Pulte is using a 20th-century manufacturing process to turn out exterior house trim with the look of complicated 19th-century craftsmanship and the ease of installation necessary for 21st-century production home construction.

Pulte founder and chairman William J. Pulte, himself, came up with the idea of using a process called “pultrusion” to form low-maintenance, easy-to-install fiberglass-reinforced trim and gutters.

“Bill was really the driving force,” says Larry Wrass, Pulte Home Sciences director of research and development and field development. Pulte Home Sciences, the company's research and development division, has been busy perfecting the process of making more and more components of the home's envelope in factories. “Bill said, ‘I have a great shell of a house, and now I'll need to improve my trim,'” Wrass recalls.

RETRO: Pulte takes a page from the past to give a new house a 19th century look. Pulte suggested making trim the same way boat hulls are formed—by stretching out fiberglass strands, saturating them with heat-activated resins, then pulling them through a precise form. The pultrusion process allows long expanses of seamless, fascia, soffit, gutter, frieze, and crown molding to be made in a factory. Pulte is in the process of patenting the product, which has aptly been named Pultrim.

“Pulte was really trying to solve problems from the perspective of a builder,” says Wrass. “We wanted to increase the quality of our exterior trim and give the homeowner a low-maintenance product that they did not have to paint and that would hold the sharp crisp freshly painted look for years to come.”

Unlike wood or aluminum, Pultrim doesn't expand or contract much with weather extremes, says Wrass. Pulte hired Pella windows to use testing techniques to simulate 10 years worth of outdoor use on Pultrim and found little change in the product, he says.

Also, one piece of trim can take on a profile that would require a carpenter to use several pieces of wood, one layered atop the other. “This product replicates fine trim carpentry in a very simple format for installation,” Wrass says. “We talk about this as adding more detailing for the same labor costs.”

Pultrim consists of two parts—the trim or gutters themselves and cover caps, used to cover joints between the pieces and handle turns. The cover caps can hide cutting errors of up to one inch, allowing installation crews more room for mistakes and speeding the process, says Wrass.

One learning curve with the product is created because of Pultrim's rigidity and perfection. Unlike wood, which good trim carpenters can adapt to fit portions of the house that are not square and plumb, Pultrim is relatively rigid, so the home needs to be square and plumb for the installation to go well, says Wrass. Still, crews quickly learn how to install the products. “After they've put it on five or 10 houses, they are really smoking,” says Wrass.

Last year, Pulte put Pultrim on about 750 homes. Plans call for it to be used on about 2,250 homes this year. By 2008, Pulte is expecting to install it on nearly 10,000 homes a year—virtually all its homes with traditional architectural features. For now, Pultrim is available only on Pulte homes. “It gives Pulte a branding opportunity to differentiate itself in the market,” says Wrass.