Plumbing Fixture Fittings and Trim

SIC 3432

Companies in this industry

Industry report:

Companies that produce metal plumbing fixtures and parts make up the plumbing fixture and fittings industry. This classification also encompasses establishments engaged in the assembly of plastic components into fixtures and fittings. Companies that manufacture plastic, ceramic, earthenware, and other types of plumbing fixtures are classified in separate industries, as are firms that make steam or water line valves.

Industry Snapshot

Although advanced plumbing systems have existed since 2000 B.C., metal pipes and fittings were not commonplace in the United States until the early 1900s, when they first played an important role in the development of industrialized society. By 2008, the plumbing fixtures and fittings (PFF) industry had shipments valued at $3.78 billion, and the industry had 10,850 employees. Research firm Research and Markets estimated industry revenues at $3.8 billion in 2009.

The PFF industry is largely dependent on the new housing market. Other important market sectors are commercial and institutional construction, and replacement and renovation. The fixture industry experienced steady expansion beginning in the 1970s despite economic recessions. To maintain profitability and growth during the dismal early years of the first decade of the twenty-first century, industry players introduced new products, increased productivity, and took advantage of propitious demographic trends. By the middle of the decade, the construction industry, as well as the PFF industry with it, was growing strong again. New housing sales hit record highs in 2006. However, a banking crisis in 2008 caused the bottom to drop out of the housing market, and the United States fell into a recession. By 2009, new housing starts had hit 50-year lows. All industries related to construction, including plumbing, felt the direct affect of the stagnated economy and the drastic decline in new housing starts in particular.

According to industry statistics, an estimated 631 manufacturing companies produced metal plumbing fixtures and parts. In 2008, manufacturers engaged in the assembly of plastic components into fixtures and fittings had 61.2 percent in market share valued at $879.7 million. California was the leading state. Of the 631 companies industry-wide, 386 accounted for the plumbing fixture, fitting, and trim classification, which was valued at $372.4 million and employed 9,600 people.

Organization and Structure

Plumbing refers to the system of pipes, fixtures, and other apparatus in a structure that supplies water and removes liquid and waterborne wastes. The foremost role of an integrated plumbing system is to safely deliver and remove water, so fixtures and fittings must conform to strict codes, regulations, and trade standards. Manufacturers of fixtures also are concerned with producing styles that appeal to consumers by reflecting current trends in home decoration.

Most plumbing fixtures and fittings are built for residential use. Primary residential applications include kitchens, bathrooms, utility rooms, and gardens. Fixtures also complement various commercial, industrial, and institutional plumbing systems. Most fixtures and fittings can be divided into one of four groups: traps, tubes, and drains; pipe fittings; faucets and toilets; and shower fixtures. Manufacturing metals used by the industry include copper, brass, bronze, and iron.

In 1997, the largest single product share of the PFF market was for miscellaneous plumbing fixtures and fittings and trims (brass goods), valued at more than $1.5 billion. The second largest product share was for single-lever plumbing fixture controls, two- or three-handle bath or shower fittings, and anti-scald bath or shower valves, valued at nearly $1.3 billion. The third was for nearly $800 million worth of lavatory and sink fittings (except single-control), including drains and overflows.

Basin drains usually incorporate traps or tubes. Traps are essentially drainage pipes with a bend, or trap, beneath the drain for holding water and preventing odors and gases from backing up out of the drain. P, J, and S shaped traps are commonly used for sinks, while drum and bottle-type traps, which are typically used for bathtub and kitchen drains, consist of a cylindrical metal box or settling basin attached to the waste pipe. Other types of traps include grease, laundry tray, and slop sink. Most traps incorporate a clean-out plug or screw to remove debris caught in the trap. Tubes are used to connect traps, garbage disposals, dishwasher drains, and other drains and devices. They come in a variety of shapes and materials to suit all applications and configurations.

Pipe fittings are used to connect pipes and tubes, come in a multitude of shapes and sizes, and are divided into several categories. Nipples are used to extend a pipe and to provide proper threading for connection to other pipes. Couplings are used to join standard sizes of pipe. Similarly, floor flanges connect pipes to a wall, floor, or other flat surface. Elbow fittings make it possible to change the direction of a straight pipe. Reducers, when incorporated with couplings, provide a means of connecting different sized pipes. Three- and four-way tees allow a pipe to branch out into two or three other pipes, often of smaller size. Other common fitting types include return bends, flair and compression fittings, wye (Y) bends, slip joints, and ground joint unions.

