Plastics Plumbing Fixtures

SIC 3088

Companies in this industry

Industry report:

This category includes establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing plastics plumbing fixtures. Establishments primarily engaged in assembling plastics plumbing fixture fittings are classified in SIC 3432: Plumbing Fixture Fittings and Trim. Establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing plastics plumbing fixture components are classified in SIC 3089: Plastics Products, Not Elsewhere Classified. As a result of the 1987 Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) reclassification, information is unavailable for the industry prior to 1987 at this level of aggregation.

Industry Snapshot

Plastics plumbing fixtures manufacturers produced items such as bathtubs, sinks, lavatories, shower stalls, and whirlpool baths. The market for plastic plumbing supplies is linked to the overall construction and building industry. The construction of new building and the remodeling of existing structures helps drive sales of plumbing products. U.S. plastics plumbing products manufacturers face competition in this capital intensive industry from imports and from producers of ceramic and metal plumbing fixtures.

According to industry statistics, an estimated 382 establishments manufactured plastics plumbing fixtures valued at $850.4 million in 2008, with industry-wide employment of 14,694 workers. Leading producing states were California, Florida, and Texas. Collectively, these states were responsible for 34 percent of industry share. On average, each establishment employed 40 workers and generated $2.9 million in revenue.

The industry is served by the Plumbing Manufacturers Institute, headquartered in Glen Ellyn, Illinois. The institute, founded in 1956, organizes semi-annual conventions and has committees on codes, government affairs, standards, intra-industry issues, and statistics.

Background and Development

The development and use of plumbing fixtures increased rapidly after the introduction of pressurized water supply and sanitary drainage systems in the 1840s. Kitchen sinks and toilets were the first fixtures installed, followed by washtubs and bathtubs. The earliest sinks and tubs were made of wood lined with sheets of metal. Thereafter, cast iron and glazed pottery sinks were used widely. One significant early improvement in sinks was the built-in overflow.

Bathing and new techniques of bathtub production became increasingly popular in the 1870s. The new tubs were made of enameled cast iron and were mass-produced by a New York manufacturer.

The first modern toilet was designed by the Englishman Joseph Bramah in about 1790. Known as a valve closet, this design was used in the toilet compartment of railroad cars for a long time. The valve closet was followed by the less expensive pan closet, which was in common use from the 1830s to the 1870s. The pan closet was also developed in England and had a lead bowl with a hole in the bottom sealed by a hinged copper pan. In the 1850s, glazed pottery toilets began to be used, and in the 1880s the first all-earthenware toilets were developed in England.

Early plumbing fixtures were primarily of English design. After the 1880s, the United States became a center of fixture design. Louis Nielsen described this change and possible causes for it in Standard Plumbing Engineering Design, writing that after the 1880s, "developments in plumbing fixture design proceeded independently and at an accelerated pace in the United States. Much of this may be attributed to...U.S. industrial expansion and the continuous increase in population due to waves of immigration, and the tremendous demand for new homes and buildings to house the swelling numbers in industrial centers all over the country."

Many of the designs and materials that were developed in the United States around the turn of the century dominated the industry until very recently. Key among these was the development of the washdown toilet, similar in principle to the toilet of the early twenty-first century. One of the key advantages of this toilet was that it remained sanitary after extended use, thereby rendering earlier toilet designs obsolete. A number of improvements were made to this basic design in the twentieth century. These involved combining the components of the washdown toilet into a single integrated unit, using siphon jets to strengthen the flush, and reducing noise of operation.

One of the key developments in materials at the beginning of the twentieth century was glazed vitreous chinaware. With its smooth, impervious surface, vitreous chinaware was the primary material for many plumbing fixtures until the rapid growth in the use of plastic fixtures in the late twentieth century. Introduced by plumbing fixture manufacturers in 1952, plastics came to be widely used for toilets, bathtubs, whirlpool baths, shower stalls, utility and laundry sinks, and sink-washtray combinations in bathrooms.

The creation of industry-wide standards was important to the development of the industry. Nationwide standards first appeared just after World War I. Contemporary standards were established by the American National Standards Institute's Committee A112. These standards address both design and materials suitability. Regarding the general quality of fixtures, standards require that fixtures "shall have smooth impervious surfaces, shall be durable for the uses intended, and shall be free from defects and concealed fouling surfaces." The regulations also detailed standard dimensions and other specifications for fixtures.

The trend in shipments was robustly upward from 1987 to 1996, increasing 49 percent, peaking in 1996. Capital investments increased even more rapidly, with $15 million invested in 1987, $69 million in 1989, and $110 million in 1990. There was a sharp drop in 1992 to $31 million, after which investments rose to $57 million in 1994. The value of imports of plastics plumbing fixtures increased from $24 million in 1989 to an estimated $59 million in 1996, while the value of exports increased from $19 million to $40 million for these same years.

Exports played a key role for plastics plumbing products manufacturers throughout the 1990s. The rapidly expanding economies of Asia in the early 1990s helped increase exports as U.S. companies supplied plumbing products for the construction boom. Between 1990 and 1997, plumbing fixture exports to Asian nations grew an average of 13 percent annually. However, the financial crisis of 1997, which resulted in currency devaluation, slowed exports.

