The 2017 International Builders’ Show (IBS) marks my 26th consecutive year of attendance.
Bathroom Faucets That Turn On Profits
Manufacturers create products to appeal to a variety of price points.
The mid-level option VertiSpa from American Standard turns an ordinary shower into a hydro massage.
If there were a way for builders to make an additional $5,000 to $10,000 per home, you'd think they'd be jumping at the opportunity. Not necessarily, says Lars Christensen, product manager for Hansgrohe Inc. "Eighty percent of all builders overlook the opportunity to offer faucet upgrades that could net them this extra profit."
"Too many builders tend to offer a very simple faucet package," says Dan Auer, president and chief operating officer of Faucet.com. "They lack an easy way to offer more choices without complicating their installation and scheduling needs."
If this sounds familiar, con-sider boning up on the latest trends in faucets and showers. Install these in model homes, then offer these eye-catching and water-saving styles as attractive - and profitable - upgrades to the lackluster standbys.
"Homeowners are becoming more aware of the wide assortment of faucets and showers available today, thanks to the Internet and to the home centers," says Russ Ackner, director of marketing at Faucet.com.
Don Arnold, owner of the industry consulting firm Inter/Source, adds a qualifier. "Unlike a lot of products, consumers are not all that well-exposed to faucets. They really don't know what to look for. That's been a bugaboo forever. Faucets simply don't get the amount of advertising or exposure that other home products receive."
The Hot Finishes
The hottest finish in bathroom faucets is brushed nickel or satin nickel. "The finish consumers love in the kitchen has moved into the bathroom," says Christensen.
Warmer hues and textured finishes also have gained market momentum, led by finishes such as brushed nickel and bronze. Likewise, "consumers want finishes that will last - that won't tarnish, corrode or change over time - meeting their primary need for durability," says Sara Maduscha, product manager for bath and kitchen faucets at Kohler Co.
The demand for durability has spawned a new finishing process: physical vapor deposition (PVD). Nearly all the major faucet makers offer PVD finishes under a variety of trade names. They tout its ability to resist abrasion, but it doesn't hold a candle to chrome, argues Arnold. "Chrome is still the most durable finish," says Arnold. "It is important that people not think PVD is the perfect protection for a faucet, but it does do a good job in resisting abrasion."
Baths Mimicking Spas
Another hot trend is custom showering. "As time becomes precious, more and more consumers are using the showering space as their personal retreat - albeit for only 10 minutes a day, instead of a 30-minute bath," says Maduscha. "Consumers want custom water experiences and demand higher levels of functionality and design in their bathing and showering environments."
Sales figures back that up. Auer, who tracks sales of faucets as an e-retailer at Faucets.com, sees an increased focus on the master shower with custom shower systems that feature multiple showerheads, body sprays and hand showers.
Case in point: Danze offers more than 130 styles of showerheads and shower arms: "Everything from a fun, spinning showerhead to an oversized 10-inch antique bell showerhead," says Ed Detgen, director of marketing for Danze. Other manufacturers offer a similar plethora of options.
VertiSpa, a mid-level or upgrade option, is a new, easy-to-install, affordable shower system from American Standard that turns an ordinary bathroom shower into a spa-like hydro massage. "This is a perfect upgrade offering for builders since VertiSpa can be installed after the bathroom is completely finished," says Carol Houlik, product director.
Delta Faucet offers the Vesi Custom Shower System from Brizo that targets the premium category and promises to optimize the water-delivery experience to the user.
Hansgrohe's Pharo series of showerpanels and shower columns provide a luxury showering experience with all the components contained within a single, fully integrated, pre-assembled package, which greatly speeds and simplifies installation.
Delta Faucet's Vesi Custom Shower System from Brizo features the new medium-flow TempAssure thermostatic valve, with universal inlets and outlets and offering dual volume and temperature control with a water flow of up to 9 gallons per minute (gpm). All two-handle lavatory faucets in the Vesi Bath Collection feature ceramic valves requiring only a single cartridge for both hot and cold valves.
Part of Hansgrohe's Pharo line of luxury integrated shower systems, the new Pharo Lift Showerpanel combines a 7-inch Downpour Air showerhead, a two-spray handshower and six adjustable bodysprays into a single pre-plumbed and fully assembled package, including flow and temperature controls. The back panel features an integrated accessory shelf for the convenient storage of soaps, shampoos and other showering aids.
Water savings has been an ongoing theme, but the downside has been a reduction in water pressure. Not so, with the newer models. Hansgrohe's 10-inch Downpour Air showerhead employs an air-injection system to mix air bubbles into the water stream as it flows through the 180-spray channel head. Downpour Air delivers an experience akin to being caught in a drenching rainfall.
The Vesi Custom Shower System incorporates a new body spray that claims to use 36 percent less water while still delivering a full shower spa experience, according to Joe Hudock, director of trade channel management at Delta Faucet.
Ceramic Disc Valves
Ceramic disc valve technology pays off big in terms of reduced repairs and callbacks. Europeans have refined the original technology, and its use is now widespread there. This explains why many European faucet manufacturers offer ceramic valve technology on all their products. "The ceramic valve's durability is for life versus using a rubber or plastic seal," says Hansgrohe's Christensen. "That's why we give it a lifetime guarantee."
