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By BOB MIODONSKIOF CONTRACTOR'S STAFF Demographics are a key driver in the housing market, says William Apgar, senior scholar at the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University. Many home builders attending the International Builders' Show Feb. 7-9 in Orlando, Fla., could only wish that consumers' age, income and ethnicity were driving the sluggish housing market faster and harder. Apgar,

By BOB MIODONSKIOF
CONTRACTOR'S STAFF

Demographics are a key driver in the housing market, says William Apgar, senior scholar at the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University. Many home builders attending the International Builders' Show Feb. 7-9 in Orlando, Fla., could only wish that consumers' age, income and ethnicity were driving the sluggish housing market faster and harder.

Apgar, however, has good news for remodeling contractors, which he revealed during a press conference to announce the Joint Center's new report, "Foundations for Future Growth in the Remodeling Industry."

"There will be 12 million new households in the next 10 years, and per-household income also will grow," he says. "This will drive the remodeling market.

"Each generation is out-spending the previous generation. Generation X will replace baby boomers as the biggest spenders. Gen X'ers are more environmentally oriented, more oriented to home centers and do not necessarily have a traditional home upbringing."

The "Future Growth" report further notes: "With two-thirds of the nation's housing stock now at least a quarter-century old, the demand for repairs and replacements — particularly for energy-saving systems — is on the rise. After years of underinvestment, much of the rental inventory is also in need of upgrades."

Elsewhere at the show, former U.S. Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros was telling builders about different demographics.

"Hispanics will drive the new home and remodeling markets for years to come," says Cisneros, who notes that not all the growth in housing will be tied to immigration. "Latino families tend to be younger, and larger. They also are very hard working.

"The Latino population lags the rest of the country in terms of home ownership, which is 20% under the national home ownership rate and 26% below the white home ownership rate. Hispanics see home ownership as the typical path to the middle class."

Cisneros was promoting his book, "Casa Y Comunidad," which is subtitled, "Latino Home and Neighborhood Design." Homes designed for Latino families should have more bedrooms, because the families are larger. A possible trade-off for the added bedrooms may mean no enclosed garage, he says. The home's floor plan should reflect that more than one generation may be living under the same roof.

The placement of the kitchen in the floor plan is important, he notes, due to the multi-generational, larger families that will spend more time there. The kitchen sink should be deeper to accommodate more dishes that may stand there longer. The range needs to have an open gas flame to prepare tortillas and other foods.

More family members means that these homes should add an extra three-quarters bathroom. No bathtub, but it should have a sink, shower and toilet.

Homes should have a green element, Cisneros says, because Hispanic families like a garden where they can grow some of their own vegetables. That means extending a water line to the outside for irrigation and a gas line for an outdoor grill.

Generation gap narrows
Latino homes are not the only ones where more than one generation lives under one roof. Jacuzzi designed its Finestra Walk-In Bath with cross-generational appeal, spokeswoman Carol VanderKloot says. The easy-access design incorporates hydrotherapy, chromotherapy mood lighting, inline heating, molded interior seat and handrail for the comfort and safety of aging baby boomers and weekend warriors, she notes.

Jeffrey Valles, marketing manager/ faucets for Elkay's plumbing products division, says that he has seen "in-law suites" in luxury homes. The rooms of these suites all are on one level, so the in-laws don't have to climb stairs, and the bathrooms feature decorative accessories such as grab rails.

Elkay's Phylrich International's Doralfe division has a 3Ring faucet collection with levers that allow for comfortable handling by all generations, even cross handles. The sleek contours of the high arc and square deck spouts are intended to bring a designer feel to the bathroom, according to the company.

"Minimalism is very hot right now," Valles says.

Minimalist designs appeal to younger buyers too, says Todd Weber, manager/kitchen-and-bath public relations at Kohler Co. Noting that Kohler always has been a leader in traditional design, he adds: "We're seeing a big European influence, so we have more contemporary styles."

Kohler introduced petite vanities in both traditional and more contemporary designs for its Bancroft and Archer suites for powder rooms and bathrooms with space constraints. The Archer Suite includes a shower receptor that is "ideal for aging homeowners who are interested in universal design that help them live independently within their homes for a longer period of time," the company says. The Archer toilet's Comfort Height bowl "offers comfortable chair-height seating for people of all ages and statures."

Moen mentions the "increasing demand for modern decor" in expanding its Icon suite to include a single-handle, single-hole mount faucet. The faucet's geometric lines, high-arc spout and tapered lever handle are inspired by the European hospitality industry, spokeswoman Jennifer Allanson says.

Yet, Moen also cites results of a survey of more than 170 showroom consultants and builder design center associates that state traditional styles still dominate the faucet category, especially in the lavatory. Moen's traditionally designed Brantford Collection includes two-handle centerset, two-handle widespread, Roman tub and Garden tub faucets as well as tub/ shower, shower-only and valve-only trim options along with accessories.

"The United States is still a very traditional market, but there's a growing trend toward to a minimalist, contemporary look," says Kevin McJoynt, Gerber's marketing director.

Gerber's three new bathroom suites range from traditional, the Brianne, to more contemporary, the Allerton; the company describes the design of Picturesque's beveled lines and white-only color as unique with "a touch of luxury." The toilets and lavatories of the other suites come in white, bone or biscuit.