Faucets are available in several forms. Compression faucets, common in residential plumbing, use a washer to control water flow and are operated by turning a lever, moving a ball, or shifting a handle. Fuller-ball faucets work similarly but use a ball stopper instead of a washer mechanism. Ground-key faucets use a copper plunger to regulate water flow. Sill cocks, which are designed to resist freezing, are heavy-duty exterior faucets.

Toilet fixtures and fittings include levers and other parts that control the flush and water inlet valves. The ball cock assembly is the primary mechanism that controls water supply in the tank and toilet.

Standard showerheads typically are made of chrome-plated brass or plastic, and they offer adjustable spray, swivel-ball joints, and self-cleaning rims. Massaging showerheads incorporate a diverting valve that allows a pulsating action. Continental showers allow the showerhead to be removed and used as a hand shower. Popular showerhead enhancements include water-saving flow control mechanisms and anti-scald valves. Some regional building codes mandate the inclusion of anti-scald valves in public facilities and for showers in multiple-family structures.

Sundry devices include water fountain heads, lawn hose nozzles and sprinklers, shower rods, various plumber's tools and supplies, water-saving devices, and anti-scald bath and shower valves. Special equipment of more durable material that also incorporates a higher degree of technology is produced for hospitals, industrial plants, laboratories, and other niche markets.

Background and Development

Latrine-like receptacles with crude drains are known to have existed as early as 8000 B.C., and advanced plumbing systems built of terra cotta and burned brick were used as early as 2500 B.C. The first latrine with a water-flushing reservoir dates to 2000 B.C. in the royal palace of the Minoans. Clay plumbing pipes were introduced by the Greeks about 200 B.C., after which the Romans began to develop complex plumbing infrastructures that incorporated the use of lead pipes. By 300 A.D., the Roman system carried over 50 million gallons of water per day to residents.

Advances in plumbing technology languished from the fall of the Roman Empire until the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. While cast iron pipes were introduced into plumbing in London in 1619, metal plumbing systems were not used on a significant scale in the United States until the nineteenth century. Between 1850 and 1900, the industry expanded rapidly, and by 1900, almost all U.S. towns with more than 2,000 residents had relatively advanced plumbing systems.

The demand for metal fixtures and fittings escalated during the post-World War II economic expansion in the United States. Over the next three decades, massive increases in new single family homes, as well as growth in commercial and institutional structures, prompted a huge demand for all types of faucets, drains, fittings, and other fixtures. As the U.S. population skyrocketed, the percentage of families owning their own homes also increased from about 45 percent in 1940 to nearly 65 percent by the late 1970s. By 1980, metal plumbing fixture manufacturers were shipping about $1 billion worth of products each year.

Growth in the industry slowed in the late 1970s and 1980s due to higher interest rates, demographic shifts, and other economic factors. Nevertheless, plumbing fitting and fixture manufacturers continued to report gains during the 1980s. Furthermore, the amount of plumbing fixtures used to build the average house during this time rose steadily. For instance, while most homes built prior to 1960 had only one bathroom, most homes built in the 1980s featured at least two baths. Moreover, kitchens became larger and incorporated more elaborate fixtures than earlier homes, and new amenities such as hot tubs and dual sink decks helped the industry sustain growth during this time. The replacement market for existing home fixtures and fittings significantly augmented the new home market.

From $1.3 billion in shipments in 1982, industry sales steadily rose to $2.6 billion in 1991, representing an average annual growth rate of around seven percent. In the early 1990s, manufacturers looked forward to continued industry growth. A 20 percent increase in new home construction was reported for 1992, and the trend was for larger and more luxurious bath and kitchen amenities. The average new home in the early 1990s included 2.5 bathrooms, and the master bathroom was generally 30 percent larger than those of 25 years earlier. By 1996, about 16 percent of all new homes had three or more bathrooms, 33 percent had two and a half baths, 41 percent had two baths, and 10 percent had one and a half baths or fewer. The market continued to grow between 1995 and 1998, although much more slowly. In 1995, shipments were valued at $2.96 billion, up only 1.5 percent over 1994. The year 1996 was a little better, with shipments of $3.07 billion representing an increase of 3.7 percent. In 1997, shipments increased only 0.2 percent, to $3.07 billion.

