Volume 50, Issue 1 - January 2015

Awash in Shower Door Options
Heavy Glass Enclosures Are Still Top Picks for Homeowners, But with New Twists and Turns

by Ellen Rogers

Heavy glass enclosures, such as the Pipeline series from Alumax, continue to be popular choices for homeowners.

Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Release it slowly. Open your eyes. It’s 2015, and as the manager of a glass shop that’s done work in the residential market, the year ahead looks pretty good. According to the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University, which publishes the Leading Indicator of Remodeling Activity (LIRA), annual growth in home improvement spending is expected to ease to 3.1 percent through the second quarter of this year.

“Growth in home remodeling activity continues to hover around its longer-term average of mid-single digit gains,” says Abbe Will, a research analyst in the Remodeling Futures Program at the Joint Center.  “Even though the housing market overall has been lackluster, many areas of the country remain economically healthy and remodeling contractor sentiment remains high.”

Better still, predictions are also calling for these increases to continue into 2016.

Alice Dickerson, manager of marketing communications, building and industrial products with AGC Glass Co. North America in Alpharetta, Ga., says that although glass manufacturers don’t deal with contractors or consumers directly, “we see the forecast, and residential construction continues to trend upward, the cost of homes is rising and urban living is more popular than ever.

“And, of course, new construction inventory is not sufficient to meet the needs, so most parts of the country are experiencing a seller’s market. This will lead to re-sellers renovating to capture a higher price in the market, or those who are looking to buy, being more inclined to purchase a re-sale and remodel to their liking.”

When it comes to residential remodeling, kitchens and bathrooms still top the to-do list. According to the American Institute of Architects’ (AIA) Home Design Trends Survey for the fourth quarter of 2013, which focused specifically on kitchens and bathrooms, “a sizeable share of residential architects report both the number and size of kitchens and baths are increasing. Even more indicative of an improving market is that upscale features and products used in these areas of the home are growing in popularity.”

“Now that home prices have hit bottom and are beginning to recover, households are more willing to invest in their homes, looking for more features in new homes that they are purchasing, and willing to undertake higher-end home improvement projects,” says AIA chief economist Kermit Baker. “Kitchens and baths tend to be the areas that households first look to when they want to upscale their home as markets improve, just as they remained a high priority even during the depths of the downturn.”

And that’s good news for the shower enclosure industry. For years, the trend has been frameless, heavy enclosures. And experts predict they will continue to see strong demand.

As accessibility and comfort become increasing important to homeowners, products such as large walk-in showers and showers without a tub are also growing in popularity.

Kitchen and bath remodeling segments have remained high, compared to others which have experienced little growth.

All About the Bath

Forecasts for residential remodeling may be mild, but those in the shower door industry are still expecting plenty of business this year. Julie Freund, sales manager for Shower Doors of Houston, expects 2015 to be a strong year for bathroom remodeling. 

“Bathroom design, not just functionality, is becoming so important for many homeowners. A remodel really does change the look and feel of a home. With available land at a minimum in many areas … holding on to the lot you bought ten years ago and remodeling the interior is more attractive than settling for a smaller lot with a newer façade.” 

Dickerson agrees, and says that with the improving residential market they are seeing an increasing demand for frameless enclosures.

“These are typically heavy glass enclosures, with clear, low iron glass more so than patterned glass,” she says. “Shower spaces are getting larger, and with that also comes more glass being used.” She adds that homeowners are incorporating custom tile work in their showers, mixing glass and stone, “so they want clear/low iron so they can see straight through to that.”

Freund adds, “Customers are opting for more open designs with no doors, just fixed panels. They are calling months prior to remodeling just to ensure the glass panels are the focus of the room.”

Bobby Thompson, director of sales and marketing with Alumax Bath Enclosures in Magnolia, Ark., also points out that “With the increase of heavy glass unit sales, customers will demand that suppliers move to engineered systems with features such as leak prevention, adjustability and extended warranties.”

The Next Big Thing

Just as the overall bathroom aesthetic evolves, so too are the styles homeowners want in their shower enclosure. For years the big thing in bathroom designs has been heavy glass, frameless enclosures. While that continues to be popular, the market is starting to see evolving interest in other areas. According to AIA’s trends survey, the features increasing the most in popularity in bath design address a growing desire for accessibility.

“It looks as though we’re getting away from bath[tubs]s,” says Dickerson. “Larger shower areas, multiple shower heads, rain shower heads, [these all] lend toward wanting the higher-end enclosures, more glass and minimal hardware,” she says. “We’ve also noticed the glass barn door designs [becoming popular], whether with acid-etched or other types of glass.”

Freund agrees that customers are making more use of their shower spaces. 

“They are building more pony walls for storage, benches and putting in more glass shelves. Towel bars are very popular on the glass. Some prefer to leave the glass unobstructed, but many appreciate the convenience and space-saving advantages,” she says, adding that the height of glass is also growing.

“The standard used to be 72 inches, but many of our customers are opting for at least 78 inches. We have done several doors that are even eight feet tall. It seems the taller the better.”

