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Innovation showers the bathroom

BY Ken Ryan

Convenience and the creature comforts of home are factors shaping the market for bath accessories, which are increasingly incorporating digital technology into the newest offerings, according to designers and suppliers.

While trends in fixtures encompass square-shaped and clean-lined faucets, high-arc units and single-level chrome handles, hands-free faucets using smart technology is the biggest trend in 2012, experts say.

“Hands-free faucets was a huge success for Delta in the kitchen with its smart touch technology,” said Ashley Perry, showroom consultant, Ferguson Bath, Kitchen & Lighting Gallery, King of Prussia, Pa. “They have now introduced this in the bathroom on the single-handle lavatory faucet from Jason Wu.”

Wu, a fashion designer, collaborated with luxury bathroom company Brizo to create a collection of bathroom faucets featuring SmartTouch Plus technology, which allows for a hands-free and touch-sensitive operation.

This so-called “smart faucet,” with its sleek modern design and pink glowing light, is gaining wider appeal in the higher-end markets. The faucet can be programmed to dispense water at a chosen temperature; the technology recognizes the user’s face and automatically turns on the water to that temperature.

New faucets entering the market in 2012 included Kohler’s Tripoint, a touchless electronic faucet that is factory set, so there is no need to calibrate; and the Muirsis Pinnacle in satin nickel, which includes motion-activated on/off, flow control and temperature adjustment with multiple pre-sets.

Perry said most manufacturers offer matching bath accessories to their faucet lines for added convenience. “Most often the accessories are the last decisions to be made by the homeowners,” she said. “This allows consumers to save money on the initial purchase but also take some time to think about what kind of accessories they would like to add to the room.”

Max Isley, co-founder and partner of The Kitchen & Bath Channel, said that while convenience is influencing purchase decisions, there is still a segment of the population that wants to pamper themselves. “The hotel/motel industry has started to upgrade their bathrooms, so people who are coming back from business trips and enjoyed some of the bathroom amenities in these hotels will say, ‘I want this in my home,’ ” Isley said.

Isley noted that advanced technology is being integrated into a variety of fixtures to provide a better user experience while increasing the value for the consumer.

Gina Bon, a kitchen and bath designer at Airoom Architects & Builders, in Chicago, agreed. “People are definitely going with digital technology today,” she said. “Typically it is more expensive, but they see the value aesthetically in electronic interfaces that incorporate features like steam and music in the shower.”

Universal designs

Playing into the convenience theme is the increased popularity of universal designs that allow for easy access into and out of the bathroom. These barrier-free bathrooms feature walk-in tubs; curtainless showers; push-button doorknobs; grab bars for the shower area; and pullout or pull-down, single-lever faucets.

While baby boomers are primarily driving this trend, Isley said the demand for products that are accessible and functional for everyone increases as these products become more attractive, available and appreciated.

He cited an industry statistic that by age 40, 85% of consumers will need a universal bathroom at some point. “These people may have been injured, have carpal tunnel syndrome, etc. But they also like the convenience of a push-button front knob that they can open with their elbows,” he said.

Grab bars, once the domain of eldercare facilities, are increasingly turning up in conventional bathrooms, designers said. “Bath manufacturers are working to not make them look so utilitarian,” Bon said. “Today’s grab bars offer much sleeker styles than in the past.”

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IHS Global/HIRI industry forecast holds steady

BY HBSDEALER Staff

The September 2012 IHS Global Insight/HIRI Home Improvement Products Market Forecast for total home improvement product sales for 2012 is little changed — pointing to an increase of 4.9% to $274 billion, compared with the March 2012 forecast of 5.0% growth to $283 billion.

Consumer Market sales are expected to increase by 5.3% and Professional Market sales by 3.9%, according to the data.

As employment growth accelerates and housing markets improve in 2014, IHS/HIRI expects stronger growth of home improvement sales averaging 5.9% in 2014-2015 with a slight deceleration in the following two years as the housing market cycle runs its course.

The national economic situation will certainly have a say in the matter.

Most recent economic reports point to continued growth, albeit at a modest pace. The IHS/HIRI forecast of 2.1% growth of real GDP this year is unchanged from the March 2012 report on the home improvement products market.

