Originally created 08/15/04

Expect to see more low maintenance products on household horizon



When homeowners bemoan the drudgery of home maintenance, product manufacturers are all ears. Apparently, they listen closely.

A new wave is running through the home improvement marketplace with low maintenance products for virtually every portion of home exteriors.

"It seems like every single manufacturer we partner with has products that lend themselves to ease of maintenance," says David Steed, senior vice president of exterior products for Lowe's. "And if they don't offer a low maintenance item, they're working on it."

Steed rattles off a list of heretofore labor intensive categories that now boast low or no maintenance features: siding, roofing, gutters, railings, fencing and decking, to name a few. He predicts the onslaught of consumer-friendly products will rapidly gain popularity from more traditional materials.

But there's a catch. Consumers may complain about upkeep, but they won't sacrifice aesthetics and curb appeal for the sake of a lessened work load.

Many traditional materials are organic wood or paper and such that naturally deteriorate over time. Yet these materials look the best on a home. The trick has been to create low maintenance materials that weather well but look the part, too.

That hurdle has been cleared with room to spare. Steed says Lowe's "is a meeting place between consumer and manufacturer" and the shared experience between retailer and product maker results in goods that mesh the best of both worlds.

Case in point: windows. Where wood once reigned, vinyl has rushed in. Less than half of homeowners in 1995 opted for vinyl, but that number swelled to nearly 66 percent just two years ago, in part because the windows simply look good. Recent surveys show the top two features homeowners want in windows are no maintenance and overall quality, including appearance. But even top-quality wood windows can be clad in aluminum.

The low maintenance impetus is led by high-grade vinyls, fiberglass and polymers, along with composites, usually a wood-plastic mix.

The next generation of siding is vinyl or composite. Gutters are non-dent vinyl. Fences and railings are polymers nearly indistinguishable from wrought iron. Brick-like fascia panels are catching on.

What also drives consumer acceptance is reduced out-of-pocket costs. As more products reach the market and manufacturing techniques improve, homeowners have seen a steady decline in price points, Steed says. The warranties are longer, too.

"It's pretty hard to find something today on a home exterior that does not offer a maintenance-free option," says Steed. "This is a huge category, and the marriage of fashion and function is really taking off."