Volume 51, Issue 1 - January 2016


Cleaning House: Shower Enclosure Options Offer Growth Opportunities

When it comes to kitchens and baths, glass products help provide a unique living space. And for many, glass shower enclosures continue to be popular.

Tom Wright, vice president at Sound Glass Sales in Tacoma, Wash., says heavy glass doors are sold about 80 percent or more of the time.

“Clamps rather than u-channels seem to be the current trend. Most clients would rather not even have a u-channel on the bottom of panels if they have a choice,” he says.  

Bobby Thompson, director of sales and marketing with Alumax Bath Enclosures by Sapa Extrusions, agrees that the trend is still toward heavy glass enclosures. He says that brings with it additional challenges.

“Most of the heavy glass being sold to the market is not really an engineered system, and there can be a tendency to leak, among some other issues,” he says. For example, Thompson says, some people are installing heavy units in openings that don’t have the correct substrates behind the wall cover to support the weight of the glass. “This can cause doors to sag or, in extreme cases, fail to operate properly, which can cause failure that may lead to glass breakage.”

He continues, “This is driving a need for more engineered systems for heavy glass that provide the consumer the all-glass look, but also provide the installer and manufacturer with built-in safety and leak-prevention features.”

Thompson says framed and semi-frameless enclosures also remain popular.  

“More often than not, the product requirements for the secondary bath are not the same as what is needed for the master suite,” he says. “A secondary bath, for example, may be used primarily for young children; a framed or semi-frameless enclosure may be a better choice than a heavy glass product.”

Speaking of styles and trends, Wright adds that brushed nickel and chrome continue to be the most requested hardware choices.

Thompson is starting to see interest in shower shields or screens. He says these have been standard in Europe for several years. He explains these units normally do not have curbs or headers, and they normally feature a large, stationary fixed panel with a smaller pivoting panel that deflects the water to the inside of the shower.

“We’re also seeing more top-rail and barn door style systems,” he says. Both the rail system and the flush-mount barn door products typically do not have a bottom track, and are constructed so that the door rollers are exposed and glide on top of the header bar.

Frameless, heavy glass enclosures continue to be popular in residential projects.

Staying Busy

Executives at many companies think that 2016 will continue in a positive direction.

Wright says as of late 2015 they were installing three or four shower enclosures a week.

“I would think that, with the economy getting better, 2016 will be just as busy, if not busier,” he says.

“I think the market is somewhere in the 80 percent range of what it was pre-recession,” adds Thompson. “Remember, when the market turned, infrastructure stopped as well—water, sewage, gas, etc. … so it’s taken more time than what we thought to get everything going again.”

He continues “but 2015 was a strong year, and I expect 2016 to be a good year. 2017 seems to be the one that’s a bit questionable. It might level off then, but I expect growth through this year.”

Code Concerns

And as things continue to progress, there will also be challenges to consider. For Thompson, a big one involves building codes.

“There doesn’t seem to be a nationally adopted code for bath and shower enclosures,” he says, pointing out this leads to installations that are all over the board. “Working with architects, specifiers and suppliers, they seem to be hungry for that type of information when they are designing,” he says. “When it comes to enclosures and glass, there seems to be a gap in knowledge sharing and the codes that drive how enclosures are engineered. So they have a tendency to lean on the shower door guys to provide that. It needs to move forward, and a lot of the [problems with installations] causing issues is the fact they’re just not designed properly.”

—Ellen Rogers

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