Whilst UK fenestration continues to enjoy an unprecedented bounce-back from the economic hit caused by the pandemic, the extreme pressures on the supply chain both inside and outside fenestration could cause a summer of major disruption for the sector.

Fenestration could be hit hard

Installers continue to be flooded with new business from the general public as consumers are still very much in the mood to invest in their homes and make them the best spaces they can be. This is very much welcome for fenestration businesses of course after enduring two major lockdown which severely restricted trade and growth in 2020.

The pace of the bounce-back however took us all by surprise, including the wider construction sector, and there is now a major shortage of all general construction materials both in the UK and around the world.

Last week, I was given a number of very dire warnings specifically around the supply of glass. I was told that it could be so bad it may stop some companies able to work for a time. If the predictions around potential glass shortages come to pass, it will make the other shortages we have had to cope with so far look menial. But that wasn’t the only material shortage we were warned of recently. In the last two weeks, we have had notification of shortages of the following:

  • Grey spacer bar
  • White spacer bar
  • Decorative glass
  • Silicone-based sealants
  • Some syscos limiting sales of non-standard colours
  • Low iron glass

There is still pressure on resin, and many glass suppliers are now putting allocation limits on their clients to spread the supply out thinner to their customer bases. And these are restrictions on products only in our sector. Wider construction is under the same huge pressures and this is going to have ramifications for us too. More on that later.

For fenestration in the UK, the second half of this year could very extremely bumpy indeed. A number of sources over the past few weeks have told me that they expect market disruption to get worse in H2 of 2021, lasting all the way up the Christmas. It’s easy to see why.

Two out of three UK glass plants are down and to be out of action for months, at possibly the worst time in terms of demand for glass. Plans to import extra from Europe to cover the shortages have hit problems too so imports can no longer be relied upon to alleviate some of the pressure. All the while, the public continues to plough a lot of their saved cash into their homes, and with summer coming up the usual seasonal boost to trade is still likely to happen, increasing demand pressures further.

My advice to installers at this point is to avoid giving firm fitting dates until you absolutely have to, and ensure the homeowner knows that last-minute delays to products being delivered could happen at any time, causing a delay to installation.

Construction pressures grow

Things aren’t looking great in the wider construction sector either. For the past few weeks, there have been reports of sites having to close or stop work due to a lack of available materials. These are just some of the reported shortages, but not all:

  • steel
  • timber
  • roof tiles
  • insulation
  • plaster
  • bricks
  • blocks
  • sand
  • cement

That is just to mention a few of the raw materials the construction sector is facing a shortage of at the moment. The CLC and others have warned that the situation is likely to get worse and that if things don’t improve, sites stopping work is going to become more regular.

This is going to impact the fenestration sector and the problems in our sector could impact construction sites too. If site completions are being delayed, it means the installation of the windows and doors into those projects is going to create delays and will impact the glazing companies who deal with commercial and new-build contracts. This will push lead times out further.

If there are delays in the fenestration world on getting materials such as glass and hardware, it’s going to delay the installation of new windows and doors to construction sites that are ready.

We are learning, quickly and quite painfully, how inter-connected the supply chain really is. Delays on only a few select materials can cascade delays all around which eventually impact businesses at the bottom of the chain and ultimately, homeowners.

Over the next six months, with predictions of delays and shortages due to become worse, we absolutely have to communicate the current circumstances as clearly and as loudly to not only our own sectors but the general public. We have to take charge of managing expectations, keep people informed and extend lead times as far as we need to in order to keep control of the workload.

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