The market for plastics plumbing fixtures in the late 1990s was strong. Since the demand for plumbing products is linked to new housing and building construction, the industry was buoyed by the expanding economy at the close of the decade, when low interest rates fueled new home purchases. Historically low interest rates in the early 2000s, which were caused by a faltering U.S. economy, continued to bolster new home purchases. The trend for an increasing number of bathrooms in new housing was of particular importance to the plumbing industry.

Plastics plumbing fixtures have successfully competed against vitreous china and metal fixtures for a greater share of the plumbing fixture market. In the late 1990s, more than 30 percent of all lavatories were plastic, as were 90 percent of shower stalls, and almost all whirlpool tubs. Plumbing products made of plastics accounted for approximately 48 percent of total shipments in the late 1990s. Plastic plumbing shipments grew consistently throughout the late 1990s and into 2000, increasing from $2.18 billion in 1997 to $2.99 billion in 2000.

Sales of plumbing fixtures were expected to continue to grow during the late 2000s at about 3 to 4 percent a year. According to a study done by Business Trends Analysts in New York, sales of plumbing fixtures and fittings were expected to reach $11.2 billion by 2013, a growth of 3.4 percent from 2003. Part of the reason for this projected growth was the increased construction and remolding markets. Although new home construction was anticipated to slow somewhat after the mid-2000s, housing sales and resulting demands for remodeling products were expected to continue. Bathtubs were one of the most important fixtures for the plastics plumbing industry, as fiberglass gel coat products accounted for about 63 percent of all bathtubs sold in 2005, up from under 50 percent at the beginning of the 1990s.

The trend for "green" building and water conservation issues had had the potential to affect the plastic plumbing fixtures industry in the late 2000s. The Energy Act of 2005, which offered tax advantages for increasing efficiencies in water heating and water usage, was also expected to open new avenues for the industry.

Current Conditions

During 2008, plastics plumbing fixtures manufacturers held 33.8 percent in industry share with shipments totaling $293.4 million. Manufacturers of plastics tubs (bath, shower, and laundry) accounted for 23 percent in market share valued at $226.4 million. Fiberglass and plastics shower stalls producers with 19.4 percent in market share contributed $134.6 million in industry shipments. Plastics bathroom fixtures manufacturers held 10.2 percent in market share generating $73.7 million in shipped goods. Another important industry sector was plastics or fiberglass hot tubs producers who held 9.4 percent in market share and shipments that totaled $105.1 million.

The worldwide economic meltdown affected the manufacturers of plastics plumbing fixtures as total housing starts fell from 1.36 million in 2007 to 893,000 units in 2008. That trend continued into early 2009 with roughly 500,000 units expected. While non-residential construction offset the downturn in the housing market to some degree; even that sector began to decline in early 2009. Total U.S. construction fell in 2007 and again in 2008 by 5.4 percent. The industry would face significant challenges until the housing market rebounded.

Industry Leaders

Leading firms in the industry in the mid-2000s included the Wisconsin-based Kohler Co., with estimated 2007 sales of $5.2 billion and 32,000 employees, and Moen Incorporated of North Olmsted, Ohio, which was a subsidiary of Fortune Brands, whose 2008 sales were $7.6 billion. Eljer Plumbingware Inc., headquartered in Dallas, Texas, had estimated sales in 2006 of $114 million. Formerly a subsidiary of Jacuzzi Brands, Eljer was sold to an affiliate of Sun Capital Partners in mid-2005. American Standard America, Crane Plumbing and Eljer merged in 2008 and will operate under the name of American Standard Brands. The company was the industry leader for toilets and held the number two spot for bathroom fixtures in the U.S., as well as in Canada, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic.

Another leading company was the Aqua Glass Corporation of Adamsville, Tennessee. A wholly owned subsidiary of the Masco Corporation since 1984, Aqua Glass had estimated 2006 sales of $109 million and manufactured acrylic bathtubs, showers, and whirlpools. Masco reported $9.6 billion in 2008 revenue. By the mid-2000s, Aqua Glass had begun incorporating Microban, which prevents the growth of bacteria, mold, and mildew, into its gelcoat products.

Research and Technology

Water conservation and accommodations for the disabled and elderly were key areas for industry development. Conventional fixtures wasted water, with waste rates of 70 percent for conventional toilets and 50 percent for conventional showers. The development of water-conserving fixtures was an emerging trend in the market because of the increasing popularity of products that use substantially less water. Although water conservation fixtures typically cost up to 30 to 50 percent more than conventional fixtures, they sold well nationwide.

Industry manufacturers also accelerated the design and production of fixtures to accommodate the disabled. The ADA defines disability sufficiently broadly that some 43 million Americans are covered by it, and the ADA requires owners and landlords of buildings defined as "public accommodations" to provide sinks, toilets, and drinking fountains that are accessible to those with disabilities.

© COPYRIGHT 2018 The Gale Group, Inc. This material is published under license from the publisher through the Gale Group, Farmington Hills, Michigan. All inquiries regarding rights should be directed to the Gale Group. For permission to reuse this article, contact the Copyright Clearance Center.

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