Mike Poss, owner of Shapes Supply, a shower door dealer in Arlington Heights, Ill., agrees heavy clear glass continues to be the main driver of custom enclosures, adding they are also seeing an increasing trend in patterned heavy glass.

“We are also seeing a huge interest level in a new contemporary shower door being manufactured by Coastal Shower Doors called the Gridscape series.” Poss explains these new doors can also be ordered as room dividers or panels for non-shower door applications.

“This new product is being viewed by urban consumers, as well as [by] more traditional homeowners who are updating their homes in a transitional or trendy design style. The bold look creates a great spa-like atmosphere.”

While some say the trend toward frameless, heavy-glass enclosures will continue, Thompson says he’s even seeing a somewhat reverse trend.

“Although consumers like the look and feel of heavy glass, it is not a do-all product. We will see a moderate resurgence of framed and semi-frameless units for the mid to lower-high-end remodel and new-construction markets,” he says. “[Some customers are looking for] framed doors with monumental profiles, integrated features like body spray systems, and alternative panels to replace glass.”

Spread the Word

Homeowners have a lot of decisions to make when it comes to remodeling, the first of which is deciding the area in which to focus. But once they decide it’s the bathroom they want to upgrade, glass shops have an important role to play in helping the owner not regret that decision.

“Paying attention to the customer’s overall bathroom layout is key. If wall space is at a minimum, the use of a towel bar on the glass becomes more ideal,” says Freund. “Understanding how far over the glass can set on a ponywall allows the customer the option to decide how to use the walls in and around the shower. The height of the enclosure and showerhead are important. The taller the ceiling, the higher the glass may need to go.”

Thompson points out that consumers choose products for the aesthetic appeal, which is why there are so many options. But there are other

“The easy sell is to give them what they want. After all, that’s what salespeople are supposed to do — make the customer happy. Almost always, though, the missing piece to the conversation is product positioning,” he says. “Heavy glass, for instance, is not a do-all product. Unless it’s an engineered system, it’s usually made up of hinges purchased from one vendor, glass and miscellaneous components from others. Leak prevention, adjustability and the life of the product are not necessarily designed into the product, and the sheer weight does not lend itself to all applications.”

He continues, “Heavy glass works for larger openings, but has a tendency to leak in smaller openings where water is sprayed directly on the enclosure. Yes, seals and custom-fabricated glass can mitigate the issue, but often the consumer does not want the polyseals.” He’s quick to add, “I’m not knocking heavy glass units; I have one in my house. However, framed and semi-frameless units have a purpose and a position in the marketplace. They are engineered systems that will provide the consumer with a lifetime of use with little to no maintenance if glass coatings are used. They are generally lighter in weight and can be adapted to all surfaces such as tile, marble, fiberglass and acrylic. Because of the lighter weight, wider doors can be used at a less expensive cost, and these types of units are easily adaptable to ADA guidelines.” 

Whether frameless or framed, another point to keep in mind is being able to promote the product effectively.

“As a [glass] manufacturer, we promote our products to the industry, including interior designers and architects, but equally important is that once the product is specified, the finished product must be easily accessible from the glass fabricators, glazing contractors and glass shops,” says Dickerson, noting her company also provides literature and sample kits to support fabricators [and their customers].

Thompson adds, “Responsible salespeople should reach out to suppliers for training to make sure that they understand the products, catalog, pricing and what products should be sold for a particular application.”

The Year Ahead

Whatever the year ahead has to offer, experts expect homeowners will continue looking for new remodeling ideas—with many including glass.

“I think that as HGTV, Houzz.com and other forms of media educate consumers on remodeling and interior design, it is encouraging more home buyers and home owners to remodel,” says Dickerson. “They can now see how affordable it can be, and most of the remodeling dollars are spent in kitchen and baths.”

Freund adds, “We anticipate 2015 to be even stronger than 2014, with more thought and creativity focused in and around bathroom products, especially frameless shower glass.”
Thompson, though, offers cautiously optimistic thoughts.

“Housing starts will be at 90 percent of pre-recession levels by the end of 2015,” he says. “The demand is strong, but infrastructure, lots and lending will be key to a healthy recovery.”

Products that Make a Splash

According to the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Home Design Trends Survey for the fourth quarter of 2013, upper-end bathroom products are becoming must-have features. The AIA reported that while high-end showers were very popular in the same survey conducted in 2005 through 2008, interest waned during the downturn. Now, upscale showers are making a comeback: recent results indicate the strongest increase in popularity since 2008. Other more upscale products, such as sensor-operated faucets and double-sink vanities, are seeing increases in popularity, too, although less so than upscale showers.

Bathroom Feature 2013 2014
Large Walk-in showers 62% N/A
Stall shower without tub 61% 49%
Doorless showers 58% 57%
Upscale shower 31% 21%

Source: AIA Home Design Trends Survey for the fourth quarter of 2013; index score computed as a percentage of respondents reporting increasing minus thos reporting decreasing popularity

the author

Ellen Rogers
is the editor of USGlass magazine. Follow her on Twitter @USGlass and like USGlass on Facebook to receive updates.

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