When you think of registers and grilles, typically you think of the standard products made of metal. That may be changing, however, thanks to manufacturers that have been experimenting with plastic for the last seven to eight years. They have come up with heavy-duty plastic registers and grilles that are available in a wide array of colors and sizes.

Plastic registers and grilles are becoming increasingly popular in Canada, where contractors have been looking for reasonably priced products that work well and are of a consistent quality. The United States has been slower to hop onto the plastic bandwagon, but manufacturers say there is increasing interest in that market as well.

Changing Perceptions

One of the reasons why the United States may not be as excited about plastic as its northern neighbor is that plastic hasn't always had a positive connotation. Some may think of plastic products as being cheap looking, flimsy, and easily broken. When it comes to registers and grilles, however, nothing could be further from the truth.

"Our plastic registers and grilles are scratch-resistant, unlike many metal products," said Ray Gatt, vice president of sales and marketing - HVAC, Decor Grates Inc., Toronto.

"Metal products are notoriously susceptible to scratching and denting, and many contractors end up with a lot of products they can't use because they've been damaged in this way. Plastic products are much more difficult to damage."

Another reason why contractors and builders may prefer the standard metal registers and grilles is simply tradition: They've always used metal products, they've worked well for them, and they don't want to change.

By introducing plastic registers and grilles, Gatt said his company came up with something that is more consistent, of a higher quality, has a better range, doesn't rust, and is less susceptible to damage. Best of all, these new products are less expensive than their metal counterparts, he said, noting that the steel market has been extremely volatile during the past two years.

Decor Grates offers a wide array of colors and finishes (above and below) designed to please even the pickiest homeowner.

Plastic Benefits

When plastic registers and grilles have been used in the United States, they've typically been installed in coastal areas, due to the corrosion caused by salt. That's not the case in Canada, where interior sections of the country are snapping up plastic products and installing them primarily in residential new construction.

Indoor pools are an-other application in which plastic products do well, because they don't rust as metal products in this environment can. "We're also finding our plastic products are moving into factory-built homes, trailers, boats, horse trailers, and truck cabs," said Gatt.

In addition to being scratch resistant, plastic registers and grilles provide excellent air distribution, and they are easy to clean.

Gatt stated the plastic registers provide better air distribution, because their design has support on the top of the register, so they can more easily deflect the air out into the space. In addition, shut-off dampers can either be partial or offer 100-percent closure, which has never been the case in the conventional register.

Plastic grilles and registers are also resistant to mold and mildew and can be put in the dishwasher for cleaning.

High temperatures aren't a problem for plastic because, as Gatt noted, the only way in which the registers would warp or melt is if the house is on fire or the furnace isn't working correctly.

"The registers or grilles will last the lifetime of a home unless an individual wants to get into something more of a decorative nature, and we make those available as well," said Gatt.

Aesthetically Pleasing

Speaking of decorative registers, Decor Grates offers a wide array of colors and finishes designed to please even the pickiest homeowner. The company manufactures plastic registers in 18 colors, including wood grain products. They are also working on other decorative products, such as registers that look like brass or have an Art Deco design.

In order to put its product in front of the right people, Decor Grates recently opened a display booth at the Designers Walk resource center in downtown Toronto. The purpose of this display is to put their product in front of the design community and their clients who visit throughout the year. Last year more than 10,000 people went through this facility.

Gatt hopes home builders will include the company's many registers and grilles in design centers as well - or at least that contractors will offer customers register options they may not have considered before.

"Cost is not an issue, because plastic is less expensive than metal. We just need to have the contractor get our product in front of the builder or the homeowner."

Given the benefits of using plastic registers and grilles, it probably won't be too much longer before these products are just as popular as metal in the United States.

Publication date: 12/06/2004