Uncertainty over the deepening recession in the Eurozone will weigh on the U.S. economy. So will uncertainty over federal spending and tax imbalances, according to the forecast, which now expects GDP growth in 2013 of 1.8%, down 0.5% from the March forecast.

On the other hand is housing: “Some of the most upbeat news is coming from housing, with prices now beginning to turn up, and home sales and housing starts trending higher,” according to the IHS/HIRI news release. “We expect existing-home sales to increase 6.2% this year and 8.1% in 2013. Housing starts are trending higher than we expected, but we do not expect a sharp acceleration next year from the 24% increase projected this year.”

The Home Improvement Research Institute (HIRI), headquartered in Tampa, Fla., is an independent, not-for-profit organization comprised of about 80 manufacturers, retailers, wholesalers and allied organizations in the home improvement industry. The group’s 2012 fall conference in Chicago, to be held Oct. 17, is called “Retailing in Home Improvement: 2013 and Beyond.”

For information, visit hiri.org.

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Readers Respond

BY HBSDEALER Staff

The tax on lumber

“Against a loud voice from the lumber industry, the governor just signed legislation to enact an additional 1% sales tax on lumber sold in California at retail starting Jan. 1. Without California going strong, the rest of the nation will never recover. Don’t forget we’ve also got cap and trade, the low carbon fuel standard, a vehicle mileage tax called smart growth, storm water runoff regulations and a new paint recycling fee starting Oct. 19 yet to contend with.

“FYI, the California legislature passed and the governor signed public employee pension reform legislation recently. It was obviously watered down, very weak and is nothing more than lip service because if it was truly monumental, there would have been public employee union outcry the likes of which we saw in Wisconsin last year. We didn’t even hear a whimper. It is currently estimated that between unfunded public employee pension liabilities and state bonds we owe approximately $750 billion!”
— Augie Venezia
Fairfax Lumber & Hardware

Job facts versus job fiction
Several readers responded to an article that appeared on homechannelnews.com under the headline: “Unemployment rate declines to 8.1%.”

“The unemployment rate improved because more people stopped looking for work. It’s a misleading and misguided statistic.”
— Jimmy Bolton
Coastal Building Sales

“Your article states that unemployment improved in August, when in fact 96,000 jobs were added and 368,000 people stopped looking for work or their unemployment benefits expired. Seems if you are going to report numbers you would give both sides of the story. This is misleading when [only]part of the facts are presented.”
— Dillard Jones

“While the unemployment rate appears to have gone down, the country saw 360,000 people drop out of the labor force, which affects the unemployment calculation and why it looks like it went down. The actual percentage of people now considered part of the labor force compared with the total population is at its lowest level in a generation. Additionally, with only 96,000 jobs created last month, it is nothing to write home about and way below what is needed to significantly impact the economy via disposable/discretionary income that drives retail sales (excluding food and fuel).”
— Pkrupa on Homechannelnews.com

The Fed responds

“It’s wonderful that the Fed thinks it can fix housing and then the economy. It can’t. All it has done is ensure a new housing bubble that will once again pin the losses on the taxpayer.”
— Jim Taft

“Why should my tax money help the people who bought houses that they could not afford? Being in the building industry myself, I have had to change my lifestyle. I have seen many material supply houses close their doors and have not seen government help them out. If government wants to boost the economy, why not give the money to taxpayers who are paying their bills and taxes? These people would in return buy products and services, which would put people back to work. We can give companies all kinds of money to bail them out, but if the general public does not have money to buy goods and services, then there is no reason for companies to make products. It is simple economics: When people have money, they will support the economy.”
— Yvone

Mortgage interest tax deductions and the housing recovery

“Eliminating the mortgage tax deduction is just another way of implementing a tax ‘increase’ that would impact the middle class. The tax deduction gives additional incentive to owning a home. High-income taxpayers who invest in commercial real estate would just find ways to fund their home purchase by borrowing additional funds on a commercial mortgage to still get the deduction. It is time our policy makers looked at throwing out the tax code and go to a graduated flat tax so that ‘everybody’ pays a fair share.”
— Lonnie Reichstein
Controller
Central Valley Builders Supply

“If this deduction were phased out now, you would put housing in another tailspin! The value of your property would also take another downward correction. Ninety billion is nothing compared with the waste spent by the government.”
— Duane Kuzak

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