment to high quality allows us to back all of our products with a 25-year limited warranty.”

He also notes the increase in moulding profiles offered in the past five years. Bainter believes, however, that “the trend for new and additional items will likely lessen over the next few years. With that reduction in new inventory, we expect channel partners to look for manufacturers who can provide exceptional service levels tied to lead times and special orders. Being able to meet those needs will offer a key differentiator for manufacturers.”

Morris likens manufacturing PVC trim to baking a cake. “There are different ingredients involved and each manufacturer has some proprietary blend of similar ingredients,” he explains. “You put those together, process them and extrude them. The heat through the extrusion process is what creates the end product — cellular PVC trim. Additives to the product create the cells. Palram aims to achieve a very consistent product in terms of thickness and cellular structure. Our goal is to control the bubbles created inside of the product. Much of PVC gets routed or milled into another shape or form, and it’s important to the contractor to have a very tight cell structure when creating a different profile.

“We are first and foremost a technology company,” Morris continues. “It’s what drives us toward our goal of creating solutions for contractors, dealer customers and partners. Because we are a technology company, it enables us to pull different technologies from other products we produce, markets we’re engaged in and countries we manufacture products into. One of the things we innovated is PVC trim with protective film. That enables the contractor the install the trimboard with the film on to keep the trim clean through the installation process. It eliminates having to wipe down and clean trim after installation, which saves time and money.”

Versatex purchases virgin PVC resin and some stabilizing microingredients, Kapres explains. “I call it the sunscreen you put in there to prevent yellowing or degradation. Then we add a foaming agent, which is what makes our PVC different. When extruding, the mixture is forced out in a sheet form at about 300 F. It hits a cooling wheel that’s about 40 F, which gives it the smooth surface on the top and bottom. Our cellular-free foam process and foaming agent makes it look like a piece of premium grade lumber.”

Geographic and application trends

Architectural trim is offered in many styles and, unsurprisingly, certain styles dominate some areas of the country more so than others. Additionally, homeowners are prioritizing adding curb appeal back into their residences. “Curb appeal is back,” Kapres asserts. “People are looking for stark exteriors that have more trim, gingerbread, character and elements.”

Colonial traditionally built homes with a lot of architectural elements are the standard for exterior trim. Kapres sees a growing architectural style in the Gulf markets called West Indies. “They’re moving away from block and stucco in Florida and those markets, and using more pastel lap siding with lots of white gingerbread,” he says. Traditional Cape Cod New England style with cedar shake and white trim also is a popular style up and down the East Coast.

Forchetti says, “We’ve been really intrigued about design styles trim goes with as we get more ingrained in the remodeling segment. The most classic segment where our product shines is craftsman style. Neo-Tudor and neoclassical homes with trim can be really important when showing material contrasts. The natural cedar look of our trim also spans out on mountain getaways, cabins and lodges — anything with a bit of rustic flair. It also, of course, works on ranches, two-stories and colonials, but the fun stuff is in the craftsman and other styles.”

LP’s product excels in the mountain, central and Midwest markets where traditional looks and trends call for their style. The Pacific Northwest, Southwest and Southeast also are strong markets. New England generally has a smoother market in its style history, which makes LP’s textured trim a tougher fit. “It would be more the exception than the rule up there,” Forchetti says.

The engineered wood product also makes it a good fit for applications where people want to replace only sections of trim, rather than retrim their entire home. “It matches with the existing product [whether it be existing wood trim or older trims],” Forchetti says. “We have a really authentic look and texture of wood. It holds well to many home styles in the U.S. where the natural wood look is prominent.”

Morris sees a growing acceptance of PVC in geographies where the product had limited acceptance not so long ago — such as in the Northeast, Pacific Northwest and Canada. “Those were traditionally wood markets that are now accepting PVC as a better option for exterior trim,” he says. “Traditional methods die hard. Wood was used for so many years it really took time for PVC to break through at the contractor level.”

“There really are no limitations for architecture and home styles,” Michalski says. “Whether it be Georgian, late Victorian, postmodern or low-country coastal, PVC fits the build.”

Home style is linked to geographic regions; some of which use more trim than others, Bainter says. AZEK’s product excels in the highly populated Northeast and East Coast markets with many historic and trim-heavy architectural style homes. “Nearly all new home styles are increasingly using trim to improve their curb appeal,” he says.

Rebuilding history

Architectural trim and detail has a long design history. Walk through colonial Williamsburg and you’ll see ample examples. As these historic structures need to be refreshed and sometimes restored, trim must meet the demands of historic design.

Forchetti describes a partnership that must happen to get a product specified to historic requirements. “You have stakeholders — including a historic society or committee, historians, architects, homeowners and product manufacturers. Being a wood-based product does help us in historical homes that are trying to keep original elements intact. Repair is really important and matching materials can be tricky. We’re starting to see more remodelers really take a passion to historical restoration — some homes from the ’50s and ’60s are even historically protected now. We are seeing our product being specified where wood-based products need to be repaired or replaced. It’s an easy transition versus the hardwoods originally on the home that are no longer available.”

Palram’s Morris says, “We do a lot of historic restoration jobs and PVC can be cut, routed, molded, bent and formed in myriad ways to match the historic architecture. A lot of these geographies require new products to maintain the look and feel of the historic architecture.”

Versatex’s product has been used in some prominent commercial historic projects, such as a local church originally built in the 1800s and the bell tower at Baldwin Wallace University in Cleveland. Michalski indicates Kleer Lumber’s PVC trimboards also are frequently used in historical restorations.

Color considerations

Versatex manufactures white-only trim, but it is a low-gloss finish so it can hold paint well. It also includes a fully transferrable lifetime warranty. “You don’t need to paint it to protect it, but if people want custom colors they can paint it,” Kapres says. “It won’t flake or peel off, although it can fade over time if exposed to heavy ultraviolet rays.”

Morris explains 50 percent of PVC trim is painted when it’s installed. In response, Palram started manufacturing a fully pigmented product. Right now, the fully pigmented trim is offered in a sand color, which Morris describes as a “fantastic complement to those natural Earth tone exterior cladding products, which are becoming more popular.” The product is UV stable and requires no finishing.

Color is a lot more than just personal taste, though; choosing the correct one could almost be called a science of sorts. “A lot of people are naturally drawn to white trim,” Forchetti says. “But trim color should be a consideration always; there’s color theory behind it. White trim is really good with a black or gray roof and cleaner body colors like solid red or blue. White would really pop. Cream, tan or off-white trim is more pleasing with brown roofs and muted Earth tone body colors. If you have a brown roof, white trim wouldn’t look right — you’d want something softer.

“Dark brown and charcoal trim give you a higher-end look,” she continues. “This is very on trend right now. We’re seeing a lot more of these darker color trim projects coming down the line. We’re always working with color experts to develop color palettes that take trim just beyond white. Trim color is just as — if not more important — than the color of the home. They can make the home pop. It’s incredible how changing the trim color can change the entire look of the house.”

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