In 1998, shipments were predicted to be worth $3.03 billion, representing a decline of 1.4 percent. In early 1998, industry insiders blamed this expected decline on the construction industry. Fortunately for the industry, PFF shipments turned around and increased 5.5 percent to $3.45 billion.

Prices for plumbing fixtures reflected a 3.4 percent increase in 1995. In 1996 and 1997, prices increased 2.9 percent and 1.7 percent, respectively. However, 1998 showed a price increase of only 0.1 percent.

The National Energy Policy Act, passed by Congress in 1992, set maximum water flow rates allowed for residential and commercial fixtures. Manufacturers hoped that this legislation would boost replacement market sales as well as sales of new water flow devices. Residential and commercial regulations, which were scheduled to take effect in the mid-1990s, allowed only 1.6 gallons-per-flush (gpf) for water closets, one gpf for urinals, and 2.5 gallons per minute for faucets and showerheads.

However, consumer and grass roots opposition to the 1.6 gpf legislation grew along with calls for its repeal because of less than satisfactory flushing with many of the new devices. Nevertheless, the PFF industry is against any change in the 1992 law. A repeal of the law would cost the industry tens of millions of dollars that would ultimately be passed along to the consumer, according to Bill Ficken of Gerber Plumbing Fixtures. Industry insiders believed the chances of any changes in the law are "slim to none."

Fixture and fitting producers also benefited from new distribution channels during the 1990s. Discount hardware and home center warehouse stores quickly became a primary outlet for consumer sales as increasing numbers of consumers sought to install and repair plumbing themselves in order to avoid large mark-ups charged by plumbers and traditional hardware stores. HQ, Home Depot, and Builder's Square (the latter of which subsequently closed its stores and became an online distributor) were a few of the massive warehouse chains that brought new buyers into the market.

The domestic PFF industry continued to face growing competition from foreign manufacturers. Imports nearly doubled during the 1990s, while exports actually dropped. In 1997, shipment values for the PFF industry were nearly $3.6 billion. Despite predictions that this figure would grow to nearly $4.3 billion by 2000, actual industry shipments that year were only $3.7 billion. In 2002, the value was $3.14 billion, and in 2005, the value had increased only marginally to $3.17 billion.

Demand for plastic fixtures and fittings was expected to show greater growth than the more traditional metal and vitreous ones. Plastics showed especially strong growth in conjunction with residential bathtub, shower stall, lavatory sink, and whirlpool applications. Overall shipments of plastic and fiberglass fixtures represented nearly half the market, followed by vitreous china shipments with just under one-third of the market, and metal fixtures with one-fifth. One of the industry innovations reporting strong growth in 2004 was the touchless fixture. Outfitted with infrared sensors, such faucets, urinals, and toilets were making hands-free hygiene the new norm in many public facilities, from commercial malls to office buildings.

While the PFF market enjoyed continued uninterrupted new residential construction between 2000 and 2005, that trend would soon come to an abrupt halt. After all, the PFF market depended on the residential market, which was responsible for 69 percent of the PFF market in 2006. What followed was an unprecedented weakened global economy with no end in sight. On the bright side, despite the drop in residential construction, PFF demand for new commercial construction was alive and well for the time being. Areas of possible sustained growth included hospitals, lodging, transportation, and public safety construction, according to Ken Simonson, chief economist for the Associated General Contractors.

Current Conditions

In 2005 new housing starts hit a record high of nearly 2.1 million. The total value of residential construction in 2005 was $617.5 billion. However, too many of those houses were built with bad loans, and the mortgage lending business came crashing down in the second half of 2008. The full effect of the banking crisis and the ensuing U.S. recession hit the housing marketing in 2009. New housing starts dipped to 554,000--the lowest on record since the federal government began keeping records in 1959. The value of residential construction fell to $253.6 million. Because the PFF industry is highly dependent on trends in the housing and construction industries, the PFF sector was negatively affected by the downturn in these industries.

Despite the collapse of the residential market, firms in the PFF industry that survived the tough economic condition replaced lost residential business with noncommercial sectors, such as lodging, office, commercial, schools, hospitals, and churches. For example, the value of educational construction actually increased between 2005 and 2009, from $79.7 billion to $102.9 billion. Overall, total value of nonresidential construction rose from $486.6 billion in 2005 to $654.2 billion in 2009.