Delta's Brizo brand hopes to capitalize on what it calls the "glam trend" with its RSVP Bath Suite. While it draws its inspiration for its faucets, shower systems and accessories from early 20th century Art Nouveau influences, RSVP updates them to transcend style categories from traditional to contemporary, says Paula Warner, manager/ corporate communications.

It just looks expensive
RSVP features Swarovski crystal accents to give products a "customized-style statement," Warner says. Consumers are buying products that look as though they could have been designed specifically for their home, a trend several manufacturers acknowledge with their offerings. But there's a catch.

"People want to feel they get a customized product," VanderKloot says. "But the cost of customized products is expensive."

Jacuzzi's new Sedona steam shower, for example, has a cur ved glass door that gives the unit a customized look, she says.

Homeowners want products that look good and are affordable, says Ann Rottinghaus, Elkay's marketing communications manager. Performance is important too.

"There has to be a balance between aesthetics and function," she says. "A product can be highly functional and very beautiful."

Consumers are unhappy with what she calls inferior products that lack the capacity of bigger sinks. Elkay is introducing larger stainless steel sinks, some of them with an integrated drainboard in a tire-tread or nail-head pattern.

"Ten inches is emerging as the new standard in sinks. We're seeing bigger sinks in depth and width with an elevated surface for the sink," Rottinghaus says. "Scale is important, as is the pairing of the faucet and sink."

Scale is important to Danze too, as is the finish of their faucets and accessories, Vice President/Marketing Ed Detgen says. Danze's new Parma wall-mount pot filler has a two-piece articulated spout that can extend up to 22 in. from the wall. The Parma deck-mount pot filler sits 10 in. above the counter and comes with a 3-in. riser if needed.

Both faucets are offered in stainless steel or chrome. The company's Opulence vessel filler is available in chrome, antique copper, brushed nickel, stain black, polished brass and oil rub bronze finishes.

"We're what customers use to customize; we're not the main event," Detgen says. "People are accessorizing their rooms with our products. The kitchen has become the social center of the home, and the wife wants to be proud of it."

Symmons has new kitchen products, including the S-2610 Elements Kitchens Vella single-lever faucet with pullout spray spout. With a contemporary design, the faucet features a retractable braided hose that answers customers' complaints about pull-outs that dangle from the faucet body, Vice President/Marketing Jeffrey Reilly says. The S-2610 can be used in single- or three-hole installations and has a polished chrome finish.

Delta also is trying to clean up the image of some kitchen pull-outs with its new Allora, which features a magnet that "engages the wand to its docked position in a snap" when it's not in use, the company says. Calling the kitchen the hub of the home that is increasingly focused on family activities, Delta says it is trying to simplify kitchen tasks with Allora's magnetic closure.

Delta's MultiChoice Universal valve, introduced at last year's IBS ("Function and form," April 2006, pg. 39), has been incorporated into the Brizo brand's Vesi, RSVP, Modern and Traditional shower trim options. Delta says it wants to enable contractors to make function and style trim changes without having to change the valve in the wall. The ultimate result will give consumers more showering and style options.

Moen's new Moentrol is a three-function shower valve that allows for two unique functions and one shared function. That means consumers can choose to have both a showerhead and a handshower or a showerhead and body sprays running at the same time, Allanson says.

"A consumer could put two showerheads in the space of an old bathtub and run them off the new valve," she says. "It doesn't require a 3/4-in. line. It can use a 1/2-in. line."

Green, but not avocado
While the idea of multiple low-flow showerheads in the same shower — a design seen frequently at IBS — may not sit well with environmentalists, a number of products at the show reflect homeowners' growing concern about their environment. Some of the offerings seek to do a better job of conserving water; others reduce noise.

Kohler's Sterling brand's new Stanton dual-flush, gravity-fed toilet combines contemporary style with water savings and performance, the company says. The two-button actuator on the top of the tank lid can flush either 1.6 or 0.8 gal. If used routinely for liquid and light waste, the 0.8 gpf option can save a household of four up to 6,000 gal. a year over 1.6 gpf models, according to Kohler.

Kohler's new Archer toilet gives the user the option of flushing 1.6 or 1.28 gpf, Weber says. With its flush tower, the toilet's 1.28 gpf option can save the same family of four 3,200 gal. of water per year.

Meanwhile, VitrA is shipping its EverGreen line of toilets, which features 1.2 gpf gravity-fed, 1 gpf pressure-assist and 1.6/0.8 gpf dual-flush models. Both offer water conservation and performance, says Mert Karasu, technical manager.

Gerber's Ultra Dual Flush toilet uses either 1.6 or 1 gpf, McJoynt says. The company cites figures that households can save up to 60% or 12,000 gal. per year by switching to dual-flush toilets. The company also offers a 1.1 gpf pressure-assist Ultra Flush model.

These models conserve water but consumers are concerned about noise too, McJoynt says. They want products in their home environments that are quieter than earlier models.

Lowering sound levels was the second initiative when In-Sink-Erator developed its Evolution PRO Series of disposers, says David MacNair, vice president/marketing. The first was to make a disposer that would grind almost everything. New technologies used on the Pro Series include Sound-Seal, which reduces noise by at least 40% vs. a standard disposer and Sound-Seal Plus, which reduces noise by at least 60%, according to the company.

"Life in general has gotten quieter," MacNair says. "Dishwashers are quieter and other appliances are following suit."