Katrina fuels sales for window companies

Hurricane Katrina will funnel sales to Minnesota windowmakers as Gulf states, homeowners and businesses toughen building codes and rebuild with the latest in hurricane-resistant windows.

The sales surge is expected in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, states that got pounded by Katrina but have weaker building codes than Florida, which was the target of last year's hurricanes.If those Gulf states follow Florida's lead, it will mean tougher and more uniform building codes and millions of dollars in new sales for Minnesota-based Viracon, Marvin Windows and Andersen Windows, some of the largest makers of hurricane-resistant windows in the country.Estimating Katrina's revenue impact is anyone's guess.But all three windowmakers expect sales gains because they sell storm products that generally include shatter-proof, laminated glass and specialty window frames that can withstand flying debris and wind gusts up to 130 miles an hour.

Hurricane gusts can explode weaker windows at much greater distances from the storm's center, letting in debris and water and dramatically increasing damage to property. The sudden openings also can distort building pressures and rip off roofs.

Unlike Florida, which has unified building codes, other Gulf states don't have uniform codes. Instead codes are "city by city," said Mike Fischer, director of codes and compliance for the Window and Door Manufacturers Association.

"As of 2004, Louisiana and Mississippi had not adopted the latest [window] impact-resistant requirements for the coastal zones. Those are the things they are going to try and change," he said. "But it takes time."

At Bayport-based Andersen Windows and Doors, which caters to residential clients through a dealer network and Home Depot stores, executives expect orders for its Stormwatch windows to swell.

"There will be an immediate need down there for replacement parts and window sashes and for patio doors," Steve Mog, sales vice president, said. "Residents will immediately need products so they can patch up their homes."

At Owatonna-based Viracon, which specializes in commercial building glass, Katrina "will certainly have an impact on our sales, specifically [for] hurricane-resistant glass," spokeswoman Christine Shaffer said. In the past, Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama were "not as strong a market because the codes are not as strongly in place as Florida." For example, clients' windows in the Hard Rock Casino in Biloxi, Miss., and the Ritz-Carlton in New Orleans' French Quarter lacked debris-impact protection above the sixth floor, because neither city required it, she said.

That's probably going to change. "What we have seen with storms in the past is that with the increased concern of hurricane threats and the awareness [of protective products], that codes change" and hurricane window purchases rise, Shaffer said. "For us specifically, I know that the numbers are definitely up in Florida as a result of the four hurricanes there last year."

Rebuilding efforts there helped boost sales of Viracon's parent company, Apogee Enterprises Inc., by 13 percent for the first quarter.

Industrywide, building associations reported that window protection sales have more than doubled since last year as Florida enforced its statewide building codes and property owners invested in plywood window covers, shutters, window films that prevent shattering and hurricane-resistant windows, Shaffer said.

With Katrina, "I think we will see a difference" in sales over two years, said Duff Marshall, Marvin Windows sales vice president. "There will be an increase in business for us, but it will be stretched over a long period of time. Overall [Katrina] could have an impact for us of a few million dollars. The next round of building that goes on down there means they will move in new international building codes very quickly. And in doing that, it will mean more business for us because of the type of product that we can manufacture."

Marvin, a family-owned company, has $500 million in estimated annual sales.

Disaster modelers predict Katrina will cost insurers $17 billion to $25 billion, close to or exceeding the toll of Hurricane Andrew, which cost $21 billion in today's dollars. Some insurers are demanding tougher construction requirements before agreeing to insure Gulf properties.

"It's a newer trend that our salespeople are seeing in that specific area," Viracon's Shaffer said.

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