Besides dealing with the recessive economy, the PFF industry was adjusting to new lead-free legislation that went into effect in California at the beginning of 2010. California, which passed the law in 2006, required that lead levels in plumbing fixtures be less than 0.25 percent. Tim Strelitz, president of Los Angeles-based California Metal-X Inc. told American Metal Market, ldquo;Every retail store in the state of California really shouldn't carry any product that touches potable water and has more than 0.25 percent lead, and if they do they're violating the law."

Although lead-free fittings are more expensive, industry insiders were confident that the trend would continue. "What I can assure you is that the U.S. and the world is moving away from alloys containing lead being used in potable water applications," Strelitz said. "People don't want it. That's really the key here." The minute level of acceptable lead in fixtures is not without controversy within the industry. For example, Jim Olsztynski, editorial director of Plumbing & Mechanical, suggested that "the plumbing restrictions are out of sync with any benefit."

Meanwhile, the PFF market's total shipments fell in 2008. Some of the more significant sectors affected were the 109 manufacturers of lawn hose nozzles and sprinklers worth $42.8 million; 66 manufacturers of plumbers' brass goods, such as drain cocks, faucets, spigots, worth $405 million; 33 manufacturers of metal and plastic faucets and spigots worth $40.8 million; and 33 manufacturers of plastic plumbing fixtures and fittings assembly worth $18.7 million.

Industry Leaders

Masco Corp., of Taylor, Michigan, is one of the most aggressive companies in the PFF industry, especially in terms of acquisitions. Over the course of 30 years, Masco acquired more than 100 home improvement companies with annual sales of $1 million to $100 million. In a $3.8 billion dollar deal in September 1999, Masco acquired five companies that made products such as glue guns, radiators, kitchen and bathroom cabinetry, and stains and varnishes. Masco also acquired five other companies earlier in the year. The company is best known for its Delta Faucet line, which was established in 1955. Other plumbing fixtures marketed by the company include Alson handheld shower systems; Peerless kitchen, bathroom, and tub and shower faucets; and the premium line of Rubinetterie Mariani kitchen and bath faucets. Masco has manufacturing facilities in Europe, Mexico, and Taiwan as well as in North America. Between 2007 and 2008, Masco's revenues fell from $11.8 billion in 2007 to $9.6 billion in 2008 with 39,000 employees. Masco had 2009 sales of $7.79 and 35,400 employees.

The Kohler Company of Kohler, Wisconsin, controls about 25 percent of the U.S. plumbing fixtures market. Kohler has manufacturing plants in 49 locations worldwide and has various PFF products, including PRO sinks, faucets, and cook centers, as well as Fairfax Faucets, Camber and Timpani lavatory sinks, and the MasterShower Thermostatic Valve system. Kohler had 2005 sales of approximately $3 billion and 31,000 employees. It also manufactured small engines, generators, electrical switchgear, and high-end furniture, and had interests in hotels and real estate. The Kohler family owned 98 percent of the company. The company's revenues grew to an estimated $5.2 billion in 2007, and the total number of employees increased to 32,000. In 2009, the company posted revenues of $5.5 billion and had 30,000 employees.

American Standard of Piscataway, New Jersey, makes air conditioning systems, automotive parts, and plumbing products at facilities in 50 countries. American Standard had 2006 sales of $11.21 billion. Plumbing products are marketed under the brand names American Standard, Ideal Standard, and Porcher. American Standard held the number one position for toilets and the number two spot for bathroom fixtures in the U.S. in 2008. Private equity firm Sun Capital Partners owned a majority of the company.

Other industry leaders in the mid-years of the first decade of the 2000s were Moen Inc. and Jacuzzi Brands. Moen, a subsidiary of Fortune Brands, was the top faucet manufacturer. In February 2007, Jacuzzi was acquired by investment firm Apollo Management for an estimated $1.25 billion.

Workforce

In 2008, PFF establishments had 10,854 employees, compared to 11,345 in 2007. Employment has generally been declining in the industry. The number of employees was 13,961 in 2002. Production workers in 2005 numbered 8,025, compared to 10,463 in 2002.

Research and Technology

During the 2000s, technology in plumbing was moving in many different directions. How to make PFF safer, stronger, and more stylish were all considerations for the designers and researchers. For example, in the late 2000s, thermostatic faucets were on the market. These higher-tech faucets include an internal thermostat that protects users from sudden changes in temperatures and burns to the hands. These faucets, such as Delta Themostatic and LavSafe, were marketed to consumers as well as hospitals, assisted living centers, child care facilities, and other such organizations.

© 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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