Use of ceramic technology in U.S.-made faucets is spotty but on the upswing. American Standard offers ceramic valves on every faucet, including its builder-grade Colony collection, with list prices starting at $40. Danze's new Bannockburn Col-lection, targeted to the middle-to-premium segment, also comes with ceramic disc valves, as do all Danze faucets.
Likewise, all Kohler faucets, including its new bathroom faucet line Forté, offer ceramic technology. "This product line is very competitively priced in the mid-level market segment," says Maduscha. "It is the perfect builder upgrade from the base specification."
The Downpour Air Showerhead from Hansgrohe blends air bubbles into the water stream as it courses through the unit.
The Bannockburn Collection from Danze features a transitional faucet style that bridges the gap between contemporary and traditional looks. Its PVD finish promises not to scratch, tarnish or corrode. All Danze faucets are equipped with ceramic disc valve technology.
Thermostatic Vs. Pressure Balance
Building codes require that new construction include some kind of valve that protects the bather against sudden fluctuations in water temperature in the shower. Manufacturers currently offer two kinds of controls: thermostatic and pressure balance.
"Europe uses thermostatic, while the U.S. relies on pressure balance," says Arnold, adding that the latter tends to be less expensive. But the price gap is narrowing. "Thermostatic has become more competitive while offering more than pressure balance, so we're seeing sales increase. Thermostatic controls don't just protect against hot and cold lines but allow users to 'tune in' and fix a temperature setting - and not just for a single shower, but also from one shower to the next."
Hansgrohe thermostatic valves allow users to adjust the water plus or minus one degree, so there's no fear of scalding. The Vesi shower system features a thermostatic valve that promises to maintain the correct temperature, plus or minus three degrees, no matter what demands occur in the rest of the home.
"That term is a little misleading," says Arnold, referring to self-cleaning showerheads. "These showers are not so much self-cleaning as cleanable by the user, but the technology is a definite improvement over older shower heads. Anything with a metal face and small holes is highly vulnerable. I prefer to steer people toward those with a rubber face or rubber spray channels that help in cleaning."
Arnold is referring here to systems such as Hansgrohe's Rubit de-scaling feature, in which the showerhead's spray channels are made of silicone that repels chemical and mineral buildup. Any deposits that do linger are easily wiped away with the touch of a finger tip.
Another Hansgrohe feature, Quiclean, has tiny pins that extend through the spray channels of the hand shower or shower head to remove residual scale and dirt every time the spray mode is changed.
Kohler's one-piece ceramic disk cartridge cleans itself, as two ceramic disks slide against each other during actuation. This movement grinds out any debris in the water supply, polishing the disks over time, eliminating leaks or freezing up of the cartridge. Kohler also features MasterClean spray faces on its showerheads. These incorporate individual rubber nozzles for each stream of water, simplifying the process of cleaning mineral buildup. Users run water or rub a finger over the nozzle to flex them, thus removing any mineral buildup.
Kohler's FortÉ bath and shower solution has several easy installation features, including a top-mount installation for the 4-inch centerset lavatory faucet; pre-assembled handles on valves for the widespread lavatory faucet; and 22-inch flexible stainless steel supply hoses, eliminating the need for the installer to sweat any copper pipes.
Win-Win for Builders, Buyers
Builders want a smooth and easy installation. Consumers want education - something not all builders have time or the inclination to provide. "The average consumer may not know the difference between one faucet and another, and builders often cut corners," says Arnold. "If a builder can sell the house as is, why bother offering upgrades?"
Because consumers will pay for certain options, says Faucet.com's Auer. "The average home builder allows $3,500 to $6,500 for plumbing faucets and fixtures for a home valued at $300,000 to $500,000 and with 2 1/2 to three baths," he says. "When consumers upgrade these purchases, their expenditures can easily double. There is no incremental cost of installation, so the builder's profit on material can double as well."
Manufacturers are trying to bring home buyers and builders together by giving consumers the features they want, while simplifying the builder's upgrade process. Hansgrohe's Interaktiv (featuring contemporary stylings) and Retroaktiv (traditional) faucet programs use the same built-in rough valve system with multiple handle styles for creating either a single-hole or a widespread lavatory set, as well as shower controls. "The builder can buy a system without handles while homeowners can create the looks they want - decreasing inventory at construction," says Hansgrohe's Christensen.
Similarly, American Standard offers the TRIMendous program for its bath/shower fittings. The universal valve is packaged separately from the trim options so that the valve can be installed prior to trim selection. Builders can then offer buyers good-better-best packages before actually installing the trim.
"Special finishes are a great way to upgrade sales," says Delta Faucet's Hudock. "To stay competitive, builders will need to continue working with manufacturers to supply their customers with the most up-to-date styles and finishes."
"Builders are becoming increasingly focused on the needs of their customers," adds Joel Culp, director-wholesale channel marketing/North American Faucets at Kohler Co. "Builders recognize that increased profits are a direct result of increased customer satisfaction and increased product choice. As consumers become more aware of trends in faucet and shower design and finishes, demand for these options increase."