According to a study jointly released last month by the American Architectural Manufacturers' Association and the Window & Door Manufacturers Association, residential prime window volume fell approximately 9% in 2011 versus 2010.

The AAMA/WDMA study, an in-depth analysis of an industry with product sales largely in retreat since 2006, says the 2011 decline has been "largely driven by the lack of stimulus effects from tax credits," noting that "new construction was off only 2%." The report also notes that in 2011, "remodeling and replacement windows fell by 12% versus 2010."

Pushed Sales Forward

The news that sales fell industrywide by 9%, and that the disappearance of tax credits was behind much of that drop, was no surprise to contractors such as Jim Lett, owner of A.B.E. Doors & Windows, in Allentown, Pa.

The tax credit, effective for 2009 and 2010 as part of the Obama administration's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act stimulus legislation, lifted window sales industrywide as well as at A.B.E. Doors & Windows, a company hard hit at the time by the recession.

So effective was the tax credit in spurring business for A.B.E. Doors and other window companies that many found themselves with jobs booked through the late summer and fall right until the last day of 2010, when credits expired.

But Lett says that last-minute rush of homeowners wanting windows may have taken out a number of prospects who were likely candidates for window replacement this year or in 2013. The tax credit, he says, "pushed some sales forward." But he also attributes 2011's reduced window sales, for his company and the industry, to a stalled economy and to price increases made necessary by complying with Environmental Protection Agency lead-safe renovation rules.

"About everybody I talk with across the country, on the dealer and the manufacturer side, says the same thing," says Tom Meeks, president/CEO of Energy Efficient Replacements, an Atlanta company that distributes vinyl windows to its network of a dozen installing contractors around the U.S.

"They don't give me a percentage," Meeks says, but sales were down in 2011, and "it's been flat this year as well."

Meeks opines that it's not just the economy and the disappearance of tax credits, but the window replacement industry's "pressure sales and drop-down selling techniques." These, blogged and chattered about online, have resulted in a lack of trust by homeowners, and that has translated to fewer sales, he says.

Repeat/Referral: A Savior for Some

Wolfgang Wirthgen, owner of WinDor, a $15 million Orange County, Calif., company that manufactures and sells vinyl windows out of five branch stores, says that on the manufacturing side a good deal of the industry's sales drop is due to the big hit new-home construction has taken.

But Wirthgen, whose company used to be the exclusive installer for its products but now sells to other window contractors, says that a 2011 drop of 30% to 40% in replacement window sales was not unusual. "Without repeat and referral," he says, "we wouldn't be here."

Sales at WinDor are up 7% so far this year, the owner notes. That aligns with the projection for 2012 window sales by AAMA/WDMA. According to the study, "the outlook for residential window demand continues to be optimistic ... with expectations for a 6.9% increase driven largely by expectations for stronger new-construction activity."